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.]

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ambassador Vershbow to visit North Korea

Well, not quite Pyongyang, but Kaesong.

Seoul's foreign ministry, including Foreign Minister Ban Kimoon, will take US Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow and about eighty other diplomats on an unprecedented trip to North Korea's Kaesong industrial complex to give them a first-hand view of what South Korea sees as a model of economic integration between the two Koreas.

The Foreign Ministry said this:
We hope this trip will contribute to enhancing and expanding international society's understanding of the Kaesong Industrial Park.
South Korea is also trying to get the US to allow Kaesong-manufactured goods accepted as "Made in Korea" as part of a new FTA.

According to the ROK constitution, Kaesong is a part of the Republic of Korea (as is all of Korea), but Seoul has got to know that such an agreement wouldn't fly in the Republican-controlled US Senate. The Bush administration presently sees the industrial park as helping to prop up Pyongyang (unlike the Bush administration's massive economic ties with Beijing, Pyongyang's primary sponsor) by providing it with funds and hard currency.

My guess is that the Kaesong is a bargaining chip for Seoul, and a potentially valuable one at that.

Adventures in almanacs

According to the 2005 edition of the The World Almanac and Book of Facts (no link, since this is a real book), the number of people over age five who spoke Spanish at home was 28,101,000 in 2000. Approximately one out of nine of the 262,375,000 people in the United States over five (though this certainly doesn't mean that all those who speak Español at home cannot or do not speak Ingles outside).

Hardly surprising. Los Estados Unidos is the fourth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world (after Spain, Mexico, and Argentina). It is also the largest English-speaking country in the world, with 215,424,000 people over five speaking English at home. Not quite a language under siege, but it is important that the English language remain the dominant and unifying force of the nation (although I think that Ⓐ the marketplace goes a long way toward taking care of that and Ⓑ government agencies should probably make sure demand for English-learning services is actually being met at the local level).

Now what I thought was particularly interesting was who was next.

3. Chinese (2,022,000 speakers)
4. French (1,644,000 speakers; includes Patois and Cajun)
5. German (1,383,000 speakers)
6. Tagalog (1,224,000 speakers)
7. Vietnamese (1,010,000 speakers)
8. Italian (1,008,000 speakers)
9. Korean (894,000 speakers)
10. Russian (706,000 speakers)

So people in America who speak German at home outnumber Korean and Japanese speakers combined (the Japanese speakers number 478,000). When will these Germans, Italians, French, Poles (667,000), Greeks (365,000) and Russians finally assimilate into American society?!

Photos below: Americans not speaking German

Thursday, June 8, 2006

North Korea "finds" Kim Young-nam, offers reunion with mother

In a bizarre twist on this tragic story, Pyongyang has confirmed that Kim Young-nam, who was abducted from the southwest coast of South Korea in 1978 at the age of sixteen, is alive in North Korea.

They also said they would arrange a meeting between him and his mother, who is in South Korea, later this month. The poor woman has been tormented by his disappearance. At first, she and her family thought the teen had drowned, but they later heard from authorities that he was likely kidnapped by North Korean agents and forced to live in the DPRK.

For years the North Korean authorities denied having kidnapped a dozen or so Japanese nationals, including Kim Young-nam's apparent wife, Yokota Megumi. In this case, too, they are not readily admitting having snatched Kim Young-nam. The Korean Central News Agency said the country had "succeeded in confirming his whereabouts," but did not say how Kim got into the country.

This case has gotten a lot of press lately because of the connection with Ms. Yokota, who is practically a poster child for the Japanese abductees (North Korea says she is dead, but many in Japan believe she is still alive).

A nearly forgotten tragedy of all this is that Kim is among nearly 500 South Korean civilians believed held in the communist state after being kidnapped, whom North Korea claims voluntarily defected.

Kim's mother, Choi Gye-wol said she is "glad" about the possibility of seeing her son. She said she would hug her son when she sees him and ask "how much pain" he went through.

Meanwhile, Japan's government said it would work closely with South Korea on the issue. Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said:
Japan has already had a variety of experiences in negotiations on the abduction issue, so we can share our experiences with the South Korean government and the victims' families.
Like I said before, this can be an issue to bring Seoul and Tokyo together. Activists working for South Korean abductees are calling on North Korea to admit its kidnappings of South Koreans and send them home:
Listen Chairman Kim Jong-il: Our families' wish is to confirm the fate of abductees.
Additionally, 542 POWs from the Korean War are believed to be still alive in North Korea, though Pyongyang denies this. Meanwhile, North Korea insists on dealing with this matter only as part of discussions on separated families, which indicates they have no intention of returning these ROK nationals.

Girl Thursday

Phoebe Cates in 1989 (left) and Phoebe Cates in 2006 (right), at the age of forty-two and after giving birth to twothree children. It's all in the mixed genes.

Note to self: Kevin Kline is a lucky bastard.

Note to Shelton: no links were harmed in the making of this post.

At left: What I predict Phoebe Cates will look like in 2023.

If you don't eat or drink anything and spend no money, you'll have it paid off in forty years.

Time Magazine reports that China — in a sudden realization that it is in fact a communist country — is planning to crack down on housing complexes that cater to the rich. While housing prices in places like Shanghai have tripled in three years, land-ministry officials acknowledge that the availability of low-cost housing has been neglected:
The country cannot afford construction of large villas to meet the demand of a few high-end customers while sacrificing the interests of the majority.
With city dwellers making (according to Time) an average of $3,333 per year, the average price of a 100-square-meter apartment ($113,000) was simply out of reach. Okay, so something had to give, and I guess socialism with Chinese characteristics doesn't trust the market to work itself out on its own before an acute — and potentially socially destabilizing — housing shortage occurred.

Local elections (OC edition)

Despite being a property-owning Seoul taxpayer, I wasn't eligible to vote in last week's local polls here in the Land of Morning Calm, but this past week I was able to do the next best thing: vote absentee for the slew of local elections in the County of Orange in the Great State of California.

As an American citizen, it is my duty and privilege, about once or twice every other year, to put pen to paper and determine the destiny of a bunch of people whose names I've mostly never heard of. Awesomely powerful is the citizenry.

Being a legal resident of the Land of Tricky Dicky and Mickey™, I am tasked with choosing leaders who will make decisions that could affect future plot lines of "The O.C." It's a responsibility I take very seriously.

The June 6 poll was mostly primaries, but in typical California fashion, there were some ballot initiatives as well (we don't trust Sacramento to do all our bidding; also, we like to sneak some things by as a way of teaching those who don't vote a brutal lesson).

Anyway, it is important, and after spending an hour at Lavazza filling it out, I had my daily jog swing by the post office inside Yongsan Garrison where I dropped it off. I'm reasonably certain it reached Santa Ana in about three days, unless a Republican was manning the Stateside Mail slot.

First on our hit list was who should be the Democratic candidate for governor — essentially who should be running against The Gubernator
in November. Although State Treasurer Phil Angelides got the endorsement of the state party, I voted for his strong competitor, State Controller Steve Westly (left). This may or may not have to do with the fact that — purely coincidentally — my mother and I ran into him and his wife on line at the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto) on the Island of Capri (CAH-pree) during our trip to Italy in 2004.

A really nice guy who talked with us for about half an hour; he had told us he probably wouldn't run for governor if Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to run for re-election, but The Ahnuld's popularity is pretty low right now, so I guess he figured he'd give it a shot. One thing I liked about Mr. Westly (who gave me his card, too) is that he said he thought the Governor was someone he could work with, unlike a few of his Democratic allies.

Oh, and the Blue Grotto was nice, too. Indescribably amazing, actually.

There were several other state offices — Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer — where I didn't know enough about the candidates so I did the right thing and left it blank. I did vote for current Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante for Insurance Commissioner, largely because I felt sorry for him losing to Ahnuld during the recall.

Oh, yeah, and I did vote for former Governor Jerry Brown (currently Mayor of Oakland) for Attorney General. He deserves my vote just for having dated Linda Rondstandt, who was quite a hotty in her day (
below). (Linda Rondstadt was later romantically connected with Plow King owner and proprietor Barney Gumble of Springfield).

For some reason in Orange County our sheriff and coroner are the same person. That should make for interesting plot lines when they start to make CSI: Orange County. This was actually the race that was getting the most press because of the scandal in which the incumbent, Michael Carona (Carona the Coroner...nice ring to it) and his cronies found themselves. Both opponents focused on this, and one of them demanded that Carona resign.

Essentially, both of the challengers were running on a platform of not allowing their friend's son to rape 16-year-old girls.

Carona said in his bio/platform that "residents of Orange County are safer today than they were eight years ago" when he took office. I know I'm safer, but that may be because I live in Korea.

One of his opponents, Bill Hunt, says that violent crime in sheriff-patrolled areas (i.e., areas not part of some city plus areas where policing is contracted out to the OC Sheriff's Department) skyrocketed 30% (he doesn't say from when...could be from 1850 when we achieved statehood, or 1890, when OC broke off from L.A. County) and homicides have increased 26%.

So, one of these men is lying. I'm not sure which one, so I voted for the third guy, Robert Alcaraz, who used to be a Deputy Sheriff, and as a bonus, did
not invoke 9/11 in his little blurb. (There was a fourth guy, but when he said he said he spent three decades in "the largest Sheriff's Department in the nation," I knew he wasn't talking about OC, and we don't need no carpet-baggers.)

For US Senator I chose incumbent Dianne Feinstein. Duh. She has the best chance of beating a Republican challenger in November. For US Represenative, it was a choice between two people I don't know. Unfortunately, they didn't offer a bio for the Voter Information Pamphlet. I thought about leaving it blank, but in the end I wrote myself in. I doubt I won, but stranger things have happened. Well, no, stranger things than that have not happened, but I will keep my cell phone on during business hours in Sacramento, just in case.

For State Senate, for some reason it seems we were actually voting not for the Democratic nominee but for who will go to Sacramento as the actual State Senator — it was a Democrat versus a Republican, which would be odd if it were a Democratic primary (did the GOP railroad through a bill requiring a Republican be on all ballots as part of Homeland Security?).

The Democrat is a school teacher who talked up the importance of good education and "meaningful education reforms in Sacramento" (Sacramento is our capital, by the way, just in case you were wondering why I keep referencing that city; if you are an actual Californian and did not know that, I urge you to not vote or operate heavy machinery in the future). The Republican is a State Assemblyman who talked about illegal immigration right out the gate — "It's my first priority."

He says he voted for border police enforcement, voted to remove taxpayer funded benefits for illegal aliens, and voted against driver's license for illegal aliens. He ran for office "to protect our quality of life and family values."

Fine, except that when I was actually present in OC, these were often code words by some White people for reining in the Latinos and the Asians (there aren't a lot of Blacks in Orange County). Illegal immigration is a problem, but it's not typically solved by people who see these issues as us-versus-them, especially when "them" is assumed to be anybody of color.

For Superior Court Judge in our district there were three people running but only one had a platform/bio. She has led a team that prosecutes drunk driving homicides (well I should hope they're prosecuted), and she also prosecuted sexual predators, child molestors, and rapists. So far, so good: these people should be prosecuted.

But then she mentioned her support of the death penalty and I just decided I couldn't vote for her. I did that twice with Clinton and I just can't do it anymore. By the way, she mentions doing volunteer work in her parish, which would mean she's a death penalty-supporting Catholic. Hmm...

Not having a clear idea who to vote for, I wrote in the name of a friend from UCI. She's a lawyer. I think she'd make a good judge. I should call her and give her a heads-up, just in case.

Next up was County Supervisor. One guy was a teacher who supports protecting Orange County's wetlands (in Bolsa Chica, around Huntington Beach). Lots of politicians mentioned protecting OC wetlands; I think it's required by law. This guy ended his platform with, "A vote for me is a vote for you." I was tempted to cut out the middle man and just vote for myself again. His opponent was very proud of being a union buster, like he's some tough guy from Chicago or the Bronx. Come on, this is Orange County...unions hold potlucks and go bowling. Going after OC unions is about as classy as attacking Medicare drug plan protestors with baseball bats.

Both of them mentioned cleaning up the mess from Orange County's infamous $2 billion bankruptcy back in 1994. It was then the largest municipal bankruptcy in world history. The lesson learned: don't trust a Democrat to handle large sums of cash. Anyway, we're apparently still reeling from this. I think I'll stay away a while longer.

For Assessor, there were two guys running against the incumbent. Neither seemed to like the incumbent much. The first one asked, "Has your church ever had to file a lawsuit because the assessor's office denied its property tax exemption?" The answer for me is no. Had he also asked about temples and/or mosques, I might have been more willing to get behind this guy. I'm not a practicing Muslim or Jew, but some of my best friends have been, and I just think inclusion is the way to go on religion in the US. Seriously, it sounded like it was code of some kind, and I don't go in for tolerating intolerance.

The other guy sounded fine (he was a Navy S.E.A.L., though I'm not sure what that has to do with being a County Assessor), except that he voted
against the El Toro Airport.

The El Toro Airport issue was one of the great dividing issues between North/West Orange County and South/East Orange County. Basically, a vast Marine Corps Air Station was closed down and Southern California planners (not just in OC, but in neighboring Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire, and San Diego) thought that this would be a perfect place for a desperately needed international airport.

But in a classic case of NIMBY (not in my backyard), the residents in South County (southern/eastern OC) rose up against the plan. Airport noise, planes falling from the sky, cheesy television shows centered around the area, etc., etc. Geez, it's not like their homes weren't
already built around an existing military air base! Bunch of whiners (and I'm from Irvine, by the way, just a few miles from El Toro).

Anyway, I think I ended up voting for the incumbent. (El Toro ended up becoming Orange County Great Park. [UPDATE: A park with a huge orange balloon.])

For District Attorney, there was only one person running. This means either OC's political elite are entrenched, there are too few competent people among OC's three million residents, or the Voting Registrar is too hard to find.

I voted for the incumbent.

Without any bio/platform information on the one guy running for Auditor, I thought about voting for myself, but I wouldn't know what I was doing if somehow I really ended up with the job (like if the guy died or was arrested in some bizarre sex-and-drug scandal or something). I did write myself in for County Superintendent of Schools, but only because I didn't care for the platform of the other two. Having grown up in OC schools, I could show them a thing or two about how much our school system sucks eggs.

I voted yes to all three — expanding pre-school education with a 1.7% tax on individual income over $400,000; constructing and renovating public libraries; and prohibiting the County's use of "eminent domain" to forcibly acquire property from one private party to give to another private party.

So there you have it, the mundanity of voting in Orange County. I wish it were more exciting than that, but it's not. Anything interesting that happens in Orange County has all been rehashed on "The O.C." In season 1. In the first four episodes. The rest of us lead humdrum lives. But as a reward for reading this far, I will give you another picture of Linda Rondstadt.

P.S. The guy I met in Capri, Italy, narrowly lost the nomination. But after Arnold Schwarzenegger beats the pants off Angelides in November, I think Mr. Westly will be back in 2010.