Monday, April 28, 2014

More on Sewol

If you haven't read "The West’s Confucian Confusion: How More Confucianism Might Have Saved the Sewol" over at Sweet Pickles and Corn, do head over there now and give it a read (and click around the other posts there while you're at it). One of the best books I've read dealing with Neo-Confucianism (and how it relates to the political and legal traditions in Joseon Korea), by the way, is The Korean Political Tradition and Law by Hahm Pyong-choon (Ham Byeong-chun, who was killed in the Rangoon bombing in 1983) published by the Royal Asiatic Society.

The author of "The West’s Confucian Confusion" notes in the comments that "a lot of it is probably just intellectual laziness, but there’s also something a little darker at work that always seeks to paint Asian people as a mindless undifferentiated mass." I'm sure that goes back a long ways, but that topic is explored in depth in John Dower's "War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War," which examines the the racial aspects of both American and Japanese propaganda; he notes, for example, that while there was room for 'the good German' in Allied propaganda, there was no such category reserved for the Japanese - they were all the same.

As for the corruption at the heart of Chonghaejin Marine Co., which seems responsible for the disaster, see the links put up by King Baeksu over at ROK Drop (I skipped over the other comments, to be honest). As more information about the company and the policies and background of its owner, Yoo Byung-un come to light, it seems a very sordid story is being uncovered.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Some thoughts on Sewol

As of 1:38 this afternoon, of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 174 were rescued, 169 are confirmed dead, and 133 are still missing and presumed trapped inside the ferry. [Asian Correspondent has been providing regular updates.]

It's been reported that a "sharp turn made by an inexperienced sailor was the fundamental cause of the deadly capsizing of the Sewol ferry," though other theories exist (and are listed on the Wikipedia page). As well, even though the Captain should have been present on the bridge, he wasn't. As the Joongang Ilbo also notes,
The captain was also charged with fleeing the ferry and abandoning passengers, a violation of the Act on the Aggravated Punishment of Special Crimes, and negligence resulting in the death of passengers, a violation of the Criminal Act. If the captain is ruled guilty of all of those three charges, he could receive a life sentence.
The fact that the Captain and much of the crew - the able-bodied sailors at any rate - escaped from the ship and were among the first rescued has brought a storm of criticism down upon them. There is also criticism of the indecision which took place when the first distress calls were made (a transcript is here) as well as the other safety measures which failed:
The Sewol was equipped with 46 lifeboats that could each hold between 10 to 15 people. The lifeboats should inflate automatically once their pins are released. But only one of them functioned. 
This has led to a great deal of criticism and bitterness, with the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo penning an editorial comparing Korea's emergency preparedness unfavourably with Japan's and writing things like "In Korea, you die if you follow orders and save yourself if you don't" and "Let’s give up the title of "developed country" for now." As for blame, the current administration getting lambasted in some quarters, while elsewhere criticism falls upon the "opaque, undutiful and craven corporate" sector.

At the same time, stories of selflessness have been brought to light as well, including a crewmember and two teachers who died trying to save others.

Unsurprisingly, there have been many mentions in the (Korean) media about past accidents that resulted in great loss of life. A news search on naver (yesterday) turned up the following results for the following search terms:

489 results for 세월호 삼풍백화점, or the collapse of the Sampoong Department Store on June 29, 1995, which killed 501 people.

447 results for 세월호 대구지하철, or the Daegu Metro fire on February 18, 2003, which killed 198 people. [Photo.]

291 results for 세월호 성수대교, the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge on October 21, 1994, which killed 32 people, including students on their way to school. [I looked at it and the incident below here.]

40 results for 세월호 대구 지하철 가스폭발, the Daegu gas explosion, which took place during construction of the subway system, on April 28, 1995 killed 101 people, the majority of them students.  [Photo.]

[Out of interest, another disaster from that time period I came across was the Ahyeon gas explosion, which took place next to what is now Aeogae Station on December 7, 1994, and which killed 12 people.]

It's not surprising that collapse of the Sampoong Department Store in 1995 and the Daegu Subway fire are the most referenced, as they both resulted in a catastrophically high number of deaths and were both either immediately due to or greatly exacerbated by incompetence and negligence. These characteristics are also found found in the other tragedies, but the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge resulted in fewer deaths, while the Daegu gas explosion wasn't, I suppose, exacerbated by negligence, just caused by it. With so many students killed, however, I can't help but wonder if the reason it hasn't been referenced so much is because it took place in Daegu, and not Seoul, though the references to the subway fire there would seem to suggest that that isn't the case.

In addition to these more well-known disasters, two others have been referenced as well, for obvious reasons:

[Photo from here.]

241 results for 세월호 서해 페리호, the  October 10, 1993 sinking of the "passenger liner Seohae Ferry... off the southwestern coast of North Jeolla Province, killing 292" out of 362 passengers. The ferry was carrying 141 more passengers than the 221 it was meant to carry. Initial reports also stated that there were far less casualties than there actually were.

 [Photo from here.] 

160 results for 세월호 남영호, the December 15, 1970 sinking of the passenger liner Namyoung, sailing from Jeju to Busan, off the coast of Yeosu, killing 323 people out of 338 on board. According to this article, it was meant to carry 130 tons, but was actually loaded with 230 tons of cargo.

[Some information is from this Yonhap list of shipping accidents.]

Again, it's interesting that these ferry disasters aren't well remembered; I suppose they tend to involve people not from the capital region, and took place before the internet age and explosion of media, which allows for much more 'access' to the event. (To be sure, there were many, many train and bus accidents, as well as hotel fires and building collapses back in the 1970s in particular, which are not well remembered today, even though they took place in Seoul.)

Something that weighs more on my mind is the effect so many deaths will have on the residents of Ansan, which is relatively small with a population of 76,000, as well as Danwon High School in particular. According to this article, 325 11th grade students went on the trip, and 13 stayed behind. As only 75 students have been rescued - and there's little hope at this point more will be - that leaves only 88 out of 338 students from that grade left in the school.

Last week the first funerals were held, marking the beginning of what will be hundreds of funeral processions. As well, only 3 out of 14 teachers were rescued, and one of them, the vice-principal, later committed suicide. To have 250 students and 12 teachers suddenly absent from a single grade is a loss that is almost unimaginable.

What happens when there are more empty desks with flowers on them than students, and not just in one classroom, but in ten or more?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Park Chung-hee, Songwriter

Go check out Roboseyo's post on the 1972 Shin Joong-hyun song 아름다운강산 (Beautiful Rivers and Mountains). Beyond discussing Shin and the song (and linking to the various versions of it, including the psychedelic wonder of the 1972 original and Kim Jung-mi's version from a year later) he also let me know that the writer of 나의조국 ('My Country') was Park Chung-hee. I actually have an LP of that same name by the 'National Chorus Choir' which was released in March 1977, and the songs on it are all godawful (as I figured it would be - but seeing the song titles like 'Song of the Minjok' and 'Saemaeul Song,' along with lyrics and a picturesque enough cover, made me want to buy it).

(Interesting that there are song titles in English.)

Here's what 'My Country' sounds like - just to give you an idea of what Park Chung-hee wanted people to listen to:

The song was written in late 1976, as this December 11, 1976 Maeil Gyeongje article relates:
President Park songwriter of 'My Country'

It has been revealed that the lyricist and composer of the song 'My Country,' which has been played widely on radio and TV, is President Park Chung-hee.

This was revealed on December 10 by an official who knew this fact while returning in a car to Seoul after attending a Saemaeul leader convention in Daejeon.

The official explained that on a weekend at the beginning of October, President Park personally wrote the lyrics and composed the song 'My Country' and after that when it got into general circulation via TV President Park "instructed [them] to let the lyricist and composer be anonymous, and as of yet the lyricist and composer have not been revealed."
As it turns out, releasing the song and officially claiming credit for it later was how Park did things. As this June 30, 1972 Kyunghyang Sinmun article, titled "President Park songwriter of 'Saemaeul Song,'" reveals, the Saemaeul Song was written in early May 1972 (two years after the start of the Saemaeul Movement) by the president, and the original recording featured piano played by a high school student. Park, however, had not wanted it known upon its release that he had written it, so "the writer of the song that people across the country loved to sing was hidden, but the fact was spread from mouth to mouth" until it was officially announced by the Blue House on June 30 that he had indeed written it.

This very lengthy report gives a ton of information about the Saemaeul Movement, as well as a translation of the lyrics. Here's the song itself:

Saemaul Song
Written and composed by Park Chung-hee

1. Dawn bell rings, new dawn breaks
Let me get you up, for building Saemaul

My village a good place for living
Let us build with our hands

2. With thatched roofs replaced, with village roads widened
Let us create green, tending it carefully

3. By helping each other, by working with sweat
Endeavoring for income boost, let us create a rich village

4. We all strongly, working while fighting
Fighting while working, let us build a new father land
The funny thing is, while 'let me get you up' isn't how I'd translate it, it's more true to how things turned out, at least according to what a former Peace Corps Volunteer told me. Apparently the Saemaeul Song was played at dawn every morning through an outdoor speaker near his house, so the song did actually 'get you up,' or wake you up, at least. To paraphrase him, 'I don't know how many times I thought about going out and cutting that damned speaker wire.'

The style of the music, the fact that it was played every morning for citizens to wake up to, and the lyrics should give some idea of the culture clash at work between the youth culture of the day and the culture the authoritarian government wished to cram down its citizens' throats (or in their ears), a clash that ended in 1976 with the arrests of dozens of musicians, artists, and film directors. 'My Country' is essentially a victory cheer by President Park, and a reiteration of his vision for a counterculture-free society. But I can't help but notice how similar it is to North Korean music I've heard.

I'd thought of doing a long post about music from the 60s and 70s, but Rob gave me the (great) idea of doing a series of smaller posts. So up next will be a look at Shin Jung-hyun's first album from the late 1950s.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bits and pieces

A few articles in the Joongang Ilbo yesterday looked at how 'the system' is failing children (and single mothers) in various ways. First is an article with lots of adoption-related statistics:
Over the past decade, the number of children living in foster care has doubled, from 7,565 in 2003 to 14,384 in 2012. In most cases, children were cared for by grandparents (67.9 percent) or relatives (25.6 percent), and children living with another family accounted for just 6.5 percent.[...]

The ultimate goal of the foster home system is to send children back to their birth parents. However, only 12.9 percent came back to live with their birth parents in 2012, down from 19 percent in 2006. Most children living with foster families stay with them until they’re legally adults and sometimes even later.[...]

Though the number of domestic adoptions grew continuously until 2011 to 1,548, it abruptly dropped the following year to 1,125.[...]

In 2012, of more than 2,000 babies adopted in and out of Korea, 92.7 percent were born to single mothers.[...]

Many child care advocates insist that’s precisely why the government should establish a system in which single parents can raise their children without giving them up. According to research conducted in 2011 by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 46 percent of unwed mothers had debts averaging around 13 million won ($12,514), with an average monthly income of about 785,000 won.[...]

Right now, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family provides 150,000 won to unwed mothers 24 or under. But out of a total of 360,000 mothers, just 2,005 receive benefits.
Next is an article about the lenient sentences received by two stepmothers who beat their stepdaughters to death.
A court in Daegu sentenced one woman, surnamed Lim, to 10 years in prison for beating her 8-year-old stepdaughter so hard at their home in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang, that she died of an intestinal rupture. Lim then intimidated the victim’s 12-year-old sister into taking the blame.[...]

In the second case, an Ulsan court handed out a 15-year jail sentence to a stepmother who beat her 8-year-old stepdaughter so hard last October that 16 of her 24 ribs were broken. Some of them pierced her lungs, and she died from her wounds.
The first word that pops into my head is 'scum.'In the first case, ten years does not seem enough, especially with the added factor of intimidating the sister into taking the blame.

Another article looks at criticism of a private high school in Jinju after two fifteen-year-old students died less than two weeks apart in separate instances of violence at the school.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Article about drug arrest of Korean national states "Drug crimes by native speaking teachers are never ending"

On April 3, Daejeon City Journal followed up their article from a day earlier about this drug bust with this article by reporter Shin Yu-jin. And the first paragraph isn't badly written due to my translation; it's faithful to the original, which used 등 a few too many times:
No inquiry made into native speaking instructor who taught students while on drugs

Criminal record inquiry only confirmed whether there were sex crimes

Since it was recently exposed that people such as native speaking instructors who teach children in places such as hagwons or schools taught children while high on drugs such as methamphetamine, it's been pointed out that the preparation of countermeasures is urgent.

In particular, since criminal record checks mean to filter such criminals out beforehand are limited only to sex crimes, people have loudly expressed that they should be expanded to include crimes such as drugs as well.
It then goes on to retell the story of A, the Thai tour guide who brought and sold the meth to B, the problem with whom was that he was a native speaking instructor who taught students. It continues:
Besides this, it was disclosed that nine other people including acquaintances bought the meth from B and used it, and among these was a hagwon instructor who, like B, taught children.

In addition, before these two hagwon instructors were arrested, they worked in places like hagwons and an investigation confirmed that they were criminals with records involving five and fourteen charges, respectively, including drug crimes.

Prior to this, last month as well an English instructor of United States nationality was booked without detention for smuggling drugs. Drug crimes by native speaking teachers are never ending.

In fact, if we look at the status of native speaking assistant English teacher crime, between 2009 and August 2013, twenty five committed crimes, with drug crimes making up most (8), as compared to six drunk driving charges, three assault charges, and two theft charges.

The reason for such a high drug crime rate is that the criminal record inquiry for hagwon instructors who teach children or teens only confirms whether there are sex crimes.

An official from the West Daejeon Education Office said, "In the case of hagwon instructors, one month before they are hired they receive a physical examination at a designated hospital where they are also checked for drugs, but after they are hired they can use drugs." "Foreigners have criminal record checks from their home countries, but in connection to the child and youth law the criminal record check only inquires into sex crimes."

In regard to this, one parent asked, "What would happen if they committed other crimes when teaching children while high on drugs?" "There should be, without a doubt, inquiries into not only sex crimes, but also drugs."
I have a hard time believing drug crimes for foreign instructors are not looked at by immigration, but have no idea how the Ministry of Education operates; there's nothing about only sex crimes being looked at in the 2011 Hagwon Law revision. At any rate, Koreans are not subject to the the part of the law dealing with 'foreign instructors,' though the subjects of the most current arrests are Korean citizens (the second 'hagwon instructor' mentioned above is neither described as 'foreign' or as an 'English instructor,' and you can be sure he/she would be described so if they were).

More fun is the fact that we're dealing with Korean nationals being arrested, but the reporter can declare "Drug crimes by native speaking teachers are never ending." Even better is the fact that he/she quotes from statistics about crime by public school foreign teachers* and then declares that "The reason for such a high drug crime rate is that the criminal record inquiry for hagwon instructors who teach children or teens only confirms whether there are sex crimes." Brilliant. I actually had trouble translating that sentence because it took a minute to realize it was actually saying something that stupid.

* Statistics which reveals a drug arrest rate about average for foreigners in Korea (which is not that much higher than the Korean rate, of course).

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Arrest of Korean citizen native speaking instructor exposes loopholes in criminal record check system

At least one 'native speaking teacher' was arrested for smuggling and taking meth last week. Newsis, which published an article that likely has the most information, reports:
Arrests for taking and transporting meth include native speaking English instructor

[The Daejeon regional police drug investigation unit held a briefing on April second about 11 people including a native speaking English instructor from Gyeonggi-do arrested for taking and smuggling methamphetamine.]

Police caught a group of offenders, including a native speaking English instructor who taught middle and high school students, for the illegal smuggling, selling and taking of methamphetamine.

On April 2 the Daejeon regional police drug investigation unit arrested five people including native speaking English instructor Mr. Choi (39) for bringing methamphetamine from overseas and selling and taking it, in contravention of the drug control law, and booked without detention six people including Mr. Kim (50) who only took the drug.

According to police, Mr. Choi is suspected of meeting a Thai tour guide in the vicinity of Incheon Airport on January 14 at 8:00 in the morning and buying a gram of meth from him for 400,000 won and both taking it and reselling it.

The police investigation found that because Mr. Choi knew that tour guides have simplified customs procedures, he wanted to exploit this and coaxed A, who he had known for some time, into bringing Thai-made meth into the country.

In particular, Mr. Choi immigrated to the United States as a child and became a permanent resident (his nationality is South Korean), but in 2005, he was deported for domestic violence and after that came to our country and taught students as a native speaking instructor in the Bundang and Suji areas of Gyeonggi-do for several years.

Police also disclosed that in 2006 he was sentenced to and served two years in prison for involvement in the crime of manufacturing drugs.

When Choi was arrested at dawn on February 26 he was high on methamphetamine and he said that the hallucinogenic effects of one dose of methamphetamine lasts about five days.

Police explained that Choi taught at three hagwons and 7 private lessons, and they cannot rule out the possibility that he taught middle and high school students while high.

(Police show off confiscated disposable syringes.)

The criminal background check hagwon that must be undergone by instructors teaching young people only confirms whether or not there are sex crimes, and Choi, with his drug-related criminal activity, was not filtered out.
We've seen cases like this before where Korean nationals deported from the US come back to Korea and teach English, and are described as 'native speaking instructors.' Of course, it's often seen that Korean Americans can have a hard time being considered native speakers, unless of course they commit crimes, in which their 'native speaking instructor' status will be included in headlines.

While the title of the KBS report about this is fairly tame ('Hagwon native speaking instructor turned out to be a drug criminal'), News Y's report is suitably sensational: 'Native speaking hagwon instructor with criminal record for drugs teaches class while high.' One has to appreciate how we go from the assertion that police "cannot rule out the possibility that he taught middle and high school students while high" to the headline above. Local media tend to highlight the identity of the teacher:

Daejeon Ilbo: 'Native speaking instructor habitually takes meth'

Daejeon City Journal: 'Native speaking instructor who teaches students [there's another kind?] takes meth'

Mind you, Chungcheong Today's article wins the most points in this regard, both with its title - 'Drug-taking native speaking instructor spouts nonsense ("shalla shalla") at the lectern' - and its opening sentence:
There is shock after it was disclosed that a native speaking instructor who was released after serving time in prison for being involved in drug production recently taught young students while high on methamphetamine.
Anyway, the overseas criminal record check requirements called for in the 2011 revision of the Hagwon Law apply only to 'foreign instructors', who are defined as "non-citizens of the Republic of Korea who [...] are responsible for instruction in a hagwon." There clearly is a loophole here for Koreans who have lived abroad and are considered 'native speakers.' The public school system, as far as I know, requires overseas criminal record checks from even Korean nationals, but clearly the Hagwon Law does not call for that, despite there being several cases where this kind of thing has happened. Of course, the problem is that even local drug arrests didn't seem to matter for a Korean national teaching in a hagwon, and, unsurprisingly, there are calls to change this.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Christopher Paul Neil faces new charges in Canada

After returning to Canada upon serving five years in a Thai prison, being detained by police, being released with restrictions, and then pleading guilty to breaching those conditions in October of last year, Christopher Paul Neil was arrested in British Columbia on March 28:
Authorities in British Columbia have laid 10 new charges against convicted sex offender Christopher Paul Neil after conducting investigations into his activities over the past 10 years in Vancouver, Maple Ridge and Cambodia.[...]

Neil faces one count each of production of child porn and possession of child pornography relating to incidents that allegedly occurred in 2007 in Maple Ridge.

He also faces two counts of sexual touching and two counts of invitation to sexual touching stemming from alleged incidents in 2003 in Cambodia.[...]

The Criminal Code gives Canadian authorities the power to investigate and prosecute certain offences, such as child pornography and the victimization of children, committed by Canadian citizens in other countries. 
According to the Richmond Review [cache], on October 16, 2013 he "pled guilty to possessing a computer capable of connecting to the Internet on Aug. 1, 2013 at or near the city of Vancouver, which is a breach of one of his recognizance conditions." In January it was reported [cache] that evidence of child pornography had been found on his computer and that he would undergo a psychiatric assessment:
During an investigation launched after Vancouver Police received information Neil was in possession of electronics capable of accessing the Internet, Neil's cell phone, e-book reader and laptop were seized. After a thorough examination of his laptop, investigators found evidence he downloaded software that enabled computer folders to be completely hidden from view, and password protected. Several file names were found, including a half dozen with names suggestive of child pornography. Other files contained images of young boys having sex. His cell phone also contained images of young women, between the ages of 10 and 15.
What's interesting is that in October 2012, a BC court decided that Neil would be monitored for 18 months. One wonders if these charges coming at this time are related to that, or just a coincidence, especially considering the man is an obvious candidate for re-offending.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Writing about 'prejudice against intermarriage'... in 1988 and 1998

One wonders what sparked off the writing of this April 1, 1988 column in the Korea Times (click to enlarge):

There are some fun arguments there, such as saying that marriage to foreigners shows that Korea is "becoming an international, advanced nation," and that marrying a westerner will lead Korean women to get "the best one can out of life." It's also good to know about the possibility of "healthy, tan colored, highly intelligent offspring." My, how sensitivities when it comes to writing about race have changed in 26 years.

Reading his description of the qualities Korean women possess reminded me a little of the way they were written about in this book from 1950, though he doesn't go quite as far as to describe them as "the earthly reflection of heavenly feminine beauty."

His description of such attitudes being due to "unproductive relationships between U.N. soldiers and Korean women" in the 1950s gets close to truth, but it was, in fact, such relationships which had occurred constantly ever since that time which tended to raise the ire of Koreans. As Bruce Cumings described it in this book, "the social construction [by American men] of every Korean female as a potential object of pleasure for Americans" as "the most important aspect of the whole relationship and the primary memory of Korea for generations of young American men who have served there." For those who were witness to that aspect of the relationship, the memory remained as well.

This New York Times article from 1998 describes attitudes as being quite similar:
Interracial relationships are a sensitive issue in many countries, but particularly so in South Korea. Such romances offer a window into the society, for they touch some of the most sensitive nerves in the Korean psyche -- relating to national identity, to attitudes toward foreigners and to ideals about the purity of women.

"I'd like to settle down with my girlfriend, and I wonder if her family would ever accept me," mused Frank A. Dressler, a 36-year-old American who has been going out with a Korean woman in Seoul for two years. "Her family still doesn't know I exist."

To be sure, the family did once get an inkling, and the reaction was not promising. The parents locked the girlfriend in the home for 10 days, telling her to call in sick at her job. Then they alternated interrogations with lectures.

"They said, 'There will be no mixing blood in our family,'" recalled the woman, who insisted that she not be identified. They warned her that any romance with a foreigner would not only ruin her own marriage prospects but would also make it more difficult for her brother and sister to marry. [...]

The sensitivities have become more visible in part because South Korea has the American troops and in part because thousands of other young Westerners have come here, often working as English teachers. Most of them are young, single and male, unfamiliar with South Korean customs and thrilled to be surrounded by what they perceive as throngs of gorgeous and eligible young women.
It's interesting to see that English teachers got a mention, but then even a year earlier they had been written about in the Kukmin Ilbo by current Democratic Party leader Kim Han-gil, who said that "the reason white men really like Korea is to chase after Korean women," and argued that "[t]he seriousness of the problem with unqualified white English instructors, however, is that they are personally penetrating each home of our society's middle class under the pretext of English conversation study."

Mind you, even in 1998, it's stated that things are improving:
"It used to be pretty bad -- I'd get things thrown at me if I were dancing with a Korean girl," said Peter Keusgen, a 29-year-old Australian stock analyst who has spent most of the last six years in South Korea. "Coming from that low base, Korea's come a long way. People are much more accepting now."
No doubt there have been far more changes in attitudes in the 16 years since that article was written as compared to the ten years between it and the Korea Times column.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Traffic Jams

From the Korea Times, January 10, 1988:

Now we've gone from foreigners complaining about traffic jams in Seoul to locals complaining about foreigners (or foreign film production crews, at any rate) creating traffic jams in Seoul. I guess that's progress?

At least some people have a sense of humour about it... especially the one about Iron Man being ripped off at Yongsan Electronics Market.