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.