Friday, August 18, 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Surfin' ROK

Sure, people on other blogs are wondering where all those people go to the bathroom (actually, there are a number of public restrooms there, adequate for the thousands who usually go there, though perhaps not enough for this many people), but my first thought was how deafening it must what with all the lifeguards blowing their whistles at people to stay behind the safety rope.

Orange County beaches get crowded, but virtually never as crowded as this. It may be because we have so many of them: forty-plus miles of seaside for three million people (plus the odd Ryan-esque surf-seeker from Chino). On the other hand, Pusan has millions of people and mere strips of usable beach.

The tragedy of Korea (well, one tragedy, anyway) is that there are so many hundreds of kilometers of beautiful beach that are off-limits to the public due to military concerns. Along the east coast and the southern islands, for example, there are waters along turquoise beaches clear enough to search out clams in the sand below and dig them up (this is what we did last year).

Maybe someday, when the North Korean military threat is no more. For now, most South Korean beaches are cordoned off with barbed wire and patrolled by armed soldiers walking along fences with rocks placed in the holes as a crude indicator of infiltrators.

Maybe the nearby Japanese island of Tsushima (Taemado in Korean) should start marketing some of their beaches; it's just a two-hour boat ride off Pusan.

[Stupid Romanization note: Haeundae in the new system could be 해운대 or 하은대.]

Slight majority of Japanese oppose Yasukuni visits by next prime minister

Japan's Mainichi Daily and Nihon Keizai Shimbun have released polls indicating that 54% and 53%, respectively, of all Japanese say that the next prime minister should not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine to Japan's war dead. The rise in opposition may be due to rising tensions with China and Korea, plus recent revelations that Emperor Hirohito was supposedly against Yasukuni honoring the architects of Japan's war in East Asia and the Pacific.

That second bit of news is that Hirohito apparently opposed enshrinement of the so-called Yasukuni-14, the fourteen Class-A war criminals enshrined in the late 1970s. If true, some say that would seriously undermine the logic for the enshrinement and for the rightists' visits.

Highlights of the Japan Times article:
The memo, uncovered and reported by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on Thursday, rocked the nation's political circles because it indicated that the Emperor, posthumously known as Showa, stopped paying visits to Yasukuni Shrine because it enshrined Class-A war criminals in 1978.

The revelation that Emperor Hirohito's had antipathy against the war criminals is a severe blow to conservative politicians and academics who have defended them.

They have argued that the military tribunal, controlled by the Allies, ignored the colonial advancement by the Western powers and one-sidedly identified Japan as the only evil state that waged wars to conquer Asian countries.

Those conservatives put much faith in the prewar sense of nationalism, which was based on the Emperor system. Yasukuni has also long been an ideological foothold for such nationalism.
And this:
Shiro Akazawa, a professor of Japanese politics at Ritsumeikan University and an expert on Yasukuni issues, said the Emperor's comment in the memo is particularly troublesome for the shrine because, in the prewar era, Yasukuni enshrined those who dedicated their lives to the state only after the Emperor approved the list of candidates for enshrinement.

For Yasukuni at that time, the Emperor was considered tantamount to the state itself.

In the postwar era, even though the Constitution stipulates a strict separation between state and religion, the practice still exists and a list of those to be enshrined is submitted to the Emperor in advance, although officially he does not have the right to approve or disapprove any of the names.

"When we brought a list (including the war criminals) to the Imperial Household Agency, an official at the agency clearly said that (the Emperor) won't visit anymore if (Yasukuni) enshrines people like them," recalled Baba.

As Baba indicated, Emperor Hirohito, who had visited the shrine regularly to pray for people who died for the state, no longer visited the politically controversial site after 1975.

Emperor Akihito, who succeeded Emperor Hirohito after his father's death in 1989, has not visited the shrine since his enthronement.
Interestingly, this article quotes a person who states something that contradicts the polls mentioned above:
Yet Akazawa pointed out that repeated protests by China and South Korea appear to be pushing many Japanese people toward supporting the prime minister's visits to Yasukuni.
Maybe when I get to the US I'll have time to write out those Yasukuni posts. The government and people of Japan deserve a national place to honor those who sacrificed their lives for their country — even when the cause was foolhardy and destroyed peace — but Yasukuni Shrine can no longer be that place.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Los Angeles Times on Koreans and kyopo presence in golf

I'm always happy to link to a Los Angeles Times story related to Korea that's not written by Barbara Demmick (not to disparage Ms. Demmick, but it's good to have a variety of viewpoints on these issues), and this one is about how a good old-fashioned work ethic, a love for the game, a dedication to learning, and a culture in Korea that places golf high in social status have brought many Koreans and kyopo to the sport professionally — women's golf in particular.

To really get a feel for this, take a look at the list of the top twenty LPGA earners: eight of them are Korean nationals or of Korean descent. Interesting that this is the sport where Koreans tend to dominate, especially since Olympic marathoning hasn't taken off as a Korean "branding" like people expected.

Frankly, I don't know much about golf (although there is a lot of golf around me: a cousin is a golf pro; my mother is an avid golfer but a lousy golf teacher; and an uncle was swindled out of a partial investment in an Orange County driving range by a person I quickly saw was shifty but my uncle thought was merely eccentric, a man who ended up being a fugitive of both the ROK and US authorities), but I'm interested in this in terms of how media creates and maintains an image. Alongside kimchi, the Korean War, taekwondo, Korean corporate brands (Samsung, LG, Kia, and Hyundai), and the North Korean standoff, golf is becoming more and more prominent.

Anyway, here is the yet-unfisked article in its copyright-violated entirety:
Cultural Movement
South Korean golfers and those of Korean descent work hard to make their mark at U.S. junior level and begin to dominate on the LPGA Tour
By Peter Yoon, Times Staff Writer, July 19, 2006

As a child prodigy growing up in South Korea, Sihwan Kim figured that he would have to pack up his golf clubs and head for the United States.

In his home country he was relegated to hitting off mats at fenced-in driving ranges because the cost of golf in South Korea — about $200 a round — and the inaccessibility of courses, both public and private, make the sport difficult for middle-class citizens.

"It's just not easy to play over there," he said.

So, in 2000, Kim's parents followed the lead of dozens before by moving to the United States to help advance their son's budding golf career. The Kim family settled in Southern California, drawn by its large Korean population, warm weather and an abundance of golf courses and instructors. Kim was 11. Four years later, he was the U.S. Junior Amateur champion.

Kim will try to duplicate that championship this week at the U.S. Junior tournament, which began Monday at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club in San Diego County. Chances are he'll have to go through some fellow South Koreans to pull it off.

That's because Koreans and Americans born to parents of Korean descent have become a major force on the U.S. junior golf circuit the last several years. It has also trickled to the college and professional ranks, especially on the LPGA Tour, where nine of the 18 winners this year have been Koreans.

And that doesn't include Michelle Wie, 16, a Hawaii resident who has South Korean parents and is the world's most famous Korean junior golfer even though she is now a pro.

Why is this happening?

There are myriad reasons, experts say: Good old-fashioned work ethic, a love for the game, a dedication to learning and a culture in Korea that places golf high in social status.

Another reason is the success of Se Ri Pak. When the 20-year old Korean qualified for the LPGA Tour in 1998, she won four times, including two major championships. That drew the attention of many Koreans. Pak has won more than 20 LPGA tournaments and $8 million in prize money and she has helped trigger a flood of Koreans to the driving ranges and the LPGA Tour.

"I wanted to be a professional figure skater," said Jane Rah of Torrance, 16, the state high school girls' golf champion, who is ranked No. 16 in the nation. "But when Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Open, it showed me that Koreans could play."

Don Brown, the director of instruction at Harbor Golf Practice Center in Wilmington who teaches several rising Korean stars, expects more Korean players to emerge. "They're serious," he said. "They get on a schedule and stick to it. They're different."

Recent successes by Korean junior golfers have included Kim's victory in the 2004 U.S. Junior and a U.S. Women's Amateur Championship in 2004 by Jane Park, then 17. Park, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, plans to turn pro next month.

The U.S. Girls' Amateur championship, which began Monday in North Carolina, has had Korean champions in four of the last seven years and four of the last six second-place finishers are of Korean descent.

Among the top 50 boys in the current Golfweek magazine national rankings, 10 have Korean surnames. On the girls' side, 18 players of Korean descent are in the top 50. And of the 77 tournaments conducted by the American Junior Golf Assn. so far this year, 14 — nearly 20% — have been won by Korean players.

That success has spilled to the adult amateur level. Three of the eight men's quarterfinalists in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship last week were of Korean descent. At last month's U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, Tiffany Joh defeated Kimberly Kim in the final. Both are Americans born to South Korean parents.

And there is the stunning success of Koreans on the LPGA Tour, where eight Korean players have won this year. In 2005, there were also eight Korean winners. Before that, there had never been more than five.

"Oh, it's totally getting tougher every year," said Annika Sorenstam, the No. 1 women's golfer in the world. "The last five years, you've seen a lot of players from all around the world and especially Korea. They have a lot of talent and they seem to do really well once they get to the top on the leaderboard and they seem to stay there."

Bobby Lasken, a swing coach at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, has taught two Koreans that won the U.S. Junior championship: James Oh in 1998 and Sihwan Kim in 2004.

His success has drawn other Koreans to Lasken and half of his lesson book is now filled by Korean juniors. While many spend long hours with him honing their skills, they are not range rats, just beating balls all day, he said.

"They're working differently than the other kids," Lasken said. "They are really into perfecting the technical aspects. They are very savvy to how they should be swinging."

KyeYoung Park, associate professor of anthropology and Asian-American studies at UCLA, said cultural factors help draw Koreans to golf.

Golf in Korea is very expensive and the game is limited to the upper classes. And even if players can afford the fees, there are only about 50 public courses in the country. So when young Koreans arrive in the U.S. and find green fees of under $30, they take up the game. "Golf in Korea is viewed as a lifestyle for the rich and famous," KyeYoung Park said. "To be able to play golf is sort of a status symbol."

Also, the Korean view of sports as a career began changing after the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, KyeYoung Park said. "Before the Olympics, Korean people never paid attention to sports as a career," KyeYoung Park said. "If sports are now acceptable as a career and golf is a sport that gives you status, then of course you are going to play golf."

Se Ri Pak, who began playing in 1990, was a product of that thinking. Like many of today's young players, she was introduced to the game by her father.

Another factor in the success of Korean golfers is that many parents will uproot their family and move to the U.S. so their kids can pursue a golf career.

Frank Park, Jane's father and golf coach, acknowledged that children sometimes practice hard out of respect to their families. "Juniors sometimes don't have much of a choice. If the parents say you have to do it, then you do it," he said.

Sihwan Kim's father spends much of his time working in South Korea while his family lives in California. "You definitely realize what they are doing for you," Sihwan Kim said. "It makes you want to work harder so that they aren't disappointed."

The flip side to this dedication is the risk of burnout. Se Ri Pak's father reportedly forced her to practice for hours at a time.

After years of success, Pak in 2004 and in 2005 failed to crack the top 100 money list on the LPGA Tour for the first time. She took four months off from golf. "I was so much tired by the game," Pak said. "It was such a hard time to focus."

The break rejuvenated her. Last month she won the LPGA Championship, her first victory in two years.

Korean boys seem to fizzle more frequently than girls before advancing to the pro level, according to Frank Park, Jane Park's father. K.J. Choi and Diamond Bar's Kevin Na are the only Koreans on the PGA Tour.

"Americans have more balance when they are younger," Frank Park said. "Korean players are dedicated only to golf. That's why they are so good as juniors. But sometimes, they get sick of it."

However, golf instructor Lasken insists he has seen as many American parents ruin budding careers as he has Koreans. "You see it everywhere where parents push, push, push," he said.

But whatever the reason, the fact remains that young Koreans are a force in golf.


In the money

Koreans in LPGA leaders (Michelle Wie, who has won $444,951, isn't LPGA member).

1. Lorena Ochoa...$1,446,641

2. Annika Sorenstam...$1,290,382

3. Karrie Webb...$1,197,433

4. Mi Hyun Kim...$1,014,724

5. Juli Inkster...$975,571

6. Hee-Won Han...$771,533

7. Brittany Lincicome...$764,806

8. Seon Hwa Lee...$742,927

9. Pat Hurst...$719,154

10. Jeong Jang...$677,771

11. Cristie Kerr...$653,030

12. Paula Creamer...$647,869

13. Se Ri Pak...$621,439

14. Natalie Gulbis...$573,441

15. Meena Lee...$420,905

16. Julieta Granada...$380,286

17. Stacy Prammanasudh...$354,308

18. Sung Ah Yim...$349,941

19. Shi Hyun Ahn...$347,758

20. Ai Miyazato...$336,684

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

North Koreans also affected by monsoon-related flooding

While we in South Korea are still recovering from days of torrential rain that have flooded major transportation arteries — particularly those built along waterways such as the Han River and the Chungnangch'ŏn Stream — it's important to note that North Koreans have also been hard hit.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, one of the few international groups operating in the DPRK, is reporting that more than a hundred people are dead or missing in North Korea due to floods and landslides. The damage has cut off telephone connections, they said, making the collection of reliable information difficult.

By the way, the picture here, taken last Sunday, is of the Olympic Expressway, a key highway for east-west commuters. Many other roads were flooded and impassable, including the Tongbu Kansŏndoro (translated as Tongbu Expressway?), a major thoroughfare for people living in the northern parts of Seoul.

North Korea is officially saying now that hundreds of people are dead or missing following heavy rains this month. They also said that tens of thousands of buildings, bridges, and roadways have been destroyed by floods or landslides.

And as in the past, there are indications that food production has been badly affected and there is a risk of famine, at a time when South Korea has cut off rice and fertilizer aid in protest of the July 5 missile launchings.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Newsweek on upcoming race for the presidency in South Korea

Newweek has a good article on the upcoming battle between former party head Park Geunhye and former Seoul mayor Lee Myungbak for the Hannara Party nomination.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

"Taepodong aimed at Hawaii": Missiles, mouths, and other things that can be shot off

Wouldn't you know it? I go into retirement — at least for a month while I get things in order — and then North Korea shoots off its much-touted Taepodong-2, plus six others for good measure.

I'm sure this was a ploy to get me back in the blogosphere. Or to get the US to meet with them in two-way talks and extract billions of dollars in concessions from them. Either/or.

Frankly, I'm glad they shot it off. Too many question marks when the thing was on the launchpad — Will they or won't they? Will they shoot it toward Japan again? Will they aim it at American territory to prove the point? Should the US shoot it down now? How can we work the slang term "dong" into the news story without looking like we're working the slang term "dong" into the news story?

Now that they've shot it off, the question marks are mostly gone. Sure, there are newer question marks, but they are smaller and they're accompanied by big fat exclamation points, plus maybe a few periods and semicolons.

The launch has occurred and we know the results. And that's a good thing.

First, we know that the North Koreans are brazen enough in their brinksmanship to thumb their noses at world opinion. But is this new information? Hell, no. It is merely a reinforcement for those who forgot. Maybe it's a lesson that the Roh-Chung administration needed to re-learn, so again, it's a good thing.

Second, the damned missile didn't work! This ooh-so-scary missile that groups like CBS News kept drumming into people's heads, telling us that the North Koreans "have enough plutonium to build about eight nuclear weapons and a missile that can reach all the way to the West Coast of the United States."

The same missile that former Clinton officials William Perry and Ashton Carter (not the guy from "That's '70s Show") said should be shot down while sitting on the launchpad in North Korean territory (and idea which Vice President Cheney wisely shot down himself).

In other words, North Korean has blown its wad. It was talking tough, acting tough, calculating how many billions of dollars in concessions it would squeeze out of Washington...and its missile was a dud. The Fourth of July displays being shot off around the same time were probably in the air longer. [Oh, and that's another thing: any news outlet that tells you that the North Koreans launched the missiles on July 4th are mistaken, though a number of them have been highlighting the test-firing being on Independence Day].

So we still have the brazen brinksmanship of Kim Jong-il. And we have no working Taepodong-2. We have Tokyo fired up — which is not necessarily a good thing — but we also seem to have Seoul fired up, not just the Hannara opposition but the Blue House as well.

And maybe this will deflate some of the doom and gloom that the US press — the liberal outlets in fact — have been putting forth. The op-ed by Perry and Carter suggesting a pre-emptive strike, the "this misile can reach all the way to the West Coast of the United States" scare tactics.

I guess some among the Democrats, as well as the liberal media, are trying to underscore an anti-Iraq theme: because Bush has gotten us bogged down in what was an elective war that had nothing to do with the War on Terror, we have been less capable of handling things that really matter, like the North Korean situation.

Okay, maybe there is a point there, but scare tactics are not the way to go. This is perhaps the left's version of "the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." But starting a likely war over a missile that had not yet been fired, may not in fact be illegal to test-fire, and may turn out to be a dud, is not the most prudent thing.

The Bush Administration is telling us we need to stick to diplomatic efforts, even if they are "slow and cumbersome," which encourages me that they're being appropriately cool-headed (and perhaps their hands are tied just a little thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan).

But others won't let this go. The mainstream conservative Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun of is telling us that the Taepodong-2 shot off in the wee hours of July 5, had it not disintegrated less than a minute after take-off, was aimed at Hawaii.

The Los Angeles Times article I linked above used the same phrasing: the missile allegedly "had targeted the U.S. state of Hawaii."

Are we back to a situation where fear-mongering in the press will rule the day? What is the goal on this particular matter? In Japan, is it for justification for shedding the trappings of the pacifist constitution? In the US, will this be used to jump-start NMD again (national missile defense)?

These ominous descriptions of North Korea read to nuke Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu can't be by accident. Maybe there is no sinister plan, but the meme is now out there and can be nudged in that direction.

Might I remind everyone that we already have a great form of deterrence already in place to prevent a nuclear attack on Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Japan, etc.: it's called kicking their ass.

Remember what happened the last time a foreign entity used Hawaii as a military target? A sleeping giant awoke, and that attacker was destroyed.

Ditto with North Korea: any missile attack on any part of US soil or the soil of a US ally, would invited complete retaliation. A singed and smoldering DPRK leadership would be dumped onto the dustpile of history.

In fact, in some ways I was thinking — before the Taepodong-2 failure — that this was a possible outcome: the missile would be launched, it would accidentally land on Japanese territory, and the incident would be seen as a justification for taking out the DPRK government.

I wasn't hoping for that, because it would make Seoul a very dangerous place for about 72 hours, but in the end, so many problems would be solved. Maybe that was what enticed Bush and his handlers about going to war to oust Saddam Hussein. The problem not predicting the unforeseen results: Bush-41 wisely thought it was imprudent to march into Baghdad, and his son proved him right (sort of). It's imprudent to march into Baghdad and expect everyone to be one big giddy mass of USA-loving liberatees. Planning better for resistance is prudent.

Maybe in North Korea there wouldn't be much resistance — though guerrilla warfare could last years — but the reaction of our good friend China would be a wildcard. It's a dangerous thing to think invading another country would be a cake-walk.

At any rate, not a whole hell of a lot has changed. Some people are now paying attention. If the co-worker described here really was reacting the way she was described as reacting, then she's an uninformed idiot for not realizing that she has been vulnerable to attack by flying objects from the north all this time. The Taepodong-2, even if successful, does not change that for her.

The idealist leftists currently running the government here (with approal rankings hovering around 20%) have been given a wake-up call. Some in the South Korean media have been saying that the Blue House has been humiliated by this failure of South-North dialogue, which is why Seoul is now inclined to see eye-to-eye with Tokyo and Washington. Sending no more fertilizer and rice to the North is probably prudent — Pyongyang needs to see that its acting out has consequences.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I have been looking at all I have to do between now and the time I make my semi-permanent move to the United States at the beginning of August (for the first time since graduating from college), and as much as it pains me to say this, I think I have to go into retirement as far as this blog is concerned. I've got to focus on things that pay the bills and what free time I have will have to be focused on wrapping up loose ends and what-not.

If the planets are aligned just right, and I get enough help in other areas, I may be able to continue blogging at an almost normal rate, but don't hold your breath. If somehow I end up getting a MacBook Pro to replace this five-year-old iBook, I might return to normal blogging, just because it will cut in half the time it takes to prepare a post. There's also a chance that when I get to the States I will be able to return to normal blogging, but it can't be a priority. I and the people I work with have other creative projects that must be done first.

Unlike some people who "stopped" blogging, I won't be taking down this blog, and I will answer questions. I may also stick up some things from time to time. In fact, there's not a small chance that this announcement might be followed by far more blogging than usual.

UPDATE (May 2008):
The planets never were aligned right. The end of July 2006 came and I had to turn off my Internet and sever my wi-fi membership. It took me over two weeks to put my stuff in storage (books, an entire office including five computers, plus clothes, pictures, you name it), and then I flew away in early August. My life is now very busy, though I always keep up with Korean news and events (it's part of my job). I do some writing but a catastrophic family event that occurred shortly after I arrived in the United States sucks up virtually every bit of free time I have. If you find yourself in Hawaii and you'd like to have a Blue Hawaiian from a translator in this blue state, drop me a note here and maybe we can meet up. The Kona coffee is also good. Sonagi, if you're reading this, get my email address from The Marmot and drop me a line. If you and I are not the same person, of course. 

SECOND UPDATE (Sunday, February 1, 2009, 7:51 a.m.):
Well, a couple months after I wrote the first update, I decided I wanted to carve out some time for this blog. And what started out as a trickle of posts (even in 2007 there were a handful of them), turned into a full-blown stream of them: 167 posts from July to December 2008, about one a day. As it now stands on the first day of February 2009, I think things are sort of back to normal as they were in Seoul, but my focus is a little different, particularly in that there are a few more things here having nothing to do with Korea, and a few more that would be related to my other homes, California and now Hawaii. 

Interesting links

The Los Angeles Times has a write-up of Korean eateries in the area and the whole 24/7 atmosphere that goes along with them.

Seoul is the most expensive city in Asia and the second most expensive city in the world. That is, if you are a New York City executive trying to live the lifestyle of a New York City executive outside of New York City.

How safe is Seoul? It's so safe that if you just call directory assistance to find out the number of, say, the Swiss embassy and tell them you're planning to blow it up, you will be arrested. No actual blowing up of any buildings is required.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Leave Rush the fu¢k alone

Rush Limbaugh, bastion of conservative talk radio and long-time supporter of the ACLU (or is that the other way around?), is in the news yet again.

Beneath the inflammatory headline, "Limbaugh's latest drug run-in," CNN informs us that radio commentator Rush Limbaugh was detained for three hours at the Palm Beach, Florida, airport because, according to police, he had Viagra in his possession without a valid prescription.

Okay, so the guy did have legal problems surrounding how he illegally obtained painkillers and all that, but does every move the guy makes deserve this kind of press play?

Show a fucking ounce of compassion, not to mention propriety and proportionality.

Yeah, the guy can be a jerk, a polarizer, an occasional race-baiter, a deceiver, etc., etc. (and yes, I often listen to his show; unlike some people, I regularly listen to people of a different ideological bent from my own, even those I consider dogmatic, because it helps me challenge and strengthen — and occasionally alter — my own beliefs), but none of that deserves the embarrassment of having such details of one's private life splattered all over the media.

It was already iffy when the press was trying to get ahold of his medical records during his painkiller legal fiasco, but this goes beyond the pale.

The famous are people, too. I can't think of anyone who would want their use of Viagra plastered all over the place. So the guy was detained over his possession of the medication that had his doctor's name, not his, but this is going overboard. He admitted the medication was his — it had the doctors's names on it, according to Limbaugh's lawyer, to protect this very privacy — and was released without charge.

So if he ever gets detained over a traffic ticket, are we going to here about this? Is that the requisite for the press to get involved? Or is it only when he gets detained for potentially humiliating things?

Leave the guy the fuck alone.

Yeah, yeah. I know that's not going to happen. It's man-bites-dog news, and the hypocritical, merciless, acerbic, and vitriolic may not be deserving of the kind of compassion he denies his opponents (or their kids), but on principle, if nothing else, it is wrong to make this into the media story it is.

The public ain't got a right to know a fucking thing here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Too much fun with Macs

I have wasted far too much time at the COEX Apple Store today.

15 centimeters of fame

This picture is making all the rounds in the K-blogosphere, so I may as well put it up, too. I would like to point out a few things about, if ya'll will bear with me.

1. It should be noted that of the 70,000 people who showed up at City Hall Plaza in downtown Seoul to watch the game, 69,999 of them did not protest bad calls by dropping their pants. Putting this up on AP is like when local news cameras try to find the dumbest, most illiterate, and most poorly informed individual of a certain race to interview when some news story breaks out in the local neighborhood.

2. The "I was protesting" line may be a cover story for the wife. I think what’s really going on is that this guy was getting a full-body “sports massage” from one of the Red Devils and then the sun suddenly came up.

3. Think how much more disturbing this picture would be if this guy had lived the last three decades of his life with easy access to Big Macs, pizza, and Big Gulps.

4. If he isn't arrested for indecent exposure, this man at least deserves a ticket for going the wrong way.

5. Did anyone besides me notice the street sweepers, in the upper left corner, beating up those pink-clad fans lying on the ground? Where’s the outrage about that? Is this guy meant to distract everyone from this obvious human rights abuse?

New feature at Monster Island

From now on, any story that mentions the nattering nabobs of Naver (i.e., Korea's so-called netizens) being upset, angry, sad, puzzled, offended, dumbstruck, etc., at some issue du jour, will include a parenthetical aside that hints at satirical mocking.

Something along the lines of "Oh, no! The Netizens are angry! Let's alter foreign relations policy to appease them!"

Don't say you haven't been warned.

Expat bloggers with frog-in-the-well syndrome?

The K-blogosphere is all aflutter with predictions of how Korean netizens angry over supposedly bad calls are going to sully Korea's reputation in world sport.

Not gonna happen. Not when 300 English fans being arrested for clashing with German police ahead of England's latest World Cup match (geez, couldn't they wait until they lost or something?) are headlining the news in Korea's stead:
Trouble flared after England fans, many of whom had been drinking in pubs and bars all day, began exchanging insults with German fans who were in a square in the city centre to watch Germany's match against Sweden on giant TV screens.

An AFP photographer at the scene said riot police conducted baton charges and used pepper spray to disperse thousands of German fans.

When both sets of fans began throwing bottles and tables from pubs and bars police, some of them on horseback, created a barrier to separate the two groups.

You see, the childish annoyance of Korean netizens just can't compete with real-world violence. Unless people shouting "Tae~han~min-guk!" start trashing the place and physically assaulting fans from other countries, no one is going to pay much attention to these outbursts. Instead, I'm guessing that if the Korean team is remembered for anything, it will be that its fans cleaned up after themselves in Leipzig.

By the bye, Korean network television is showing the rest of the World Cup. At this very moment, some network is showing the England-vs-Ecuador game (it's a scoreless tie so far).

Which means that this was a pretty silly thing to say. Maybe it was meant tongue-in-cheek, but this is the kind of thing that a lot of the expat bloggers really believe. Why let reality get in the way of a stereotype of Korea as xenophobic and entirely self-absorbed?

I'll be so glad when the World Cup is finally over.

The ever-scatological Party Pooper has taken issue with this post, making a post of his own (
"Blog Award Nominations") revolving around this post. In particular, he thinks I have unfairly dissed Lost Nomad:

I understand there is some sort of Blog awards thing going on again. I don't know what the categories are, but if they include "Most Desperate for Attention and Recognition" then I would like to nominate this one and this one: The self-titled 'lightning rods' of the Korea blogosphere.

Not sure which I'd vote for, but this cheap shot here at the Nomad has me leaning towards the former. He's been to Nomad's blog enough to know how the Nomad intended his comment on Marmot's post to be read. Lumping the Nomad in with his cherished stereotypes of expats in Korea is just ignorant.

I don't think half of the comments this guy makes on other people's blogs (and he certainly makes a lot of them) are really about adding to the issue so much as he just really needs to know that he's being paid attention to.

But then maybe it's just me.

Okay, fair enough. I wasn't targetting Lost Nomad with a cheap shot, but I can see now how that might not be clear.

The cheap shot was, as I mentioned in Party Pooper's comment section, directed at those who read something like what Lost Nomad wrote — whether it was tongue-in-cheek or not — and think that it's serious, and then run with it. Then the bitching becomes not about what has really happened, but what people wrongfully think has happened or what they think would happen.

The Nomad seems to me, both from his blog and from private correspondence, to be a good guy. Sorry if I offended him in any way. And it's nice to know where I stand with Party Pooper. I'm almost proud of the growing list of people in the K-blogosphere who loathe me so much.

And for the record, Party Pooper, it's more than a bit tenuous to assume from a reference to some commenters in the K-blogosphere that I have stereotyped expats in general as being the same way. I am an expat myself and I have helped set up and worked on a lot of projects aimed at helping expats. In all likelihood, I have a much more generous view of expats —
whether they be short-timers or long-termers, kyopo or non-kyopo, English speakers or non-English speakers — than that which you ascribe to me.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Korean War officially enters its 57th year

Today, June 25, 2006, is the 56th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. In Korean, it is called Yugio Chŏnjaeng: literally, 6-2-5 war, after the starting date.

Near one of my places of work is a large banner reading: "6.25를 잊으면, 전쟁이 다시 온다." If we forget June 25, war will come again.

The current administration has been criticized by many for being a bit too conciliatory toward a country to the north that would crush those of us down south if they had a chance. While they deserve some credit for taking in more North Korean refugees than all administrations ahead of them
combined, they often seem to have their head in the sand when it comes to issues such as South Koreans being kidnapped to the North, Japanese being kidnapped to North Korea, North Korean attacks on ROK military personnel (this month is the fourth anniversary of deadly attack on South Korean positions in the Yellow Sea), and an utter lack of cooperation

It's not entirely prudent to keep bringing up the past, but the regime in Pyongyang is the same one that invaded early that Sunday morning in 1950. The number of people who died — the vast majority of them civilians — is in the untold millions. The two Koreas were both devastated.

Today is a day when we need to soberly remember that this is still a nation that stands on the brink of war. Détente has its place, but vigilance should rule the day. Let's not kid ourselves.

Thank goodness for the ROK and USFK men and women who sacrifice years of their lives to keep us and this country safe.

The following pictures (deliberately posted out of chronological order) are courtesy of this site.

US Marines storm ashore at Inchon, a major event in the history of warfare that turned the tide against the North Koreans.

Argyll and Sutherland units from Scotland arrive to join the Americans.

Captured Chinese prisoners.

Evacuation from Hamhŭng (Hamhung/Hamheung).

US military equipment after the landing at Inchon.

North Korean strongman Kim Il-sung, the father of North Korea's current strongman, is handed armistice papers to sign by North Korean General Nam Il.

Prisoners of war in the overcrowded Kŏje-do Prison (Koje-do/Geoje).

The US military bombs the Han-gang Railway Bridge in Seoul so that North Korean forces can't use it. The bridge to the east was blown up by South Korean forces, despite it being crowded by desperate civilians using it to flee (reportedly, the civilians were warned that the military would blow up the bridge).

General Douglas MacArthur, architect of the Inchon Landing, examines the body of a North Korean soldier near Inchon.

US Marines retreating from the Chosin Reservoir (the Frozen Chosin) area.

Virtually everything of military value in North Korea was destroyed by aerial bombing.

An inexperienced Task Force Smith arrives in Taejŏn (Taejon/Daejeon).

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Seven things to make you feel better now that Team Korea is out of the World Cup

We lost. We're out. Time to lick our wounds until 2010. In the meantime, for Koreans, kyopos, and fans of Korea, there are several things to still feel good about.

1. Sleeping patterns can return to normal.
What idiot decided to have soccer games start at 4 a.m.? I was really beginning to fear that continued participation in the World Cup would lead to a drop in GDP. Now people can finally get some sleep, be rested for work, be productive, and life will be back to soju-swilling normalcy.

2. Korea did pull off its first World Cup win outside of Korea.
Okay, it was to one of the weaker teams, but it was still something that Korea had not managed to do in several World Cup appearances prior to 2002.

3. Korea did manage a draw against the country that won the World Cup in 1998.
All right, so France has been basking in their glory since then and don't quite measure up to past glories, but this is still a pretty tough feat.

4. We can still cheer on Guus Hiddink.
The coach of Korea's wildly successful 2002 World Cup team enjoys near god-like status in Korea (which makes him a rich man when it comes to commercial endorsements). He is probably about as idolized as General Douglas MacArthur has been (and always will be to many) for most of the period after 1950. Probably the most popular "foreigner" in Korea right now.

5. Korean fans have made a pretty positive impression.
Maybe not at The Marmot's Hole, but elsewhere.

6. The popularity of soccer in Korea sparked by the co-hosting of the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup means an ever-growing pool of good prospective footballers.
In other words, I think Korea has a good chance of making a stronger showing in 2010.

7. Korea is in the running to host the 2014 Winter Olympiad.
And Pyongchang, I believe, is the favorite for hosting rights.

So, my friends, don't wallow in the bitterness of defeat (even if it was to those Nazi-collaborating Swiss). Instead, sit back and enjoy the rest of the World Cup. There's some great soccer to be played, even if we're out of the running (similar sentiment goes out to my fellow US citizens).

Pyongchang 2014 (or Pyeongchang, if you're a lame-ass)

While people are understandably sad that Team Korea's one win and one draw were not good enough to get into the next round, there is still something to cheer for: Pyongchang [P'yŏngch'ang, Pyeongchang] in Kangwon-do Province has made the cut to the final three aspirants for the 2014 Winter Olympiad (the other two are Salzburg, Austria, and Sochi, Russia, a resort on the Black Sea). Story here and here.

I will update this later on the weekend when I have a chance, but I believe Korea's nominee is the favorite, due to its near win in 2003 for the 2010 Winter Olympics (Pyongchang nearly won a majority on the first ballot, but votes for Vancouver were consolidated in the next round, and Korea narrowly lost), based on a sense that the area would have good and accessible facilities, plus the fact that the so-called "continental rotation" that hurt Korea for 2010 favors it in 2014 (its two competitors are European would be hosting right after a Europen Olympics in London in 2012).

I do want to add that this is a perfect time for the government to return to Korea's previous official Romanization system, a rendition of the McCune-Reischauer Romanization system. Pyongchang simply looks better and approximates the sound of the location better than Pyeongchang (hint: Pyeong is not pronounced as two separate syllables).

Friday, June 23, 2006

iSight takes care of your sight

Doctors in Irvine, California, have announced an amazing but highly controversial new vision-correcting technique utilizing Apple's latest hardware.

Using iSight, the high-tech built-in camera that comes standard with all new Macintoshes, plus specially developed third-party software called YourSight, doctors at the Orange County Laser Group (OCLG) are able to perform vision-correcting LASIK surgery on patients in the comfort of their own home (the procedure also works with some later models of the clip-on iSight).

In predictable fashion, the Luddites in the FDA are pooh-poohing this, saying that this new procedure "may cause permanent eye damage" if the high-speed Internet connection is lost midway through the "surgery," and that even patients whose eye surgery is successful may not take all the necessary follow-up precautions, such as applying the 1.5 liters per day of eyedrops doctors recommend during the first seventeen months.

This is the same FDA that refused to sign off on the sedative thalidomide back in the 1970s. Think how much faster it would have been discovered that this drug caused birth defects if the nosy US government had approved it, thus allowing millions of Americans to take it. Instead we had to wait for the Europeans to find out about all the problems. I, for one, am tired of letting other countries take the lead in scientific and medical discoveries just because Uncle Sam and the rest of Washington are all restriction-happy and want to play nurse, nanny, and mother to everyone.

Dr. Oscar Luong of OCLG says that lack of FDA approval "really means nothing" because the procedures are being performed in cyberspace where "there are no rules." Quoting Dr. Luong:
As long as YourSight is not specifically banned in the patient's home country, he or she can zap their eyeballs to their heart's content.
Dr. Luong says he imagines a day in the near future where celebrity do-gooders tour Africa with a suitcase containing nothing but an Apple laptop and an Internet-capable cell phone, bringing relief to the nearsighted and those with small nose bridges.

During the software development phase, OCLG was worried that many patients would download pirated versions of YourSight to avoid the $300-per-eye cost of on-line LASIK surgery, usually paid through PayPal, but OCLG programmers equipped the software with a special anti-piracy feature that detects non-legitimate copies. Would-be patients using unauthorized software will receive a painful zap that will cause temporary blindness, usually lasting about 96 hours.

YourSight requires Macintosh OS 10.4.3 or higher, plus 1028 KB of RAM. MacBook or MacBook Pro recommended, but not necessary.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A condiment that's red, white, and blue.

At this year's partisan Fourth of July celebration, pour some W Ketchup* on your Freedom Fries.

* This is a serious, real-world product. Oh, and come to think of it, the French did help the Thirteen Original Colonies gain independence, so maybe July 4th is not the best day to bash them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The incredible lightness of being rude

Sometimes, when I'm busy with work, I feel just like our President George W. Bush: I don't have time to read the papers, so I have someone else read them and then give me the gist. Courtesy Lost Nomad, I have discovered that Seoul ranked 32nd out of 35 on the list of most polite cities. Ahem, that would make Seoul the fourth rudest major metropolis, I suppose (fifth if you count the metropolis in the film Metropolis).

As others have mentioned at Lost Nomad's, there is certainly some cultural bias in the Reader's Digest survey, particularly in how they chose to measure politeness and hospitality. Seoulites screwed the pooch on the "door test" (whether anyone hold the door open for them), "document drops" (whether someone would help them retrieve a pile of dropped papers), and "service tests" (how many salesclerks would thank them for a purchase).

Now, had they had conducted a "walking-you-to-your-destination-when-you-ask-for-directions test," Seoul would have come out on top.

Let's face it, Seoul (and many other East Asian cities) run on a different dynamic than most North American cities. In Seoul, Hong Kong, and even Tokyo, you don't say "Excuse me," to every person you bump shoulders with. You'd never get anywhere!

Also, you don't say hello or nod to every person you walk past, which is how we do it in the Big Orange (frankly, it gets annoying).

Also, Seoulites tend not to mug people. That should count for something. Some of these "hospitable" cities are known for high crimes and misdemeanors; they should be impeached from the survey on that basis alone.

Poor Seoul. Our fair city digging new rivers and planting new parks right and left, but it just can't get a break.

Still, maybe this news will shame a few people into holding open the door next time (and I suspect that's why the Korean media is running with this). 30% is an abysmal rate.

A slightly (only slightly) tongue-in-cheek comment I wrote on this can be found here.

Just thinking out loud

Just a thought: if North Korea test-firing their Taepodong-2 missile is proof that Sunshine Policy has failed, would North Korea not test-firing their Taepodong-2 missile be evidence that Sunshine Policy has succeeded?

And what would it mean that the Taepodong-1 missile, fired over Japanese territory occurred before Sunshine Policy really got going?

Tokyo and Seoul to cooperate on North Korea missile issue

Over a late-night chat last night, Japanese Foreign Minister Aso and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Kimoon have pleged that Tokyo and Seoul would cooperate to stop Pyongyang's apparent plans for a test-launch of the Taepodong-2 missile that — scary, ominous warning — could hit Alaska, Guam, and possibly Hawaii, Seattle, and Los Angeles.

According to a joint statement, Aso told Ban during the twenty-five-minute discussion that a missile test would be a threat to regional security, while Ban replied it was necessary to cooperate to get Pyongyang to call off the launch.

At the same time, North Korea declared yesterday that it is not bound by its own moratorium on long-range missile tests (never mind the so-called Pyongyang Agreement in 2002 between Japanese PM Koizumi and North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il).

What does Seoul really think about the prospect of a North Korean test-firing of a Taepodong-2 missile?

What he said.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Somnambulistic in Seoul

I have just returned from Seoul City Hall Plaza where a crowd nearly the size of last week's match gathered to watch the Korea Team bring France to a 1-to-1 draw. Thinking that the hour was way too late and way too early, not to mention that people might be less excited about watching their team get defeated, I half-guessed that the number of people who would show up might fill the grassy area and the pedestrian walkways around City Hall, but not much else. I was wrong.

The crowd was close to the size of the previous match, but I think the Seoul Muncipal Police Department was assuming the crowd would be smaller: unlike with the Togo match, the section of boulevard between Namdaemun, City Hall, and Kwanghwamun Station was not blocked to vehicular traffic. That meant considerably less seating area for the well-behaved and orderly fans, so there was spillover in the smaller areas, like the roadway between the Bank of Korea and City Hall Plaza, that had not been crowded during the Togo game. At any rate, the ubiquitous white-shirted police officers (they changed their uniforms recently, looking a little Singaporeish) did a good job of keeping people in line, literally.

Wherever they were sitting, the crowd was ecstatic. Tying France in a war would be absolutely humiliating, but tying them in a World Cup soccer match is quite an achievement. With one win and one draw, Korea's chances of going on to the next round are much higher than before. The next match will be against Switzerland, and I'm sure everyone is rooting for Korea, because, let's face it, everyone hates the Swiss. Damn Nazi-collaborating peacenik posers.

Anyhoo, as I was walking down from my house to the Plaza, I was thinking that if — somehow — Korea pulled of a win or even a draw, nobody was going to get much work done. In fact, I'm thinking that today should just be declared a national day of recuperation.

My jinx, I feared, was still in effect, so I didn't watch much of the game. The people-watching alone is fascinating. At 4 a.m., the crowd watching the Korea-France match had as much energyy as the 10 p.m. crowd watching the Korea-Togo match.

The excited crowd, though, became a bit subdued after France scored sometime early in the first half. I'm guessing a lot of people were thinking at that point that they might have stayed up really late (or got up really early) to watch the Taeguk Warriors get slaughtered. The half-time enthusiasm wasn't quite as high as with the Togo match, even though Korea was behind by one goal in both cases, but this may have been because some people were taking the chance — at 5 a.m. — to catch some winks.

The crowd went nuts when Korea scored with about ten minutes left to play in the second half. My jinx may in fact be over, because the goal was scored at one of those moments when I looked up to see how much time was left and make sure the score was still 0-1 (there is too little reaction to the other team scoring, which makes it hard for someone not actually watching the game to know if the other guys have gotten another goal).

Morning started to break sometime late in the first half, and they turned off the street lights around 4:45 a.m. By halftime, it was completely light out. "This is not good," I thought to myself: the harsh light of morning was like a metaphor for the harsh reality of an impending loss. Maybe Korea won't get out of the first round, and 2002 will be — for now — something of a fluke. Boy, there are going to be a lot of tired, dejected people this Monday morning.

But instead, we will have people standing around the water cooler talking about this defensive play, or that near goal or whatever. I think people will be taking long lunches and they will be getting shit-faced this evening. I had thought about taking my pimped-out minivan around Yongsan again with the Taegukki flag waving out the moonroof, but I didn't want to contend with morning rush hour (flags don't flutter much when you're idling), and I'm just too damn tired.

Some more incoherent thoughts as I fight off sleep:

1. I couldn't find the sambap girl, even though I had 2000 won this time. I bought a donut instead (which I rarely do) when Dunkin Donuts opened early. Bastards were selling stale donuts from the day before.

2. Walking home, I saw a Caucasian guy with a French flag painted on his cheek. His apparent girlfriend had a Korean flag painted on hers.

I pointed to the guy's cheek and said, jokingly, "You're a brave man."

"Fuck off," he told me.

I hope not all Frenchmen are like that, otherwise that country will get a reputation for rudeness.

3. Niels Footman linked to me in the Joongang Daily again. It's going to sound like I don't care about football, but I really do, and this post is sort of supposed to prove that. Also, I now have almost a twisted curiosity how the K-blogosphere is going to spin this draw in the most negative way possible. Or maybe they'll forego all that this time, because it's France.

4. The crowds again were well behaved. There was a lot of garbage left — it's a crowd of half a million! — but a lot of people were packing up their garbage in small plastic bags which were put into larger plastic bags and those were collected by sanitation people.

5. At the Kwanghwamun gathering, there was a small "Porter" pick-up truck with a large, neatly written sign announcing a ceremony in the Kwanghwamun area on June 29 to honor those who died in the Yellow Sea naval clash with North Korea.

6. I'm wondering how many people stayed up really late to watch the game, versus how many people just got up really early. I'm doing neither: I went to bed at 11:15 p.m. and woke up at 3:30 a.m. Actually, I woke up at 3:00, reset the alarm for 3:15, got up then and did the same thing for 3:30. And after I'm done blogging this, I'm going right back to bed. I don't have to show up for work until three o'clock this afternoon.

7. Turns out my prediction was right about people taking today off as a holiday (hat tip: Andy Jackson). Also, "beer garden" is now officially part of the Konglish lexicon.

8. I now think Korea is going to be a formidable soccer competitor two or three World Cups from now (maybe even the next one). Simply put: 2002 and now 2006 have sparked (will have sparked) the hopes and dreams of quite a few young people who will now dream of gaining national glory — and glory for the nation — as footballers.

Look at the team that Korea has now: these people went into soccer and excelled at the game at a time when there was much less interest in it. Now think of a hundred times more youths pursuing soccer when they're young, and imagine what kind of pool of talent Korea will have down the road.

Sort of like Korea and women's golf.

9. During the warm-up friendlies, guests in the Plaza and President Hotels complained of the late-night noise emanating from the Plaza. For shits and giggles, while avoiding watching the actual game-play, I counted 132 rooms with lights on at 4:30 a.m. among the 320 rooms visible on the north face of the Plaza Hotel (that's right: if there's a job to be done that involves peeking into hotel rooms, I'm your man). Some of the guests in the rooms, it appeared, were watching the game on the several giant-screen monitors outside, from the comfort of their overpriced accommodations.

10. Some people bemoan that so many people who are cheering the Korea team don't have much interest in soccer...


Sunday, June 18, 2006

95 versus 44

A couple months ago, I was introduced (re-introduced?) to The Fighting 44's through AsiaPages' take on the group. I did not participate in the AsiaPages forum, I agreed with some of what Jodi wrote and disagreed with other parts. I checked out the Fighting 44's post, and the blog in general, and while I should say there is no love lost between me and the people who were banned, I don't necessarily agree with them being banned (but, of course, it's not my blog).

Anyhoo, a few days ago I noticed a spike in the number of hits to my Corea-versus-Korea post, all coming from Fighting 44's. Apparently, my post had become the subject of one of their posts.

All fine; a couple dozen different sites link to the post, and I get a couple hundred hits a week to it. But what took me by surprise was the response my post got from the Fighting 44's moderator:
Hm, interesting. This blog looks vaguely familiar. I believe he's either someone who was banned or associated with someone who was banned from this site.
"Whiskey, Tango, Fuck!" I thought. This person doesn't know me from Adam, but right off the bat, my credibility is being attacked and I'm being disparaged by some deliberately laid suggestion that I had probably been banned from their site.

The moderator has since backed off that claim, but she and some others on the site are still sticking to their guns on the idea that "Corea" is still a matter of pride.

Really, now? The whole "Corea" argument hinges on the idea that it's a return to the pre-colonial days, but the whole thing is a ruse: not only did the Japanese not engineer the name switch (Koreans did), but the Japanese authorities continued to use Corea and Chōsen. It is an utterly empty claim, and rejecting it certainly doesn't make me a "Japanese collaborator," as one person hinted:
Personally, I spell "Corea" with a "C" because of all the connotations attached with Japan's "historical revisionism." Even today, at prestigious East-Asian Studies programs in America, you'll learn how ancient Corea was a colony of Japan, because Japanese hegemony holds sway in the West. The spelling of Corea with a "C" is an act of defiance against Japanese hegemony and a show of solidarity with others who bring up these historical issues.

However, I am not on a campaign to convert everyone to my way of thinking. If you wanna spell it with a "K," go ahead. I am not gonna call you a mindless Japanese collaborator if you do. At the same time, I don't want to be called an ignorant nationalist simply because I use the "C."

Lastly, I have to call into question the need for some "open-minded" Coreans to debunk this whole issue. I have seen a lot of internet posts about this issue geared towards Westerners. The basic jist is "look at these stupid, intolerant, and racist Coreans. They are so brainwashed. But I am different than the stupid gooks, so please don't include me with them when you are making your own racist and narrow-minded assertions about them. Please exclude me from the rest of the Coreans at your exhibit for them at the World's Fair." I have hear this same kind of tone come through when discussing the Dokdo issue to the "East Sea" issue, and personally, it sounds like a lot of pandering to Westerners.

Kushibo, I do not read your blog and I don't know who your audience is, but is your post different? Also, do you really feel that the use of the "C" really threatens the legitimacy of other historical issues, such as the comfort woman issue? Personally, I see the use of the "C" as a single point (and hardly the most significant point) in a litany of historical greviences Coreans have towards the Japanese.
Yes, here are several people who are so ossified in their viewpoint that they cannot change it in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That's not pride; that's plain, old foolishness. And it's the difference between staying mired in the single-minded activism of Asian-American issues of college to the point that it warps your values, and moving on into the real world where pragmatism wins the battles that need winning (yeah, I was there; some friends and relatives were casualties).

Unpleasant surprises

Racism exists in Korea, as does racial ignorance. There are loads of people who regard Blacks, Whites, Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asians, etc., etc., with the vilest of prejudices. Others are less malicious, but they neverthless have unwittingly subscribed to a bunch of stereotypes that are nothing short of flat-out ignorance.

These include, among many others, beliefs that Blacks are predisposed toward violence and crime, that Japanese are sneaky, Chinese are dirty and low-class, or that "racial purity" is a noble goal that should be enforced at all costs.

Despite what I just said, I also have very high hopes about the situation in Korea. While some racists are truly mean-spirited and recalcitrant in their racism, I feel a majority are simply mired in ignorance. And that ignorance is being challenged right and left in Korea, both at the media level and the inter-personal level. The Korea of today is worlds apart from the Korea of ten years ago, and that Korea was a far cry from the Korea ten years before that.

From the influx of "international marriages" — 10% of all new marriages in Korea now — to the growing acceptance of ethnically mixed performers in the media and interracial couples in "real life," Korea has completely transformed (though there definitely is further to go). When I was in Korea as a teenager in the late 1980s, interracial couples risked the chiding of total strangers if they were in public holding hands (though much of this was due to prudishness that was also directed at Korean-Korean couples).

Korea has been moving in the right direction for quite some time. That it might seem other than that is that (a) Korea originally had so far too go, and (b) many racist Koreans wear their anachronistic views on their sleave.

As someone who has grown up in the United States, I'm well aware that racism exists. I've seen in-your-face racism, and I've witnessed very subtle — but nonetheless very potent — forms of racism. Some of it has been directed at me, some of it at others. Nevertheless, I like to think that the US has gone beyond a lot of the problems that still exist.

So when I see things like this, I find it very disturbing. Here are Americans suggesting that depicting Whites and Blacks pairing up "is an act of political-cultural subversion." This is in regards to a 2004 NFL television spot showing "blonde white sexpot" Nicolette Sheridan of the steamy Desperate Housewives series "smooching up to black football star Terrell Owens" in the locker room of the Philadelphia Eagles. In the ad, Sheridan drops her bath towel and jumps into Mr. Owens' arms. He says, "Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win without me."

Some choice quotes:
Like the Jackson-Timberlake performance, the Owens-Sheridan ad was interracial and brazenly soif only morals and taste had been the targets, the producers could easily have found white actresses who are less obviously Nordic than the golden-locked Miss Sheridan, but Nordic is what the ad's producers no doubt wanted.
This is not a misinterpeted gray area on the part of the writer. He makes it clear later:
The point was not just to hurl a pie in the face of morals and good taste but also of white racial and cultural identity. The message of the ad was that white women are eager to have sex with black men, that they should be eager, and that black men should take them up on it.
And this:
But the ad's message also was that interracial sex is normal and legitimate, a fairly radical concept for both the dominant media as well as its audience.

Nevertheless, for decades, interracial couples of different sexes have been sneaked into advertising, movies and television series, and almost certainly not because of popular demand from either race. The Owens-Sheridan match is only the most notorious to date.

In the minds of those who produced the ad, race is at least as important as the moral and aesthetic norms their ad subverts.

To them, the race as well as the religion, the morality, and the culture of the host society are all equally hostile and oppressive forces that need to be discredited, debunked and destroyed.

If the destruction can't happen at the polls or through the courts, they can always use the long march through the culture that control of the mass media allows.

Breaking down the sexual barriers between the races is a major weapon of cultural destruction because it means the dissolution of the cultural boundaries that define breeding and the family and, ultimately, the transmission and survival of the culture itself.
This sounds exactly like those anachronistic Korean supremacists everybody likes to bitch about. If the Chosun Ilbo linked to something like this, there would be outrage. Yet this was found on a site linked to by conservative darling Michelle Malkin herself, and a main writer of whom is a main writer of Malkin's Immigration Blog. [Michelle Malkin, a Filipina-American, is married to a White man; are she, her husband, and her children part of this "cultural destruction" the Vdare folks talk about?]

So how did I find this? No, I was not mining for trash on anyone. While perusing my data, I found that the same google search that yields this infamous post also yields racist stuff in America, or stuff about racist stuff in America.

Through that same google search, I also encountered this post, which makes me wonder: how widespread is it for Taiwanese (or Japanese) landlords to deny "foreigners" housing? I have helped many, many people with housing, directly and indirectly, and I have not encountered such a thing in Korea, though I'm sure somewhere in a country of 50 million people it has happened at least a few times, though I wouldn't call it widespread. If it were, the K-blogsphere would frequently carry tirades on it.

At any rate, racism in America does not excuse racism in Korea; nor vice-versa. And the existence of racist housing practices in Taiwan or Japan (if they do exist) do not justify less racist policies in other aspects of life here in Korea.

Everybody has got to clean house, starting with their own closet.

Notes on missile crisis

There have been hints over the past few weeks that North Korea is planning to test its Taepodong-2 missile, something Pyongyang denies but its neighbors are taking seriously. Reporters are that it may come as early as this weekend.

Tokyo has said that it will consider any missile that lands in Japan as "an attack." Shinzo Abe, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, also called on Pyongyang to abide by the 2002 agreement made by Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il. The so-called Pyongyang Agreement is for North Korea to indefinitely extend a freeze on tests of missiles such as the one fired over Japan in 1998. North Korea reconfirmed that position in May 2004 at a second meeting of Kim and Koizumi.

The South Korean government, meanwhile, may reconsider some of its detente with Pyongyang, even if it means backing down or eliminating some economic projects.

And that is the only good thing that come from this: Seoul realizing that Pyongyang is not going to respond to unrequited love. The conservatives realize this, and so do a lot of the moderates. But maybe, just maybe, this is what the left (now barely holding on to power) needs to see. Well, some of the far-left true believers will say that Washington forced Pyongyang's hand in breaking its agreements and upsetting the status quo, but some of the less ideological will be duly reminded that North Korea really is the belligerent in this case.

I just hope Pyongyang doesn't accidentally hit Hokkaido, Guam, or Attu, because then all hell is gonna break loose.

Xinhua? What the ...?

I'm not sure where this Xinhua place is, but this has to rank as one of the worst tourism campaigns ever!

(I'm reminded of the old joke that in China, even if you're a one-in-a-million kinda guy, there are still a thousand people just like you! Make that 1300.)

Oh, and check out the guy scratching himself in the left-hand corner below. How embarrassing is that? Well, I guess if you're willing to do that in front of hundreds of actual people, it's probably no big deal to have thousands more see it around the globe.

Busy, but...

I'm gearing up for my (temporary) move back to the States, so my posts may consist more of pithy and/or thought-provoking one-paragraph notes rather than the comprehensive, this-resolves-the-matter-completely-there's-nothing-else-to-write post you may be used to seeing.

So anyway, here are some thoughts on recent events. Recent events you may not know or care about.

First, there is this. I don't know if this is genuine (and I certainly hope it's not), but I haven't yet had time to search for the video on-line and see it to judge for myself if I think it actually was made by US military personnel serving in Iraq. If it is not, then whoever perpetrated this ruse is a despicable sort for trying to defame the people who are risking their lives in Iraq; opposition to the war does not justify anything like that. On othe other hand, if it is genuine, ...

Then there is this. Future English teachers in Asia...? I mean, once they realize they're unhireable economic refugees back in not-so-Jolly Old England? (Just kidding; lighten up...I'm guessing the guy in question in Apkujŏng may not even be a "foreigner," English teacher or not, and I certainly don't think anything more than a fraction of the English teachers in Korea are of this caliber, antics-wise.)

And if you'd like to see Korean soccer fans taking over Frankfurt, one of them wearing a special World Cup hanbok, go here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Little help?

Less is more.

If anyone out there with blogger/blogspot expertise can help out, I would like to know what the tags are for doing the "read more" function for long posts. As soon as I can figure that out, I will launch the Sonagi Consortium, which will (hopefully) allow good bloggers who get less traffic, to raise their profile. I will also be able to post some old papers from graduate school.

US team's kick-ass logo

I must agree with Andy Jackson: the US team logo rocks, but the US team does not.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An evening stroll

As many of my loyal readers know — especially those whom I invited to Kushibo 2006 in April — I live not far from Seoul Station in an area just outside where the "downtown area" ends on the map.

So last night, wishing to enjoy the balmy weather, I decided to take my evening constitutional through the central part of the city, as I am wont to do some evenings. There was a light breeze, and others were out and about for a stroll as well.

Much to my surprise, on the strip of boulevard between Namdaemun Gate and City Hall, the roads were blocked off and I began to encounter more and more people: a veritable throng. As I walked along, the throng became a horde, and the horde eventually became a mob. There were tens of thousands of people gathered in the middle of the plaza, chanting, wailing, and sipping 2000-won cans of beer. Nearby, a very attractive and very slim woman was selling sambap and assuring me of its deliciousness.

What on Earth could be the nature of this massive gathering? My thoughts immediately went to the Blue House, which would have been visible were it not for all the smoke from the fireworkers, and the smokers. And if it weren't nighttime.

Holy crap, I thought, President Roh must be shiitting in his pants (that extra i is so Sonagi can read this at work). Surely, this must be payback for three years of the Roh Administration's pandering, bending over to take it, fertilizer-for-guns activities.

A day of reckoning must have arrived: these red-clad firebrands were about to take down the government as their activist forebears had done in 1960 and 1987. Roh was on his way out; no doubt he was calling Pyongyang to arrange asylum (note to Roh: don't take the train).

I went over to the sambap-monger to ask what exactly was the nature of this display of people power. She refused to answer any questions unless I bought some sambap. I had no cash, and she was unwilling to give me her number so I could arrange payment later in the week, so I left.

As it turns out, these people had gathered to watch a football match. Despite frequent shouts of the country's name, this was no political rally, but a very neatly laid out sea of fans watching a soccer game in a very orderly fashion.

Ah, yes, I realized: the World Cup. That's this month, right?

I myself had avoided any and all talk of the World Cup for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I am a jinx when it comes to sports teams I hope will win: if I watch, I make them lose. It worked against the Anaheim Angels when I was younger, and this knowledge helped them win the World Series in 2002. I am also quite certain that by actively avoiding watching Korea's matches, I single-handedly helped the nation's team reach the final-four during the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup.

I eschewed discussion of the World Cup also because the K-blogosphere is often just so predictably down on the Korean team that it has sapped and/or zapped whatever fun there was in watching the game.

And then there's the fact that I really didn't need to ride the emotional roller-coaster I get on when watching and hoping for a win by the favored home team. Plus my usual sports-spectating partner is in the midst of dental school final exams down in Kwangju.

So instead I people-watched. From the periphery of the crowd, it was quite a sight to see this sea of fans — really orderly fans — sitting down all in red with their glow-in-the-dark "red devils" horns. There's going to be quite a bit of irony when some of them encounter Satan.

Anyhoo, I did manage to videotape quite a few of the people, especially those wearing t'aegŭkki instead of normal tops. Mmm....patriotically sexy.

I ended up talking with quite a few strangers, some of them asking me to take their picture (I have a friendly face; I really ought to consider a career in ripping off unsuspecting tourists), some were just yelling random things at me in their excitement, others I had asked what kind of camera they had or could I take a picture of their temporarily tatooed cheek or breast (always yes for the cheek; always no for the breast). All the while I was hoping that Korea would score and some attractive woman standing near me would grab me and plant a wet one on me in a moment of football-induced ecstasy (to which I would have replied, "score.").

But no such luck. The wildest of the people there were already paired up with people on whom they would likely have planted a smooch in response to a goal. Those who weren't there as couples often looked mean or too intense. There was a truckload — a literal truckload as in a truck full — of girls dancing nearby, but I don't think they would have let me up there.

I did become fascinated by two groups of people nearby. The first was a couple of young women who seemed more obsessed with preening themselves and then taking pictures (of themselves) every fifteen or thirty seconds. I did ask the one girl what kind of camera she had, because it was amazingly thin (it would fit nicely into my North Face man-bag). It was a Sony; she paid 400,000 won for it.

She herself was awfully thin, and I surreptitiously videotaped her and her friend because (a) the preening was becoming comical and (b) she was an example of how a person can be, literally, too thin. As in unattractively so. It's hard to tell whether a given woman in Korea today is naturally thin or anorexic. I didn't see these two girls drinking beer or eating sambap, so I'm guessing they were the latter.

The next group was three young men (about nineteen) who appeared to be in competition to see who looked more like the guy in "The King's Man," the one who makes those commercials for the pomegranate drink that make you want to gag (the commercials, not the drink). These three men were wearing Disney nightshirts for girls (one had Minnie Mouse on it) and they, too, were preening themselves constantly.

Another man walked by on stilts, except the stilts were covered, so he looked like a ten-foot-tall man, although his height would more likely be measured in meters. He deftly walked through the crowd without tripping or stepping on anybody.

Every time Korea scored a goal, and once more when the game was over, someone at the top of the Plaza Hotel lit off a bunch of fireworks and then we were showered in burning paper. It was a lovely evening.

The game ended just about at midnight, and instead of tossing over Buicks and setting buildings on fire, the crowd dispersed and went home. There were people still shouting "Tae~han~min~guk!" (대한민국! 大韓民国!) and clapping, but most were trying to see if they could catch the last bus or train back to their sleepy communities.

I walked home, content that I had made a wise decision in purchasing real estate so close to the city center. Which would not have been the case had this really been a political rally set to overthrow the government. Then the best place to be is Ullŭngdo. Or Taemado.

When I got home, I suddenly felt the urge to relive memories from the 2002 World Cup. Back then, the games were played during normal waking hours (Korean time) and the celebrations and libations lasted for hours, well into the wee hours of the morning. This time the game ended at midnight, and lots of people were calculating how little sleep they would end up getting.

Nevertheless, I decided to get my large-sized Korean national flag, purchased for 2000 won back in 2002, and drive around Yongsan with the flag fluttering in the wind above my moonroof. When I passed groups of three or more people, I let my horn do the special chant. Most of the people responded with their own chant, while others gave me a thumbs-up.

So if I kept you up last night, I apologize. But just bask in the glow of these special memories. They only happen once, or twice. Maybe three times. [UPDATE: a similar report on a later match]

[Above: These American sports fans were not present at the 2006 World Cup viewing events in Seoul. Thank God.]