Tuesday, March 31, 2009

caption contest

If I ever were to start having a caption contest feature on this blog, I think I'd start with this March 9 news photo.

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Mystery woman found?

In an update to this post, commenter "Steve" suggests that the mystery woman could be model Jessica Gomes, a gorgeous Australian model of Singaporean Chinese and Portuguese ancestry.

The photos above and below are from this photo gallery. I have perused these photos very, very carefully, but I'm not convinced that Korea Beat's mystery woman is Jessica Gomes. They eyes and nose seem a bit off, as do other body parts.

And Jessica's patriotic, to boot: I'm fairly certain those are An Chunggŭn handprints on her boobies ('cuz if you look where the thumbs are, they shore ain't hers).

I was starting to think that Jessica's arms didn't in fact go down, but after an exhaustive search, I did manage to find one.


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Los Angeles Times on Koreans and kyopo presence in golf (redux)

Nearly three years ago I put up a post that I had hoped to blog more fully — but never had the time — about the presence of Korean and ethnic Korean golfers in the LPGA. It's a perennial favorite of the LAT, and in Tuesday's edition they have come up with another version.

This one focuses on Inbee Park (박인비; above), who clinched the US Open title last year at the age of nineteen. Congenial and photogenic Michelle Wie is the household name associated with Koreans and golf, but Wunderkind Wie is not always the best performer. The truth is there are loads more young Korean women in golf, and many of them are more consistent in their performance, even if they don't get the big-ticket endorsements that Michelle Wie does.

(And I'm not knocking Miss Wie, who an absolute media darling here in Hawaii where she grew up and took up the sport; I dare say locals love her even more than Koreans do. She is still young and has accomplished a lot, and will probably accomplish even more in her still young career.)

The LAT article starts off with an explanation familiar to many who have even a passing interest in Korea's increasing dominance of women's golf: how a virtual unknown named Pak Seri a decade ago came from nowhere to become the youngest to win the US Women's Open.

And just like Kim Yuna is inspiring untold numbers of girls across Korea today to take to the ice — or inspiring their parents to put them on the ice — Pak Seri's warm-hearted and no-nonsense approach led thousands to pick up a set of clubs and see what they could do with them.

The article goes on to list some of the more prominent players, providing background information and a little filler for each. If you're interested in figuring out who's who among Korean golfers, this might be a good place to start.

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Did you know?

Romania leads the European Union in total sales of baby broth. This local gastronomic specialty, originally developed as a way to help crowded orphanages make ends meet after the collapse of communism in 1989, involves placing infants into a pot or basin of water heated to 32°C and containing a mixture of salt and oregano, in order to harvest their shedding epidermis.

"Stewing" the babies for about half an hour allows for dead cells in the outer layers of their skin to slough off into the watery mixture. Local legend has it that the sebum and keratinocytes of newborns are an effective remedy for curing glaucoma, erectile dysfunction, and the common cold.

The babies, who are in no way harmed by the process, reportedly love it, especially since it's their only chance all week to be warm.

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smaller faces in Korea

Brian in Chŏllanam-do brings us news about how women's faces have gotten 5% smaller. He quotes a dentist from my alma mater who speculates on the reasons for the smaller faces:
Professor Kim Hee-jin from the department of dentistry in Yonsei University explained, “The decrease in face length can be attributed to the diet of preferring soft food such as hamburgers.” and added, “If one gets in the habit of eating food that mainly uses the front teeth when one is young, the jaw muscles which we use for chewing food may become weak and it may cause the size of the jawbone to become smaller.”
Unless Professor Kim has done actual research on this issue, I'd venture a guess that this is speculation rather than documentation. There may be more soft foods (although rice is pretty darn soft), but there is also more food in general, meaning more jaw movement.

I think changes in diet have led to changes in how fat and bone gets deposited on the frame, more stretched out rather than concentrated. (I'm reminded of reports from several years ago in which the condition of malnourished Chinese babies — they were being fed but what they were consuming was criminally altered — went unnoticed until too late because their enlarged heads were not associated with malnourishment.)

This in turn leads to changes in how skin is shaped across the face. Even without plastic surgery, there are bigger eyes, smaller faces, taller people, and more proportional and smaller heads and faces.

I'd have to dig around for the study, but you can look at marked changes between non-surgically altered Korean faces and Japanese faces from the late 19th century, mid-20th century, and early 21st century.

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Revamping the city center

An architectural commission inaugurated by President Lee "Bulldozer" Myungbak unveiled plans to resdesign the downtown Seoul area.

The Korea Herald article is short on details or pictures, but it includes stuff we've already heard about or that have already started, like the repositioning of Kwanghwamun to its original, traffic-obstructing location. The tree-lined street in front of that is set to become a public plaza. I guess the Mad Cow blockades of 2008 were good practice for seeing how Seoul would operate if vehicular traffic couldn't move through that main artery. At any rate, after the US embassy moves to what is now Camp Coiner, such a plaza will attract fewer demonstrators, maybe.

The plans have been expanded to include a seven-kilometer stretch from downtown to the Han River, passing by Ch'ŏnggyech'ŏn Stream (청계천), City Hall, Namdaemun, Seoul Station, and Nodŭlsŏm Island (노들섬). Since the HQ and home of Kushibo Enterprises and Kushibo, respectively, are located near Namdaemun Gate and Seoul Station, I hope the city doesn't "plan" me out of a place to live.

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Popular Gusts on popular cyber freedom of expression

In response to the recent news of Google bending to the will of the South Korean government and requiring YouTube users submit their actual citizen registration number (주민등록번호), Matt of Popular Gusts takes a rather comprehensive look at the issue of the ROK government trying to promote civil online behavior by requiring a "real-name system" for Internet users

I have some opinions on the matter, but it will have to come later. But for now I think it's good to point people in the direction of Matt's and Brian's forums. 

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Doing what Detroit can't won't

MSNBC brings us news of a Dutch-Malaysian auto venture set to bring tens of thousands of well-equipped, all-electric vehicles to market, many of them powered by South Korean batteries. They will sell for between $23,000 and $33,000, well within the range of affordability.

This reminds me of how, when Californians passed a proposition requiring low-emission and no-emission vehicles by the 2000s, Detroit kicked and screamed that this was technologically possible, and even took the State of California to court, while Toyota and then Honda quietly just went ahead and did it.

There is a great deal of creativity in America, but too many businesses have gotten fat and lazy by pushing consumerism over quality and improvement. That has got to stop.

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A record trade surplus for South Korea this month?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that South Korea looks poised to record a $5 billion trade surplus for March 2009. This comes after a $3.68 billion surplus in February, which followed a $1.64 billion trade deficit in January. South Korea's previous record was a $4.75 billion surplus posted in October 2008. 

All this comes despite a double-digit percentage drop in exports as the global economy — and in particular South Korea's major trading partners such as the US, Europe, and Japan — goes into free-fall. 

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Did you know?

18.3% of all baby names in Croatia last year were chosen from random WORD VERIFICATION entries at Blogger.


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Maybe there really is an axis of evil

Fox News quotes right-wing Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun as saying that "missile experts from Iran are in North Korea to help Pyongyang prepare for its rocket launch." Supposedly a delegation of fifteen Iranians has been in Pyongyang since the beginning of March. 

The report said they brough a letter from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "stressing the importance of cooperating on space technology." 

Of course, if fair and balanced Fox News says it, it must be true. There's no way this is anything like the Osama-Saddam connection that fueled the drive toward war in 2003. Nor the Osama-Obama connection that fueled the McCain campaign in 2008. 

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Financial Times interview with Lee Myungbak

Better than their editorial on North Korea is the Financial Times interview with South Korea President Lee Myungbak (이명박/李明博; yi myŏngbak). The main article is not so much a Q&A interview format as it is a description of what went down during the FT-2MB summit. 

The main article focused mostly on finance and trade:
South Korea will urge the Group of 20 countries gathering in London to “roll back” all protectionist measures adopted since November and call for the World Trade Organisation to “name and shame” countries that erect barriers to trade or finance.

In an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, said it was vital to stop the drift towards protectionism that had occurred since the G20 meeting in Washington when heads of state pledged to abide by Seoul’s call for a protectionist “standstill”. South Korea will chair the G20 next year.

“There are many countries clearly engaging in some sort of protectionist measures,” said Mr Lee, citing a World Bank report showing that 17 of the G20 countries had built trade barriers.
The transcript of the interview is found here. Here's a BBC report on the FT interview.

Most surprising revelation from the interview? Briefs.

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Financial Times editorial on North Korea brinkmanship

The Financial Times, still basking in the victory of declaring South Korea a neo-colonial power hell-bent on abusing the African continent, has penned an editorial likening North Korea to a temper tantrum-throwing child and the US, South Korea, and Japan inefficacious parents (hmm... I guess that's one of the pitfalls of having two mommies).

It's really a sort of pointless piece, saying nothing new and only taking potshots at the "Western" players (i.e., Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul), who frankly have been dealt a really crappy hand.
Tokyo, rather unconvincingly, is letting it be known it is considering shooting down the test missile. But, unless the rocket is heading directly for Japanese soil, that would be a mistake. To shoot it from the sky could send Pyongyang into a paroxysm of rage, downing any chance of a negotiated settlement for years. Worse still, Japan might miss. That would reveal the fallibility of missile defence technology and risk emboldening North Korea to try more acts of bravado.
"Unconvincingly," eh? 

It's easy to criticize, FT, but coming up with a solution, that's where we determine if you have any talent or not.

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Gotta collect 'em all!

First two American reporters are detained by North Korea, and now a South Korean worker at the joint North-South industrial complex at Kaesŏng. Pyongyang is proving yet again that they are treating their adversaries' citizens like Pokémon and they are hell-bent to collect them all. Frankly, I think no one is safe (Korea Beat has similar sentiments).

[Kushibo grabs crotch in a menacing manner
Hey, North Korean ruling junta! I've got your pocket monster right here!

(Oh, dear. That barely even makes sense.)

Um, anyway, the "facts" (if there is such a thing as a "fact" in the media: Discuss!) are these:
North Korea is holding a South Korean worker at a joint factory park for allegedly denouncing the North's political system and inciting female North Korean employees to flee their country, officials said Monday.

North Korea sent a message early Monday stating it was investigating the South Korean worker but would guarantee the person's safety, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North.

Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters that the ministry has asked the North to provide the South with details of the incident.
According to Lee, the North said the South Korean denounced the country's political system, and that an investigation was taking place under an inter-Korean accord on the business complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

Later Monday, a senior ministry official told reporters that the North also accused the South Korean worker of "corrupting" female North Korean workers at Kaesong and "instigating" them to defect from the North, according to the ministry. The official declined to give his name, citing department policy, it said.
It comes from Fox, which rarely has anything bad to say about leftist regimes, so it must be true (BBC story here, just for good measure). And if it is true, the guy's got cojones the size of beach balls. Or had cojones the size of beach balls.

[Fun fact: Pikachu is the product of a bioweapons development program Pyongyang subcontracted out to Monsanto in the 1980s. In 1996, after escaping from their Wonsan facility and attacking local residents in a nearby schoolyard, the hapless creature swam across the East Sea, then called the Sea of Japan, after which the exhausted rodent was nursed back to health in the rooftop garden of a Mitsubishi employee who tamed it with a proprietary blend of green tea and natto.]

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Join the party

The Washington Post reports that two American missile interceptor ship are leaving the Port of Pusan and headed for the East Sea (Sea of Japan). This, of course, is in response to North Korea's launch of what they say is a satellite but is believed to be a missile test. 


[above: US Navy Aegis destroyers USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and USS Chafee (DDG-90) leave the naval port in Pusan, South Korea, en route to the East Sea (Sea of Japan). Historians note that it's the first action John McCain has seen in East Asian since the 1970s.]

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Korean politics in Greater New York

You'd be forgiven if you thought the above picture was an AP photo accompanying a news story about Korean politicians buying out the Executive Branch of the Federal government as a way to help Washington make ends meet. (That scenario is at least ten years away... at least ten.)

Rather it's the photo accompanying the New York Times story about the election of a new leader for the Korean-American Association of Greater New York. This kind of stuff is important for a relatively new immigrant community that owes its success to hard work and intense cooperation. Marmot's Hole has a discussion of the whole thing; in particular, Wangkon has a good explanation as to why this kind of thing is still important, and Oranckay explains why this kind of thing draws Korean-American immigrants.

The sashes really do look like what you'd typically find in local politicking in Korea.

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Ling and Lee to be tried in Pyongyang for illegal entry and hostile acts against North Korea

In an update to this story, Current TV reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling will be tried in Pyongyang for illegal entry into North Korea and hostile acts. According to an official statement from North Korea:
The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements.
So they apparently "confessed," eh? I wonder if North Korea uses waterboarding or some such method of extracting whatever information it is that you want to extract.  I'll bet the chivalrous Ditch Mitch Koss (their colleague who managed to make it back to the Chinese side) is glad he beat those two back across the Tumen River. 

This is probably of no interest to anyone but me, but whenever I type "Laura Ling," my fingers involuntarily start typing "Linda Lingle," who is the Republican governor of governor of very blue-state Hawaii, and is in no way related to this story, except that North Korea is planning to launch a missile that could hit her state

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Tangshine olgure!

Sitemeter data is fun. I can see why and from where hundreds of people come to my blog each day. A large chunk is in search of images, especially shark-related images. Some come looking for pictures of nude octogenarians (Sitemeter data is also disturbing).

Some translate posts into other languages, mostly Korean or Japanese. This person decided to translate into Korean this helpful post about how to safely store personal sex pics and video. I'm fairly certain the reader gave up after the first convoluted sentence was beaten into hamburger meat by the Google Translator, but what struck me as funny was how "In your face!" was literally translated as, "당신의 얼굴에!", which I think I'm going to start using as a catch phrase. ("Yeah! Tangshine ŏlgure, muther fu¢ker!")

But what do you expect from an interpreter program so woefully inadequate that it translates "high school" as "높은 학교": literally a school that is high.

[If you ever get a paper from your students that sounds like gibberish uttered by a drunken parrot, it's a good bet that it was something originally written in Korean that had been put through the word-grinder. A newbie English teacher I know (Korean) who was put in charge of her high school's English "newspaper" had a couple students submit such articles.]

[This post had no point.]

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Will it never end?

In another round of what is at play in this post, Brian in Chŏllanam-do has presented a whole slew of discriminatory "blond hair, blue eyes" job postings that are just screaming for attention.

But it's past midnight here and I'm aching all over from having played soccer for the first time since college, so I'm going to bed. If no one else has gone after these people in the morning, I'll deal with it then. (Wait a minute... it's past 7 p.m. in Korea anyway; it's pointless to write anything now.)

[above: If left to their own devices, hagwon managers would hire only the Eloi. Or Mormons if it weren't for the whole cult thing.]

I'll probably repeat the same boiler plate "you are in violation of ROK law" email content that I did before, but for sh¡ts and giggles I might threaten one of the hagwon with an actual lawsuit. I think a good tactic would be warning them that my organization is going to send a series of qualified applicants, but the most qualified will be someone who's Black (or kyopo, depending on which hagwon we go after). If they don't hire the non-White, I'll tell them, then they will face a lawsuit and a human rights complaint.

You see, kiddies, that is what ATEK should be going after. Job preferences favoring those with fairer skin, eyes, or hair is where discrimination truly lies, not in HIV tests, drug testing, and criminal background checks which Korean teachers are subject to indirectly.

[above: Well, not these eloi, but in all fairness, they don't speak much English.]

I noted in the 2007 ad that Brian linked that someone responded that the pay was pretty good. Now this may just be me and my system of ethics, but if I were one of whatever chosen group they chose to discriminate in favor of, I would still not apply for the job. In fact, I dare say that anyone who applies for such a job where such blatant discrimination is abundantly clear, should just STFU about discrimination in Korea in general, because you're part of the problem.

My company has actually put together a business model that would provide a workaround for the discriminatory hiring practices. But ATEK wouldn't like it because it comes across as elitist and it also accepts — no, encourages — the litany of health tests and criminal background checks they claim they support if made universal but which they really are against in general. But hey, I make no apologies about being an elitist: Wouldn't it be nice if English instruction were an elite profession again? (And for the record, I'm not an English teacher, but I've dated a few.)

[right: I guess that would make hagwon managers Morlocks. The blond-haired and blue-eyed teachers Eloi should be concerned, because Morlocks eat Eloi for breakfast (and lunch and dinner). Come to think of it, the Morlocks bear a striking resemblance to traditional Korean dance masks (below). Maybe I'm really on to something here.]


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Our house, in the middle of Seoul-shi

The Marmot's recent photo essay on Taejŏn (대전/; also Daejeon) has prompted me to post this picture of my old house where I lived and ran an entire office until I bought my current apartment about half a kilometer away a few years ago.


It may not look like much, but it was quite spacious inside. Enough for two or three people to live and also have an office where two or three more could come in and work. I had three small dogs that ran around the modest yard in front and on the side, plus two cats living inside. (They were quite clever, having learned how to work doorknobs and escape from rooms in which mŏn-halmŏni tried to confine them.)

Off to the left you can see my pimped-out minivan, parked on the narrow street that was designed decades even before the Korean War, when no one ever imagined Seoul would be home to millions of cars. It was one-way only, though no one could decide which way was the one way. At night people parked their cars flush with the wall, forcing motorists to squeeze by each and every car. Although it was a through street, it was not a heavily trafficked one, used only by people who lived there and already knew the score.

As best as we could discern, the house was constructed around 1935. The owner had lived there since it was first built, but when her husband died the memories became too painful and she moved to an apartment in southern Seoul and offered her home as a chŏnsé house (often spelled chonsei or jeonse; a refundable large-amount lease).

It was well kept for a sixty-year-old Seoul home built in a modern style when the tenants prior to me moved in, but they modernized the incoming water pipes and converted the heating system from yŏnt'an coal-burning to gas lines. The new tenant fixed up old colonial-era homes and flipped them or turned them into restaurants (he is running one now, near where the new US embassy will be).

His restauranting may have gotten him noticed by the local gangsters; I remember one scary night when I was about to go out and four large men with crew cuts, blazers, and faux turtlenecks were waiting at the front door asking for him. When I told them — without opening up the front gate — that he didn't live there anymore, they kept telling me to just call him down, and they wouldn't leave. It scared the sh¡t out of Halmŏni and probably wasn't good for her ninety-year-old heart. The men eventually left, though I think I'm not sure what eventually convinced them I was telling the truth. Just in case they were coming back, we called the police and asked them to make regular passes, which they did. (I'll tell you: it pays to know the police in your neighborhood before you ever need them.)

I lived there for several years, but the owner's daughter had dollar signs in her eyes and she forced her mother to sell. She knew her mother placed sentimental value on the building, so she promised to sell only to someone who would keep the building intact. We were forced to move (though our "eviction" was in line with housing law and leases) and I bought my own apartment using the same W80 million chŏnsé as a down payment.

(The rest was lent to me by Shinhan Bank. Though I'm not a ROK citizen, the apartment is in my name and my name alone, while the bank loan is in my name alone with no guarantors; I've had people who are so married to the meme that foreign citizens cannot own property in Korea that they simply don't believe me when I tell them — I'm either lying to them or I myself am the victim of a big scam involving the tax office, the local Ward Office, my real estate agent, and the bank. Anyway, if you're interested in buying property and would like to ask questions, I can let you know how mine went and maybe offer some advice.)

The house is no longer standing. The owner's daughter deceived her mother about what the new owners were going to do. They knocked it down and built a four-story cookie-cutter yŏllip chutaek (연립주택), those nondescript buildings with a different unit on each floor. It's not that bad-looking, but if you know what was there, it's sad.

The neighborhood itself, in northern Yongsan-gu, still has lots of old buildings like this scattered throughout, many of them in quite good condition because the owners were well off enough to build homes large enough that they continued to be good placed to live for decades to come. It also helped that they had the means to fix things up.

But this neighborhood itself may not be there much longer. In the last couple years it was rezoned for mid-rise housing: all homes ancient or recent are to be razed so that brand-spanking new apartments can go up in their place. This is not a shantytown like the neighborhood of southern Yongsan-gu where the recent violence took place; most of the people whose homes will disappear are either owners (who will get one of the new places) or tenants with means to move elsewhere. The people in my apartment complex are excited about the prospect of getting newer and larger places, though the economic downturn has put a damper on all that.

By the way, the property in front of which I was standing when I took this picture (in 2001) is a vacant lot. The house that was there was also one of these old colonial-era buildings. The tenants, two Americans, accidentally burned it down when they tried to incinerate their garbage so they could avoid buying the plastic bags legally required to discard one's trash.

The neighbors were furious and demanded their immediate arrest. The prosecutor demanded harsh sentences of five years each for the crime of arson. All across the city of Seoul, notices were placed in poorly worded English not to burn your garbage because you could burn your owner's house down.

Ah, I'm just kidding. The neighbors felt terrible for these two gentlemen, who were both nice guys who tried to speak Korean and be neighborly, even if they were irresponsible with fire. There were offers to let them sleep temporarily in neighbors' homes, and over the next few days, neighbors tried to help them find a new place to move into.

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Focus on Tumen, China, in the Los Angeles Times

The award-winning Chinese-language film "Summer Palace" (頤和園) focuses on the personal awakenings of a young woman named Yu Hong (played by Chinese actress Hao Lei) from the Chinese-Korean border town of Tumen after she moves away from her hometown in 1987 to attend college in Beijing. (The explicit sex scenes and the critical manner in which the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident is portrayed got the picture banned in China, even though Beijing was originally supportive of this multinational effort and allowed for most of the film to be shot there.)

Though the predominantly Korean city of Tumen is given little time on the screen, its isolation from the rest of China is almost an allegory for the alienation that the main character — who is implied to be Korean and speaks some Korean in the beginning of the film — experiences throughout the decade and a half that is depicted in the movie.

Tumen is behind some of the headlines today, as it was a staging ground of sorts for Current TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee as they tried to get close to the PRC-DPRK border to report on the plight of North Korean refugees hiding in China, and possibly human trafficking and worse.

It is against this backdrop that Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times, formerly that paper's Seoul-based correspondent, reports on this humble city on the edge of the Chinese world. But due to its proximity to North Korea, it sees its share of preachers, pimps, smugglers, and tourists.
Smugglers bring counterfeit currency and drugs out of North Korea, returning with foreign DVDs and radios. Missionaries flock here to console and convert newly arrived North Korean defectors. Human traffickers bring out young women to match up with lonely Chinese bachelors.

Besides the preachers and proselytizers, prostitutes and pimps, aid workers and refugee advocates, smugglers and spies, you've got the journalists.

At some point, almost every reporter writing about North Korea comes to Tumen.
It is a lifeline of North Korea's underground economy, and a veritable hub of North Korea-centered activity:
Tumen (population 138,000) thrives on its proximity to North Korea. Tourists go to a riverfront promenade for photos in front of the North Korean flag. They rent binoculars for 30 cents to peer at a bleak North Korean town and buy the little red badges of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il that Northerners are required to wear on their lapels; $25 for real ones, or so the shopkeeper claims, and $1.50 for fakes.
But it's interesting to note that back in the 1960s, the tables of prosperity had been turned:
During the early 1960s, people crossed from China into relatively prosperous North Korea to escape the famine resulting from Mao Tse-tung's disastrous Great Leap Forward. By the 1990s, the traffic had reversed. Northern defectors are still coming today, although they will be promptly sent home -- to face stiff sentences in labor camps -- if they're caught by the Chinese.
I may be over-interpreting, but I see in Barbara Demick's words a hint at rationalization that Ling, Lee, and their colleague Mitch Koss may have accidentally stepped over the border, but I'm still not buying it. A dog may not recognize the markings of geopolitical boundary, but humans sure do.

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Reuters factbox on sanctions and punishment for North Korea

What to do? What to do? North Korea is probably going to test-fire a missile and Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington are all talking tough about UN sanctions as a result. Reuters has a pretty good overview from a few days ago listing past responses and addressing future options the rest of the world actually has in dealing with Pyongyang's brinkmanship. If you've been following this, it's nothing new, but it's a nice manageable (and citable) little piece.

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KCNA: World celebrates "Juche Hour"

PYONGYANG (KCNA) — All the world came together to celebrate the environmental ideals inherent in the Juche philosophy of our Eternal President of the Republic Kim Il-Sung and his son, our Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il.

As the world faces looming environmental crisis, leaders and citizens of the world have come to seek guidance from Juche's creators to discern the issue of the relations between man and the world and the issue of position and role of man in the world as a fundamental issue of philosophy. Kim Jong-il, the inheritor of the Juche idea, gave perfect answers to them.

To honor his guidance, the world on Saturday celebrated "Juche hour," in which all citizens of each time zone sought solidarity with the workers of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by turning off their lights from 8:30 p.m. until 9:30.

[above: Palauans celebrate Juche Hour with traditional Sonsorolese dances depicting the fate of workers who have not yet achieved class consciousness.]

These "Juche-outs," as they are popularly known around the world, are becoming quite the fad around the globe, as environment-minded citizens of the world recognize the leadership of the DPRK in combatting the fight for global warming.

Said a spokesman for the Ministry of Juche-Minded Environmental Stewardship, Lee Min-gyo, before a gathering of Western journalists who had come to Pyongyang to seek guidance on ecological matters: "All data shows that the DPRK has the smallest carbon footprint of any country. This makes our country the leader in the fight against global climate change."

After being queried by European pressmen anxious to hear other examples, Comrade Lee went through a list of rhetorical questions, to which the answer was obvious to all who are not subject to the press-controlling machinations of the capitalist bourgeoisie: "What country consumes the least amount of resources per capita? North Korea. What country is nearly devoid of energy-wasting and pollutant-spewing personal motor vehicles? North Korea. What country leads the world in production and utilization of toibee, a fertilizer made from mixing ash and human excrement to reduce waste and enhance crop production, developed through glorious knowledge and on-the-spot guidance passed down from the Great Leader? Again, North Korea."

When asked what improvements North Korea could make to reduce its green house gas emissions even further, Comrade Lee had harsh words for the Imperialist Americans, their running dogs in Japan, and their lackey flunkyists in Seoul: "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea seeks peaceful nuclear power to reduce the gases produced by even the cleanest coal and the purest cow dung, but 'the Man' is keeping us down, claiming we are making missiles to hit Disneyland and building nuclear weapons to bomb Universal Studios. Nothing could be further from the truth. And by 'the Man' I mean the goose-stepping Imperialists in Washington, who have their jackboots on the necks of the laborers at the behest of their banker benefactors."

Comrade Lee's aides presented a PowerPoint presentation that showed temperatures and tides rising everywhere except the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, mostly narrated by former United States Vice President Al Gore. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were, guests of the state in Pyongyang, were there to represent Current TV, the cornerstone of Al Gore's media empire. The two cried tears of joy as they heard the many ways that the DPRK is saving the planet.

Comrade Lee was wildly applauded for ten minutes by the international media for his portrayal of the Juche idea and received a standing ovation for his command of English-language colloquialisms, which he rightly attributed to the guidance and advice of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.

All journalists were given complimentary signed pamphlets of Kim Il-Sung's "On the Juche Idea," printed in Italian by the Group of Dialectical Materialists of Italy on the occasion of the 37th anniversary of the Enlargement of the Presidential Quarters Guesthouse at Mangyongdae.
[above: North Korea, Japan, and China celebrate Juche Hour. Imperialist running dogs in southern Korea show their true colors of oppression by incinerating the belongings of the proletariat in garbage cans throughout Seoul's slums and shantytowns in an effort to undermine the effects of Juche in the fight against global warming. The narrow lines that form the periphery of North Korea are from the flashlights of admirers of the Juche idea who stand at the edge of the Workers Paradise and look on with longing and desire for the day when they may visit. But right now the country's full.]

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Taiwan and South Korea — same same (Or, A brief comparative analysis of Outer Cháoxiān and the Renegade Chinese Province of Taiwan)

Through East Windup Chronicle, a great baseball blog, I read a bit of political news that the Dalai Lama "has been told to stay home" by Taiwan's Mongolian and Tibet affairs minister. (Taiwan having a Tibet affairs minister is related to the complex pre-1949 history of China and Taiwan; the Mongolian part relates to an archaic Republic of China claim on all of Mongolia that the Taiwanese have yet to shed.)

Indeed it seems that Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou (at left; 馬英九) is like our Roh Moohyun (노무현/盧武鉉), in some ways at least. The more I read and hear about Taiwan's social, historical, political, and economic development, the more parallels I see between South Korea and China's Renegade Province™. Indeed, South Korea has been giving the Dalai Lama the same cold shoulder for quite some time now and for quite some time now, and it's not just Roh Moohyun.

The big difference between Ma and Roh, however, is that Ma is the head of the Kuomintang (KMT, the "Nationalists") which historically has been closer in ideology to South Korea's conservatives. But the KMT and allied Pan-Blue (泛藍聯盟) position has morphed from KMT takeover of all of China to one merely of one-China preservationism — partly in response to Taiwanese efforts on the other end of the political spectrum to assert Taiwan's status as a separate national entity on the world stage.

Both Seoul and Taipei cower at the possibility of upsetting Beijing (and in Seoul's case under Roh, Pyongyang as well), and this just gives Beijing more power. This ticks off "C," a Taiwanese grad student I know here in Hawaii who formerly worked in Pan-Green (泛綠聯盟), the independence-minded political coalition that was recently voted out of power.

What would Beijing do if Seoul or Taipei allowed the Dalai Lama to visit? Would they invade? Would they cut off economic ties, which is largely Taiwanese and South Korean companies dumping investment dollars into China while buying up goods from Chinese companies? Would the instigate a series of policies that give their ally North Korea free reign to do whatever the hell it wants even when it runs counter to international acceptability? Too late, they already do that.

Would Beijing instruct their citizens living in South Korea to run amok and attack people who hold political views that offend Beijing? Oh, too late there, too (right).

Really, then. What do Taipei and Seoul have to fear but fear itself? Let's pull that Band-Aid off, people!

[above: The Dalai Lama has been trying for years to visit South Korea. Aides say he is dying to visit Myŏngdong, where he hopes to pick up a new pair of glasses and get himself and his buddies facials at Ippuni Miso Day Spa.]

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pride and prejudice

According to this Japanese government survey in the Japan Times, 91.2% of young American adults are proud to be American, 84.1 percent of similarly young Britons are proud to be British, 81.7% of youthful Japanese feel the same way, followed by 78.0% of South Koreans and 77.1% of the French.

When nearly one out of four South Koreans doesn't feel proud to be South Korean, I wonder how valid or universal the Korea Pride™ meme really is. (And ditto with the Japanese and the French).

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Mintpad to be released outside Korea

A few days ago Marmot mentioned new efforts by the Lee Myungbak administration for Korea to produce a signature company that would produce "creative" products like the Wii or PlayStation 3. Essentially, a Korean Nintendo.

It appears that there are already a few products out there that have the interest of the gadget-buying public outside Korea, by they might not be getting the love from Seoul that they deserve.

At any rate, the buzz I've been reading in the American media about the mobile device known as a Mintpad (a product of Korean company Mintpass) reminded me of how hot new products might simply be the result of unfettered creativity rather than government committee. In other words, if this gadget gains widespread popularity, it might be a sign that not only do some companies not need government intervention, they might actually be hindered by it (though I suppose it depends on the type of support and intervention).

These people seem excited about it's pending release outside the Korean market. The video they show, of a Korean-speaking casual demonstration of the Mintpad's functions, reminds me of the functions of my own iPhone, but with a stylus-operated interface that's not quite as cute (and you don't always need the stylus). Judging from what I saw, I would rate it similar to my Garmin: compact, highly functional, not as aesthetically pleasing as an iPhone, but clearly gets the job done.

Late last year the same people sort of gushed about it:
We can't remember the last time we stealthily scribbled a note to a coworker instead of shooting an IM, but Mintpass (a Korean firm founded by former iriver minds) believes some folks want to do both at once with Mintpad, a wireless handheld that's one part Nintendo DS, one part iPod, and another part Post-it note. Yes, it surfs the web on 802.11b/g WiFi and plays 4GB (or more with a microSD card) of music and videos on its sub-3-inch 320 x 240 display, but the draw is handwriting with a stylus.
Some of the commenters in the second link suggest this device's note-writing function might make it more popular with people who have to write Chinese characters instead of the limited 26-letter Roman alphabet. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a technology was popular in East Asia that never took off in North America or Europe (and I have an audio disk to prove it).

Anyway, I don't recall seeing this while back in Seoul over the past few years, but I wasn't looking. It's brought to you by some iRiver defectors, so maybe it has some promise.

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Who's that girl?

The gentlemen at Korea Beat have posted a picture from this Joongang Ilbo bulletin board, whose members are curious who this "mixed race star" (혼혈 스타) is.

Nathan and Mithridates say they're trying to help out the netizens, but I suspect ulterior motives. And considering all the effort those two put into their informative blog, I'm always willing to lend a hand to Korea Beat (whose name is dangerously close to becoming a double entendre).

If you have any information, please let them know before they go to the expense of a milk carton campaign. Judging by the second picture, I suggest canvassing local establishments that do Brazilian waxes.



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North Korea beats UAE in World Cup qualifier, 2-0

In an update to this post, North Korea defeated the United Arab Emirates, 2-0 in Pyongyang. This puts the Workers Paradise in the lead of Group 2 of the World Cup qualifying round.

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Wall Street Journal bashes Obama on ROK-US free-trade agreement

A lot of commenters in the Korea-blogosphere seem to enjoy bashing the KORUS FTA, some of them apparently out of some twisted revenge for negative experiences at the hand of some Korean or other, but the Wall Street Journal is calling Obama out on his foot-dragging over this agreement, signed by Bush, and Trade Representative Ron Kirk's calls to "step away" from the ROK-US FTA.

The WSJ is saying that the EU-ROK is going to provide South Korea and the European Union some real benefits that the US is going to miss out on because of Democrats being in too deep with Big Labor. Some pertinent quotes:
That pact would have thrown open most of the world's 13th-largest economy to American companies and boosted U.S. GDP by $10 billion to $12 billion. It also would have cemented America's relationship with an important ally.

Yet congressional Democrats have stalled ratification, largely at the behest of their Big Labor backers. Opponents claim, all evidence to the contrary, that the agreement wouldn't do enough to open Korea's car market.
The US, it warns, "will lose out to their European peers on access to the Korean market," and this is a "protectionist cost" America cannot afford.

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Lancaster County goes dark

The Amish of southeastern Pennsylvania have joined the rest of the world in celebrating Earth Hour:
"This is actually a big coincidence," admitted Elder Jakob Orlung. "Since we have no Interweb, we did not know of this global movement to extinguish the electrical incandescence. It just happens that about 8:30 is when most of us out our whale oil lamps and go to bed."

"Around here," his wife Naomi added, "every hour is Earth Hour."
Fun fact (and this is true): Amish meet up with "the English" to do business in a placed called the Village of Intercourse. Could this be why the Amish, with an average of 6.8 children per family, are among the fastest growing ethnic groups in America?

[above: Typical night scene in Paradise, Pennsylvania]

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Chinaman lamp & shade at Oka

From his high hat to his curved boots, our hand-painted Chinaman with his painted red pagoda-shaped shade is a real charmer. (more of the same)

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A review I wish I'd written five years ago

"A Very Long Engagement" is a very long movie.

It has taken me about four days to make it through this film. But anything with Audrey Tautou is worth the effort. Well, almost.

It's actually a pretty good film about a young woman who is the fiancée of a young French soldier (the English subtitles of the French-language film say fiancé; I'm beginning to wonder if the French actually know how to speak French), and her attempts to find that childhood sweetheart after he has almost certainly died a few years earlier in the trench warfare of World War I.

There are some bleak battle scenes with a fair amount of blood, but nothing as drawn out as "Saving Private Ryan" or things like that. The futility of World War I and the despair of the survivors are major themes.

The dialogue and the characters are in that quirky style for which French films are known (a trait shared by much of Japanese and modern Korean cinema). It's a style I happen to enjoy, but I know it's not for everyone. In fact, the reason I don't review things is because I tend to suspect I might be the only who enjoys whatever it is I'm enjoying, and I'd hate to impose that on anyone else.


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Saturday, March 28, 2009

An end to old traditions

Three years ago on this blog, then frequent commenter Darin and I got into a heated debate over whether or not the Japanese imperial family should end the form of primogeniture where only a son could be elevated to the Chrysanthemum Throne (historically, though, a number of women were empresses in Japan). The eventual birth of a grandson for Akihito negated the urgency of that question, and for now the new traditions remain.

On the other side of the planet, however, one of the other last holdouts, Great Britain, is considering making changes to its rules of succession, in particular, by ending any preference of male heirs over female heirs. No more "primacy of princes over princesses in regal succession."

They would also end the ban on the British monarch marrying a "papist" (a Catholic). This centuries-old rule was designed to protect the Church of England, of which the queen or king is the "Supreme Governor." That gives the monarch's entourage preferred parking at the Abbey.

[right: Although Princess Anne would move up from tenth in the line of succession to fourth, Prince Charles would remain first in line to the British throne. His left and right ears would be second and third, respectively.]

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NYT: Chinese can again watch videos of my Great Aunt May's trip to Cancun

In a follow-up to this story, the New York Times reports that China has again allowed its citizens access to YouTube.

Come to think of it, re-opening the floodgates could be Beijing's way of taking down YouTube through a 1.3 billion-user strong denial-of-service attack.

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My blog is possibly NSFW

I predict that at some point in the near future, some Korean all-girl band will (probably at the behest of their managers or producers) do a sogot noch'ul dance (속옷 노출 댄스 ) in an effort to grab ratings and/or get some media spotlight, much like popular Japanese girl band AKB48 has done.

Like AKB48, they will get criticized for it, but by then the horse will be out of the barn and headed for the highway. It's all part of the pornification of society, man.

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When "Just what were you thinking?" is not a rhetorical question

It would be appropriate to say that this picture of Korean pop singer Son Dambi (손담비; son tambi) is "sexy."

Not so if you're talking about the same person when she was a prepubescent girl.

Somebody at the Chosun Ilbo should be fired and investigated. Yes, borrowed words morph in meaning, but 섹시/sexy is very clear in meaning to native Korean speakers.

On a semi-related note, when then-octogenarian mŏn-halmŏni first met my future ex-fiancée, who was staying in my apartment while she visited from Kyōtō, I was surprised to hear her calling Naoko "sexy." "Halmŏni is pretty hip," I remember saying to myself. Until I realized she was referring to Naoko as a saekshi/색시. (But to her credit, she said she didn't think there was anything wrong with her staying in my place even though we weren't married because "요즘 그래.")

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That's one way to get Seoul traffic to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks

I'm not entirely sure what these women are doing, but I believe they're advertising a day spa that specializes in Brazilian waxes.

[Helpful hint to readers: Do NOT look up "bikini waxing" in Wikipedia while you're at work. Don't do it. I'm not kidding. I know you're going to do it anyway, so don't say I didn't warn you.]

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Are you ready for some futbol?

If the end of the World Baseball Classic has left you experiencing withdrawal symptoms for nationalism-infused sporting events, a bit of soccer might do the trick. Some major qualifying matches are coming up to see which "Asian" teams (Australia is apparently part of Asia) go to the 2010 South Africa World Cup.

In about four hours (Saturday, March 28, 3:30 p.m., Korea/Japan time), North Korea will play the United Arab Emirates in Pyongyang. If they're doing well, I might be willing to root for those Koreans. (Yeah, I know: fence-sitters like me are first against the wall when the revolution comes.)

[above: North Korea plans to defeat the United Arab Emirates team with a classic 400-400-200 formation.]

But on Wednesday, April 1, at 8:00 p.m., I would definitely be rooting for South Korea over North Korea when the two go head to head in Seoul. Expect an early launch of the Dear Leader's satellite Taepodong-2 missile if the Kim Jong-il's ch'ukku boys go down to defeat to the deafening sound of "Tae~ han~ min~ guk!"

[As an aside, the North Koreans need to work on their fan branding. "Cho~ sŏn~ min~ ju~ ju~ ŭi~ in~ min~ gong~ hwa~ guk!" just doesn't roll off the tongue like "Tae~ han~ min~ guk!" And shouting "Wi~ dae~ han~ Ryŏng~ do~ ja!" would just be tacky, since the Dear Leader himself is not actually playing.]

After that, there are no matches involving South Korea until June 6, 10, and 17, when South Korea plays United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, respectively. North Korea plays Axis of Evil™ co-member Iran on June 6 (will they exchange nuclear secrets during halftime?) and Saudi Arabia on June 17.

If you'd like to root for whomever Japan is playing, cheer for Bahrain tonight at 7:23 in Saitama (Yukari, I'll bet you wish you could be there), Qatar on June 10, and Australia on June 17. Actually, I would be rooting for Japan to go to South Africa, but that's just me.

[above: Kushibo predicts that North Korea's Central News Agency will release this photograph of the Dear Leader enjoying North Korea's glorious defeat of the capitalist pigs of United Arab Emirates. I predict a DPRK win, if for no other reason than it takes cojones the size of beach balls to go to North Korea and defeat their national team in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of spectators, none of whom are rooting for you.]

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"Shoot it down!"

The Dear Leader has moved the missile to the launch pad (not personally, but you know what I mean), it's neighbors are pissed, and now the Japan Times says that Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has ordered the Self-Defense Forces (Japan's euphemistically named military) "to shoot down any part of a North Korean rocket that might fall toward Japanese territory."

The intercept order was given the go-ahead by Prime Minister Taro Aso, according to an article in the Self-Defense Forces Law allowing them to destroy beforehand a ballistic missile flying toward Japan.

Quoting Minister Hamada:
If a North Korean projectile threatened our people's safety and security by falling in our airspace, seas or land, obviously we must respond and prepare for the occasion appropriately.
Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington all believe that this is a missile test and not a satellite launch, as Pyongyang claims. US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair has pointedly said as much.

If it is a missile launch, it would violate UN resolutions and possibly trigger sanctions (if Beijing and Moscow don't veto such things). Pyongyang says that would be the end of the Six-Party Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.

Nevertheless, Japan is holding out the possibility that North Korea's leadership could be telling the truth. This, of course, makes things even more complicated. Hamada sums up the Japanese view quite nicely:
It's very annoying to have something fired over our territory.
Yes. Yes, it is.

[above: The Chokai, a Kongo-class Aegis destroyer, turned around as soon as they got word from Aso to go kick some Dear Leader ass. Along with the Kongo, this ship is equipped with an antiballistic missile defense system designed to missiles. On Friday morning, both ships left Sasebo, in southern Japan and headed for the Sea of Japan (East Sea).]

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(Korea) needs more cowbell!

The Los Angeles Times has a nice overview of the surprise runaway hit documentary "Old Partner" (워낭소리, wonang sori; literally, "sound of a cowbell"), including a small photo gallery.

Following in the footsteps of another sleeper hit, "The Way Home" (집으로, chibŭro), it is providing Korea's middle-aged and older city folk a chance to reminisce about with their own bucolic childhoods, while providing Korea's urban youth a glimpse into the past of their parents and especially their grandparents.

For tens of millions of South Koreans, "Old Partner" and "The Way Home" (which included several first-time elderly actors from the area where the fictional film was shot, playing the grandmother role and her neighbors) represent a bygone era. But this bygone era is the present day for perhaps millions more, for whom the slower paced, less developed, and economically teetering agricultural existence is the only thing they've ever known — or probably will know.

South Koreans are keenly aware that there is blight in the vast rural areas outside the capital Seoul and the metropolitan prefectures of Inchon, Pusan, Taegu, Taejon, and Kwangju. But these areas are fly-over country, drive-by territory, green swaths barely glimpsed as one speeds down the expressway, if they are seen at all.

They know of the problems facing the partners, from the financial hardship of making ends meet in an increasingly expensive country where land is costly and the payoff from farming small, to their difficulty in finding brides to carry on filial responsibilities and the family farm, causing many to seek marital partners from outside the country. Indeed, not only is Korea's bread basket and rice bowl an alien place to most urban countries because it lacks the 24-hour conveniences of the big city, but also because it is increasingly populated by people who did not grow up speaking Korean.

And thus, these movies have been reminding people of what has been lost to them. They beckon people to the countryside, even if it is for the gimmick of meeting octogenarians Choe Won-gun (최원군) and his wife Lee Samsun (이삼순), and their forty-year old bovine.

Farmer Lee and Farmer Choe are suffering, in fact, in that they are getting too much attention:
But since the movie's January premiere, a near-daily invasion of curious visitors has threatened the tranquil life of the illiterate couple, who just want to be left alone. Everyone wants a piece of them, pestering for countless photos: Stand here. Pose there. Bale more hay. Smile! Now take us to the old cow's grave site for just a few more snapshots. The boldest intruders barge into the house uninvited.

"I'm gratified that people are interested in my parents," says Choi Won-kyun, the eldest of the couple's nine children. "If only they would have a sip of coffee and leave, but they stay. What can my parents do? Hospitality is part of rural life. We don't have any choice but to welcome them."
I guess it's feast or famine. One minute they're neglected, and the next minute their celebrities inundated with attention. Instead of being the umpteenth person to visit these three, perhaps what people should do is look around them. No matter where you are in Korea, but particularly in the older neighborhoods, there are plenty of elderly people who would love to have a little face time with a younger person. In my neighborhood, one of the first modern neighborhoods of early 20th century Seoul, there is no shortage of septuagenarians, octogenarians, or nonagenarians. There's even the odd centenarian here and there.

They have fascinating stories to tell. Some happy, some sad. But all things they would love to share if someone half their age or younger gave a damn. When my octogenarian-turned-nonagenarian mŏn-halmŏni lived with me, I would occasionally accompany her to the local clinic or the local pharmacy, where other folks her age would gather. They would talk with each other, share gossip, tell what they knew of what their grandchildren were up to. Routine stuff for elderly all over the world, I suppose.

It was always a thrill to meet some new young person, and I can't begin to tell you how many of them tried to hook me up with their granddaughters (I did, in fact, date one, a nurse named Hyŏnhŭi, but she left for the States). So if this movie (which I have yet to see) inspires you, leave Farmer Choe and Lee alone, and instead strike up a conversation with your elderly neighbor the next time you're at the dentist or the doctor's office.

[above: "Hey, you ethnics! Get off my lawn!"]

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