Sunday, May 31, 2009

Danica Patrick

If anyone could get me interested in watching car racing, it would be Danica Patrick, the Michelle Wie of that sport.

Will Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul join a three-way?

[above: Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sanghee, meeting in Singapore.]

I mean that as in a three-way agreement to go their own way if the six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea fail. That's what the Los Angeles Times is asking:
The U.S. and its Asian allies are laying the groundwork for a tougher stance toward North Korea should negotiations with China and Russia fail to yield a new strategy to force the government in Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program, defense officials said Saturday.

In a meeting Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told his South Korean and Japanese counterparts that they should begin thinking about measures the three countries could take unilaterally if the so-called six-party talks continued to founder.

"The secretary raised the notion that we should think about this as we are pursuing the six-party talks," said a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol. "We ought to think about what more we need to do should they not prove successful."
This is only possible because of a change of leadership. While it might have occurred if Roh and Obama were both president, and possibly with Bush and Lee both in power, I don't think it would have happened when we had Roh and Bush. Too much baggage.

OCR most commented on article: 1 in 5 US children are Latino

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

LAT on South Korean reaction to Roh Moohyun's death

John Glionna, the new person on the ground for the Los Angeles Times, gives his take on former President Roh Moohyun's death, particularly the "liberal" angle:
A million mourners packed into the community, which is dotted by rice fields and light industry warehouses. Round the clock they have come, bowing humbly and wiping away tears, placing chrysanthemums beneath a portrait of the 62-year-old Roh.

In South Korea, incoming administrations typically savage those who preceded them. Many of Roh's supporters talk of a smear campaign -- news media leaks by prosecutors and a vendetta by the Lee Myung-bak administration.

"It's a political murder," said Sohn Dae-jeong, 40, who had arrived at Bongha after a five-hour overnight bus trip from Seoul. "The administration, the conservative newspapers, the prosecutors, they killed him. I hope they are happy now."
Even though it's a few days old, it's still a good read.

Quarantined teacher gives kudos to... well, everybody

Blogger aavanwey, one of the quarantined hagwon teachers, gives an Oscar-eseque speech on all the people who came through. Kinda touching... [sniff]

Get better, everyone.

Busted in Ansan?

Courtesy of BJiT, here is the latest issue of "Busted in Austin," a rag designed to titillate as well as to deter others from a life of crime.

I have just two questions: Would this business model work in Korea, and where are all the Korean prostitutes the K-blog commentariat keeps saying have invaded America?

Korea's Swine flu cases rise to 39 after four more confirmed to be infected

As reported by the Korea Times and Bloomberg, four more cases of H1N1 "swine flu" have been confirmed. The good news is that none of them is an English teacher. The bad news is that one of the infected — the only non-Korean of the four — is an 18-month-old infant. Keep that child in your thoughts and prayers.

All four arrived from the United States, so don't expect Korean health authorities to back down anytime soon on the idea that people arriving from overseas or those likely to come into contact with them be carefully scrutinized.

Here's the KT article in its entirety:
The health authorities said Sunday they have confirmed four more cases of Influenza A, bringing the nation's total to 39.

One American infant and three Korean nationals were confirmed to have been infected with the H1N1 virus, according to the health ministry.

All four -- a 16-year-old Korean teenager, a 38-year-old Korean woman, a 28-year-old Korean college student and an 18-month-old American infant -- came from the United States this week and were quarantined and treated after showing flu-like symptoms, the ministry said.

Korea was considered relatively insulated from the highly contagious virus until last week, with just four confirmed cases reported.

The number, however, is growing sharply after a group of foreign English teachers was found to be infected by a fellow teacher who arrived here from the U.S. recently, raising concerns the virus might be spreading through person-to-person contact.

Thirteen confirmed cases in Korea are Korean nationals and 21 are U.S. citizens, according to the government.
Be careful out there.

Korean health insurance horror stories

The case of Matt Robinson has gotten me thinking again of ways in which the Korean national health insurance, and the medical insurance system in general, can be improved to be more responsive to the needs of international residents.

I suggested that ATEK or some similar group lobby the Korean National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC) to find ways to bridge gaps in coverage when one is between jobs. I'm also working on ways to improve cross-cultural access (not just to English speakers, but non-Anglophones as well).

In that vein, I would love to hear some horror stories. Not the "Korea is so fu¢ked up" or "What's wrong with these people?" variety, but something productive and useful. If a nurse or a doctor or cashier screwed something up, say so, but don't blame the whole freakin' country.

If you'd rather not share online, email me (anonymously is okay, too).

English teachers and hagwon owners, watch out.

As soon as the Japanese is translated into Korean, it's curtains.

I'm not a member of the John Galt Society (Or, "No, Kushibo does not hate E2 teachers.")

This comment by John Galt at Roboseyo's deserved fisking, so here goes.
I'm sorry, what exactly are people thanking you for? Writing a Cliff Notes version of a 69 page report, or just posting the report? The report was posted up on Brian Deutsch's sites a few days ago and it has been extensively commented upon on a couple of sites. And why does a 69 page report need Cliff Notes? Cliff Notes usually run around 69 pages.
John Galt, take a deep breath and relax. I'll do the same. Let's all relax. And let's remember that none of us are paid to blog (except for chinboistas) and sometimes the big picture requires a whole lot of people painting their own little sections of it. And to those people, I say thanks. And let's also not forget that not everyone who reads Roboseyo also reads Brian's, or Marmot's, or Hub or Sparkle, etc. This stuff gets treated in multiple places because it's important to many different people.
Finally, as I've mentioned on the Marmot's Hole, I really think you guys are deluding yourselves if you imagine anything is going to come of this report other than a sense of self satisfaction.
Well, I've gone on record saying I think that ATEK human rights abuse campaign is ill-advised, based on questionable information, and goes in the opposite direction of what would be good for English teaching as a profession, but I don't think that people banding together is a bad thing in the long run: it helps build coalitions and community structure that can be useful in other situations down the road. That's why I keep making suggestions about what ATEK should be getting involved with, like working on plugging up insurance lapses for people who are changing jobs. Useful stuff like that.
You aren't living in America - no one is going to take this report seriously.
Actually, I disagree. Despite expats in the K-blog commentariat being convinced that The K-Man™ is out to get them, courts, government agencies, and NGOs have often come down on the side of foreign nationals even in cases that looked like long shots, and the actual trend is for expansion of international residents' rights and resources to help them, not the other way around. Though I don't agree with much of the actual report, I believe it will be taken seriously (but if I'm right about it being on questionable grounds, it may yield bad results if it is taken seriously).
You are living in a country where the general population has been convinced that your services are needed, however they remain unwanted. The only skill you bring to the table is the language you are born with - for that you are paid and average salary and the opportunity to live abroad and work a job which, frankly, just isn't that difficult.
Now, see, this is what really compelled me to respond. Why you gotta be a hatah, G... er, John G.? You could have simply made the point that their profession is one that is easily entered and that comes into play in salary and negotations, but what I think that secretly you wanted to just show your animosity and disdain toward English teachers as a group because it makes you feel somehow superior.

Why you gotta bash these folks? Most of the English teachers — whether E2, F4, F2, or F5 — are putting in the hours and effort. Sure, some people may be attracted to the job because it seems not to require a lot of experience in the first place (and when someone is fresh out of college, that can be quite appealing), but it is a tough job to do well. It takes energy and enthusiasm if you want to make your own materials, find things that keep students interested, learn the ropes well enough to be management and maybe create better working conditions and teaching conditions, etc., etc.

Moving up the ladder takes experience, education, and skill beyond merely being able to speak one's native tongue, and that makes the situation quite different from your pissy assessment.

Why do you have to bash and belittle the people doing that? Sure, there are some stonehenges and some lazy-asses among the tens of thousands of teachers, but that's not too terribly different from a lot of other professions. Why try to hurt the people who are in it for the long haul and trying to do good by mocking them based on your own stereotypes and insecurities?

Your gratuitous bashing reminds me of this statement by D-RAM in a Marmot's Hole post...
My favorite one was a Canadian English teacher saying they should make Mike Breen head. I grinned, bared it, and quick extracated myself from that shallow end of the gene pool.
... written by someone with obvious contempt for English teachers but who can't spell extricated and doesn't seem to realize that the past tense of bear is bore. You and D-Ram's scorn is misplaced, unhelpful, and unfair. You, not English teachers, are the problem.
In return, you bitch and moan about racism - what exactly did you expect? You are living in one of the most homogeneous societies on the planet.
Well, here you are part right (more on this below), but I don't know that Korea's legendary homogeneity is what's holding it back. First off, K-blog commentary notwithstanding, South Korea has made tremendous strides in this regard over the past two decades (though there is still a ways to go).

Second, when I see the ethnic and racial tension and ethnic animosity in heterogeneous places like California or even Hawaii, I don't think that Americans can exactly lay claim to being particularly racism-free. The commentary section and even some of the letters in my hometown newspaper, the Orange County Register, contain so many gratuitous digs at Hispanics — even in stories having nothing to do with Mexicans or any other Latin American group — that it seems almost normative.
The report is ridiculous and this mutual appreciation society you have established for 'suffering' English teachers is laughable.
I do agree with you up to a point that the K-blog echo chamber tends to find evil xenophobic or racist intent even when there isn't any, and that can lead to a very detrimental knee-jerk attitude that The K-Man™ is trying to keep the E2 down, but I don't think it's laughable to try to better one's situation. I may not agree with the Wagner Report, but the effort is most certainly not laughable, particularly not for the reasons you state below.
You grew up white in a society where whites were the majority.
This is true, and I think a lot of Whites in South Korea (and places like Japan or Taiwan) are experiencing what is essentially the problems of being a visible minority. Being part of the majority in the US, Canada, or wherever, they may not realize how often and how severely ethnic minorities are sometimes singled out. Thus, they come to Korea and imagine that back home Americans never stare at Asians, never get angry when someone doesn't speak English fluently, don't blame "foreigners" for crime or job losses, etc., etc.

Yes, that is an important message: Welcome to the world of being a minority. But that's not the only message there is in what you said. You are wrong if you think that being White (or any non-Korean) means that they cannot get anywhere in the Korean system; to suggest otherwise is not only insulting to Koreans and demoralizing to "foreigners," but it is also inaccurate. "Whitey" may not get everything that "Whitey" wants but "Whitey" gets a lot of stuff and there are a lot of Koreans helping "Whitey" to get it. (By the way, I'm using "Whitey" ironically, especially since I think it's very telling when White foreigners conflate being a oégugin with being a White person.)
If you want some respect, learn Korean if you haven't, and, in the mean time, learn from the experience of being the unwelcome minority.
Like I said, I agree with you on the second part, but let's not kid ourselves about the first part. I admit I would not think too highly of someone who has made little or no effort to learn Korean even after a few months — especially those who blame their lack of Korean language skills on a lack of opportunities even though they live in the middle of the Korean-speaking fu¢king central — but I'm not going to get on the case of someone who hasn't yet mastered the language.

And let's also not kid ourselves that learning Korean well will immunize someone from all bad treatment. You might still get screwy people who assume, for example, that you're not allowed do this or that because you're a foreign national.

In conclusion: Korea has a long way to go, English teachers need to keep their attitude in check and recalibrate their Xenophobia Detector settings, English teachers who are working hard at their jobs deserve more respect and protection, being anyone other than a native Korean in Korea is a learning experience, and some other stuff I can't remember off the top of my head.

Will GM's bankruptcy adversely affect GM Daewoo?

Did you know that one of Korea's largest automakers is actually a US-owned company? (Obama doesn't.)

That's right, the GM in "GM Daewoo" is that same GM in Michigan. Who knew?! (Obama didn't.)

Anyway, folks in Korea, home of GM Daewoo, should pay attention because GM is planning to make a "B-car" in the United States (in case you're not aware, a B-car is a really small, fuel efficient car that, if you bought four of them, could be like roller skates for a Hummer, also made by GM).

This apparently is part of the negotiations with the unions and the government, where if Washington is going to bail out Detroit, they want more cars built by Americans in America. You know, the kind of stuff that uber-nationalistic Korea would get rided for.

Anyway, it's not entirely clear if this would have any adverse effect on GM Daewoo. After all, the new plants in America may be necessary to fill rising demand in America, without any significant long-term drop in the number of vehicles manufactured for international markets by GM Daewoo. We shall see.

There is more on the effects of GM's bankruptcy on Korea here.

[above: The Chevrolet Aveo, known in Korea as the Daewoo Kalos, is one of General Motors' current B-cars.]

Korean student in KT offers kudos to USFK members

The Korea Times had a nice article by Daeyoung High School student Yook Junyeop (육준엽), who had nice things to say about the people involved in the Good Neighbor English Camp, hosted by US Forces Korea (HT to ROK Drop, where all my comments seem to go into cyber limbo).

USFK personnel do a lot of nice things for their local communities, and they do them not just to improve USFK's image but because the participants genuinely feel a desire to help those around them when and where they can.

Unfortunately, these things don't always get into the Korean- or English-language local press where they would help counter the occasional cases where USFK get involved in crime, accidents, or whatever things might typically happen in a community of tens of thousands of youngish people.

I'd have to say, though, that this disconnect is very much partly the fault of USFK, where in the past some PAO (public affairs officers) have had an unnecessarily contentious relationship with the Korean media. Like any group in Korea, the USFK needs to shake a few hands and buy a few beers to ensure the flow of good press, but certain PAOs in the past not only did not do this, but they were downright antagonistic toward the networks and the newspapers and news outlets. (And no, I'm not going to name names, because it would be pointless; the people are gone and I point this out only to offer a way to help solve problems in the future.)

It appears, though, that new PAOs have come along and realized there is a better way to do business. I certainly hope stories like this will get out because it will not only balance any bad press that pops up, but it will also inspire others to go out and do some good as well.

American remake of D-War

Ancient creatures come to life, tentacles flying everywhere, destruction of noted California landmarks, and cheesy vocabulary: it's the American version of D-War. (HT to LOTD)

Frankly, anyone who would do a remake of D-War has been hitting the Dewars a bit too heavily. [Oh, please hire me for your cheesy dialogue!]

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Some concerns on some people's concerns on Korea's quarantine

A new meme has been developing in the K-blogosphere lately that (1) Koreans are overreacting to swine flu (H1N1) and, more recently, that (2) "foreigners" and specifically English teachers are being targeted as dangerous vectors of H1N1.

I've already addressed the severity of Meme #1 in this post, particularly toward the bottom, but here are some highlights: This bout of swine flu has a 0.7% mortality rate: one out of 140 confirmed cases have died. That is some seven to ten times higher than "regular" influenza, and it tends to go after younger people (e.g., those under 50). At the beginning of a major travel season, having reasonable — even though somewhat invasive — safeguards in place (self-quarantining of people who have traveled abroad, regular health readings like temperature, avoiding public places when possible) may be what keeps this at a manageable hum instead of a full-blown pandemic. In terms of how these things go, this may be just the beginning, especially since pandemic flu tends to come in waves:
Scientists think the spring swine flu epidemic may be a "herald wave" of what's to come. In 1918, a milder wave of flu cases occurred in late winter and early spring, before the deadly pandemic surge in the fall of that year. In 1957, Asian flu was causing unremarkable illness in China, before landing on American soil for the summer outbreaks and a severe winter season.

Simonsen has studied past pandemics and says that a pattern of multiple waves is common to all of them also. The 1957 pandemic flu had three waves in the U.S. over five years, with a large number of deaths in the winters of 1959 and 1962. The 1968 pandemic flu had two waves in the British Isles over consecutive years, with 15% of the total number of deaths occurring in winter 1968 and the remaining 85% in winter 1969.
And while we're at it, let's not forget that Korea is by no means the only country where people are taking this seriously. Next-door neighbor Japan had wholesale cancellation of schools completely unaffected by the virus, for example.

As some have pointed out, this is 70 out of every 1000 reported cases, and there may be many unreported cases that don't result in fatality, with some estimates about ten to twelve times higher than the official number in the US. Mortality is deaths (numerator) over population (denominator), and if you had a denominator that was actually higher if we added unreported cases, then the mortality rate would be lower.

But there are several caveats of that logic to consider, especially if we are going to compare this swine flu outbreak to "regular" flu. Deaths from "regular" flu include deaths where the flu was a contributing factor and not necessarily the direct cause of death, particularly among the elderly who make up 90% of all "regular" flu deaths, which raises the numerator in "regular" flu deaths and makes the mortality rate higher.

But this swine flu outbreak is affecting younger people, particularly those born after 1957 when there was an outbreak with a similar strain. So if we were to compare under-50 mortality from "regular" flu with under-50 mortality from this swine flu, we can see it's a much more virulent strain, with the rough ten-times-more-severe ratio holding true.

In other words, this swine flu is not something to trifle with.

Swine flu naysayers (i.e., those who brush this off as akin to just "regular" flu) have also cited the differences in health care systems in Mexico and the US as evidence that this year's swine flu is not so serious. Even Wikipedia warns of the dangers of comparing a country like the US with that of Mexico:
Epidemiologists cautioned that the number of cases reported in the early days of an outbreak can be very inaccurate and deceptive due to several causes, among them selection bias, media bias, and incorrect reporting by governments. This could also be due to authorities in different countries looking at different population groups, many poor, which may in part explain higher mortality rates in countries such as Mexico. Furthermore, countries with poor health care systems and older laboratory facilities may take longer to identify or report cases.
This argument basically boils down to this: Swine flu is not so deadly if you don't count all the deaths. Yes, in Mexico the poor and uninsured made up many of the deaths due to H1N1, but in the US, the 36,000 deaths per year from "regular" flu occur in a country where tens of millions are uninsured and where even the elderly under Medicare lack the resources and support network to get adequate medical care (these are severe shortcomings in the US).

In other words, it's disingenuous to point out the deaths of all the poor people in Mexico who died from swine flu while not citing the very significant effects of poverty and lack of resources in all the "regular" flu deaths in the US with which swine flu is compared.

Again, this swine flu is not something to trifle with.

We have the first wave of a significantly more virulent form of influenza against which most of the population does not have any immunity (or prior exposure) and we are about to begin a major travel season after already seeing how air transportation and transit has been a key way in which it has colonized.

This is not the regular flu. What we need to do is curtail its spread as much as possible until a reliable and safe vaccine is available and administered.

And now I'm going to repeat what I've said many times before about how the public often sees public health: Public health people are called incompetent for their failures and chicken little when they're successful. If an outbreak occurs despite the attempts to stop it at the airports and the schools and elsewhere, the public health specialists will be criticized and derided, but if no outbreak occurs, we'll have people going on and on about how they overreacted to the flu.

And, dayum, was that a long intro to what was supposed to be a fisking of Roboseyo's Korea Herald piece on the quarantining of fifty English teachers last week, so I'll try to keep that short and sweet.
The quarantining of more than 50 English teachers last week was the subject of a great deal of interest and concern in the expat community.
I'm going to stop right here and point out that a key aspect of this is that this discussion and concern is in the expat community, as Rob says. While this was just one of dozens of stories in the media that an average Korean might see on any give day this past week, it was a highly scrutinized and heavily focused-on topic of expats. This is relevant to Rob's characterization later on.
There are several reasons for concern, first because many English teachers work with children, and many small and not-so-small children have not yet learned to cover their mouths when they cough, or to wash their hands properly. This means both teachers and students are at risk: diseases spread easily in schools.
Okay, there's a bit of a logical leap here: No kids in the schools have been infected yet, but their tendency not to cover their mouths when they cough or wash their hands properly might cause the teachers to get infected. Well, yeah, this would be true if swine flu had already infected some of the kids, but that hasn't happened yet. Point taken: diseases spread easily in schools so we want to keep it out of the schools (hence Japan's "overreaction" by closing thousands of unaffected schools).
However, another point of concern for many foreigners in Korea is whether Swine Flu is beginning to be portrayed as a "Foreigner Disease."
See, this is where the difference between the average Korean's perception and that of the K-blog-reading expat comes into play (more on this to come)...
The Joongang Daily published an article with the headline "Foreign English Teachers Epicenter of New Flu Cases."

Now, it is a matter of pure fact that a large number of the virus-infected in Korea are foreign English teachers. That's undeniable. However, some of us are concerned as well, that if English teachers are portrayed as the primary disease carriers, it will have two side-effects that are bad for everyone.

The first side-effect is bad for Koreans. If Koreans read an article saying "Foreign Teachers Epicenter of New Flu Cases," from a news source they trust, there is a chance that they will decide, "Well, I don't spend time around foreigners, so I'm fine." That false sense of security might cause some to neglect safety precautions recommended by the World Health Organization to prevent disease transmission.
As I mentioned on Rob's own blog and in this post, the Korean media is describing each Korean case in detail:
국내에서 신종 인플루엔자 A(H1N1) 환자 2명이 또 발생해 확진환자가 35명으로 늘었다.

보건복지가족부 중앙인플루엔자대책본부는 미국에서 입국한 유학생을 포함, 한국여성 2명이 신종 플루에 감염된 것으로 확인됐다고 29일 밝혔다. 이들은 각각 20세 유학생과 48세 미국 거주자로 전해졌다.

20세 유학생은 지난 24일 미국에서 입국했으며 다음날 증세가 나타나 27일 보건소에 의심증상을 신고했으며 이날 최종 확진됐다. 48세 환자도 미국에서 25일 입국한 뒤 27일 증상이 나타났고, 바로 의료기관에 신고했다.
The one-third or so that have not been English teachers have been described in detail: Koreans of whatever age, usually coming back from abroad. Along with foreigners arriving from abroad, Koreans returning from abroad have been focused on in the public information as people who need to be careful upon returning (and such information is exactly why some have gone to get checked after becoming sick).

The Korean media is NOT saying this is just foreigners. That is a K-blog conceit that does not stand up when one looks at the reports on the actual H1N1 cases. But Rob's article makes the underlying assumption that Koreans will not typically read about all the cases of Koreans being infected, and that is simply not the case.

Most any Korean in Korea who follows this story enough to know about the group of teachers quarantined would also have read about the infected Koreans, whose age and mode of transmission are pretty clearly stated. The danger, if there is any, is not that people will think "Oh, I don't know any foreigners, so I'm okay," but that they will think, "Oh, I don't know anyone who has come back from abroad, so I'm okay."
Believing H1N1 is a foreigners' problem actually increases the risk that Koreans will catch the disease.Koreans may believe that H1N1 is a problem (currently) coming from abroad, but that's very different from saying it's a foreigners' problem. Again, your assumptions about Koreans reading/hearing only about foreign cases is inaccurate and therefore your conclusion is faulty.
When SARS appeared in Asia, many Koreans believed kimchi kept SARS out of Korea, but again, I hope Koreans will not rely on kimchi alone to protect them: a friend quoted a Kenny Rogers song to me, "Trust in God but lock your door," and I answered, "Eat kimchi, but wash your hands with soap."Boy, that kimchi-prevents-SARS idea really gets a lot of mileage. I've heard it said by expats far more than I've ever heard it said by Koreans, and most of the times I've heard it said by Koreans it was said in jest, like eating spinach would turn you into Popeye. I'm going to have to gather some quantifiable evidence to see how widespread (or not) this supposed meme actually is, or rather, how widely it is actually believed.
The other, more insidious worry that some foreigners have is that this situation will spread the attitude that foreign English teachers are the source of diseases: Many foreign teachers around Korea have described being asked to take a health check, despite experiencing no symptoms, and not having traveled outside of Korea for a long time.
I'm not sure where these places are that English teachers were asked to do these things, so I can not scrutinize their acts or Rob's description of them, but it should be noted that people can be carriers and even transmitters before they realize they are sick, and people who gather in places with a large number of other people who may recently have traveled from abroad (say, people who party in Hongdae or Itaewon) may have increased risk. We're at the stage now where people might be getting it from other people who did the traveling.
If they were personal friends of someone who is now in quarantine, they ought to go to a health clinic out of their own duty toward the community's public safety. If a school decides it is the safest choice to send all their teachers, Korean and foreign, to a clinic for a health check, that is a very prudent thing to do: Everyone spending time around kids is at risk. However, comment boards online are reporting foreigners being asked to submit to unwarranted health checks and being asked to prove that they are disease-free, in a "guilty until proven innocent" manner that makes it seem like they are being singled out as disease carriers.
Again, I do not know which places he's referring to, but even the much derided regulations from Avalon English described regulations for both foreign and Korean employees.
If the swine flu scare convinces Korea to be more health conscious, to be more careful about hand washing and sanitation at schools and restaurants, to stay home from work when they are sick, so as not to spread diseases, that is a great thing. However, if the health scare is used as an excuse to put suspicion on foreign English teachers and create or reinforce an image of foreigners as disease carriers (while Koreans are unconcerned), this could develop into an unhealthy pattern of fear and suspicion toward foreigners: Such things do not belong in an advanced society like Korea.
Again, what the K-blogs (and apparently Dave's ESL) are saying about this and what average Koreans would read about this are two very different things. Look, I'm not saying there is no xenophobia in Korea, but I'd rather deal with it where it really exists. But it really seems like a lot of expats are hellbent on turning Koreans into the whitey-hating bogeyman, looking for xenophobia and xenophobic/racist motives in almost every action in Korea.

As I talked about here, that constant whining about The Man is a sure way to keep wallowing in self-pity and never get anywhere. Especially when you end up convincing yourself of made-up sh¡t that is only true in your own head and in the K-blog/Dave's ESL echo chamber. Years from now, they'll still be talking about the xenophobic quarantine of teachers in 2009.
It is the responsibility of Korea's media to provide fair information to the people of Korea, instructing them as to the true risks of the disease in a level-headed way, and describing how each Korean can help prevent its spread, without playing on people's worst fears, manipulating people's emotions with yellow journalism, and shifting blame onto outsiders and scapegoats.
And Rob, you don't know that they aren't. An article based on very faulty assumptions, applauded by the K-blog readers as having "nailed it" because they are all listening to the same incestuous amplification of the same K-blogs.

(And lest anyone think I am bagging on Rob unfairly, I actually think he's a pretty good guy and this is why I'm laying into him on this. He should know better.)


Swine flu cases in South Korea up to 35, including more English teachers

I started writing a small blog post late last night before I went to bed, regarding Xinhua reports that South Korea's H1N1 swine flu cases had jumped to 33, with that two-thirds American ratio holding steady. But in the middle of the night (Hawaii time), the virus struck two more people (actually, they were probably infected days ago, histrionics aside).

The original Xinhua article about Carriers 31 through 33 is short, so here it is in its entirety:
SEOUL, May 28 (Xinhua) -- South Korea's health authorities confirmed one more case of A/H1N1 flu virus infection, raising the confirmed cases to 33.

A 33-year-old South Korean man, who had arrived from New York, was confirmed with the flu infection, the authorities said.

Three additional cases of the flu, two of whom are Americans and one is a South Korean student who were studying in the United States, were confirmed with the virus earlier in the day.

South Korea has reported 33 cases of the A/H1N1 flu since the first case was confirmed in late April.
I don't know if the two Americans are English teachers, but we do know that the virus attacks E2 visa holders in disproportionate numbers. Seriously, though, a large proportion of people arriving in South Korea right now are South Korean nationals returning home for the summer from study in the US and English teachers arriving for teaching assignments.

Now what's odd about all this is that Xinhua has this news about Korea's rising case, but if you do a news search on English-language sites for swine or h1N1 and Korea, you get a lot of old stuff but no new numbers. It's not as if South Korea is hiding the news. Here is a Health Herald article about #32 and #33:
Three more cases of H1N1 influenza A were confirmed on 21 May and the total number of infected people rose to 33 in Korea.

According to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs(MHWAF), one is a 30-year-old South African male from the same language institute at which a total of 19 flu-infected English teachers work.

Another is a Korean woman, who returned from the United States. And the other is a man, who returned from the United States last weekend.

The World Health Organization(WHO) announced that 46 countries have officially reported 12,954 cases of influenza A, which have resulted in 92 deaths.<헬스코리아뉴스>
Xinhua and the Korean sources may be talking about different people who are infected, but it seems their facts don't exactly match. Xinhua, apparently some sort of travel agency, isn't exactly objective when it comes to coverage of whipping boy rival South Korea, but the Korean press is also reporting thirty-five cases, so for now I'll take it at face value.

In that context, take note of how one of the above links suggests a man from Guangzhou became infected:
The man developed a sore throat on May 24 after he flew from New York to Guangzhou, via Incheon City in the Republic of Korea. On Monday and Tuesday, he and his girlfriend spent two days with studio workers, including the beautician, to take bridal photos.
There is something to that claim. Airplanes and airport transit areas are hotbeds of contact for utter strangers from all parts of the world. It appears that many of the infected English teachers we've heard so much about may have been infected in transit at Narita Airport near Tokyo.

I know the peanut gallery likes to talk about this as being an overreaction, but it's like I said before: Public health people are called incompetent for their failures and chicken little when they're successful. This bout of swine flu has a 0.7% mortality rate: one out of 140 confirmed cases have died. That is some seven to ten times higher than "regular" influenza. This is the beginning of a major travel season, and having reasonable — even though somewhat invasive — safeguards in place (self-quarantining of people who have traveled abroad, regular health readings like temperature, avoiding public places when possible) may be what keeps this at a manageable hum instead of a full-blown pandemic. In terms of how these things go, this may be just the beginning.

Ah, who am I trying to kid, when you're on the cusp of a potential global pandemic, the best way to proceed is to fight hysterics* with histrionics, because cries of "racist" and threats to destroy the livelihood of businesses is always the way to go.

* Unless health agencies or some other legitimate authority have directed them to do so, people should not give up their passports to their employer, and that should only be done in the rarest and most extreme of circumstances which we are not experiencing at this time. That much I agree with, but the fact is that for now English teachers have been the main vectors and anyone who is a carrier is a direct threat to children. Nevertheless, the Korean press has made it quite clear that Koreans coming from abroad are also potential carriers. Get over the xenophobic/racist angle already. It's tired and old and completely unhelpful.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Gates sees no need to raise troop levels in South Korea over North Korea nuclear blast

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says the North Korean nuclear test was troublesome, prompting the US and ROK joint command to raise the alert level, but it has not reached a crisis level and presently does not call for an increase in troops. 

photo of the day: Roh Moohyun's funeral

A dreary day for a dreary event.

Had I been in Seoul today, I would likely have walked from my apartment to the scene below in nearby Seoul City Hall Plaza.

Kushibo says HABO

As in, "help a brother out."

It seems one Matt Robinson has encountered some serious health concerns while in Korea (temporarily) on a tourist visa. Brian has the details here, where you can read about the thrombosis and the possible amputation and the what not. Here are more details on Facebook.

His bills are expected to run to about 10 million and the surgery he needs has to be paid up front or else he'll be booted out of the hospital, say the people who have put up the Facebook information page. 

I'm one of those there-but-for-the-grace-of-God kind of people, so I'm in for 100K won (bank account details below). 

Frankly, having been duped in the past by horror stories of people in desperate need, I would have liked to see a bit more confirmation of this guy's dire straits from people with whom I'm familiar, but the support network for this guy seems too complex to be a hoax, and if it is a Kari Ferrell level of elaborate deception, well then they deserve the money for all that effort, I s'pose. (By the way, I'm still not convinced that Salvador/Beau Smith was a real case, and my email to the sheriff in the rural county where he was supposedly from remains unanswered.)

So like I said, I'm in for 100K won. And by "100K won," I mean  a hundred thousand won, not 100 Korean won, though sending a 100-won coin is just the kind of sneaky, a-holeish thing kushibo would do, then turn around and say everyone misunderstood what I'd said. I'm just that vile. At least, that's what anonymous people in the K-blogs tell me.

Here's the information if you'd like to risk being a dupe and would like to do something for humanity (or for yourself, if you're one of those "do unto others" Jesus freaks or a "what goes around comes around" pragmatist looking for a payoff down the road). 

Account number: 481-007433-01-011

Bank: IBK (Industrial Bank of Korea, 기업은행)
Name on account: 매티유로 (short for Matthew Robinson)

If you do donate money, consider leave a comment here saying so, or at least email me. That way if you ever end up in the hospital with massive bills that you can't pay, I won't hesitate at all to send 100K won your way either (and I hoped you'd do the same for me). That's sort of how insurance works. 

And speaking of insurance, later on after this guy's okay, I'm going to post some very pointed remarks about how he got in this situation in the first place. Some of them will be bagging on his own bad choices, but it will be done as a form of tough love, and also as a way to use his own shitty situation as an object lesson for others. Because, as we public health types are so fond of preaching to everyone else until their ears bleed, prevention is hella cheaper and easier on the bod than fixing something after it's broke, which will often make you broke. 

Some of these comments will actually be questions why, knowing that he'd had problems like this, he would allow his insurance to lapse or that he didn't try to get traveler's insurance or something. Or, for that matter, how after three years he would not have 10 million won saved up.

I'd also like to know what the Friends of Matt group is going to do if they surpass the money needed. I'd like to see someone I trust (e.g., Brian, Marmot, the head of KOTESOL) keep that money in trust so that we have it ready for the next time — God forbid — we end up with a bad case like that of Bill Kapoun or Nerine Viljoen, requiescant in pace

Sure, those questions and concerns in this time of need make me a jerk, but I'm being a jerk so we don't have to see the next guy's crippled limbs extended in a hand-out gesture. Kushibo is a purposeful jerk, even though that may make me seem less vile. Maybe I'll go drown a kitten or something. 

Some of my pointed questions/statements will deal also with the Korea health insurance system itself. I'm thinking one of the things ATEK or KOTESOL or the Kushibo Foundation ought to do is lobby the health insurance corporation to allow people in Matt's situation (returning on tourist visa after work visa ends to look for a job) to keep paying into insurance — up front — and get the benefits. This would actually be a low-risk proposition to the insurance bureau, since such people would generally be younger or presumably lower risk. For every Matt you get with a 10 million won surgery bill, you'd get hundreds more whose 100K or 200K per month premiums won't require any payouts. 

But all that's for a later post. Okay, now go donate some money.

(no kittens were harmed in the making of this post)

Kushibo et al visit the Bishop Museum

A nice place for adults and kids alike for a taste of Hawaii's history, culture, and geology.

In addition to this fake volcano, you can see real furnace-created lava.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Light posting ahead

I've got several people leaving the island for long periods of time, and so we're spending the week playing tourist, visiting the places we somehow managed to miss during the past two or three years.

Today was a whirlwind tour of the aforementioned Iolani Palace and Korean War Memorial, followed by Byodo-in Temple (with the scariest koi pond ever) and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located within Pu'owaina Crater (more famously known as the Punchbowl).

Pictures to follow (and perhaps I should start a Flikr account).

China versus the Uighurs

One of my neighbors is a Uighur, a person I've mentioned before as having told me on several occasions how brutal China is to his people, how the media covers it up, and how the Uighurs don't consider themselves particularly Chinese. (I myself am no newbie to the plight of the Uighurs.)

And, it seems, the Chinese would just as soon have the Uighurs not be around either, or at least not their culture. Yes, it seems, it would be so nice and simple if the Uighurs would consider themselves good citizens of the PRC and their cultural trappings all went by the wayside.

Places like the thousand-year-old Kashgar (above, source), at the westernmost edge of the PRC, are being razed and replaced with modern structures designed to fit with Beijing's modern idea of what this testy ethnic and religious minority should look like:
Nine hundred families already have been moved from Kashgar’s Old City, “the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in central Asia,” as the architect and historian George Michell wrote in the 2008 book “Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road.”

Over the next few years, city officials say, they will demolish at least 85 percent of this warren of picturesque, if run-down homes and shops. Many of its 13,000 families, Muslims from a Turkic ethnic group called the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs), will be moved.

In its place will rise a new Old City, a mix of midrise apartments, plazas, alleys widened into avenues and reproductions of ancient Islamic architecture “to preserve the Uighur culture,” Kashgar’s vice mayor, Xu Jianrong, said in a phone interview.

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

I'm down near the State Capitol visiting Iolani Palace, the Korean War Memorial, and a few other places.

The Capitol often attracts protesters. When I first arrived, it was supporters of war resister Lt Ehren Watada; today it is people seeking the release of Burmese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nikon photos of today's wanderings to come later.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Two more H1N1 infections at the uni

Fifteen English teachers (one of whom is Korean, by the way) and seven others get infected with H1N1 in Korea, and the ROK authorities institute a prison-like quarantine.

Contrast that with this esteemed institute here in Hawaii, where our first H1N1 infections (yeah, this was freaking out a lot of people) were met with a relatively blasé response. From two weeks ago:
A student living in a university residence hall has tested positive for H1N1 flu (swine flu). The student reported to the Student Health Services on Wednesday with flu-like symptoms and the test was today confirmed by the Hawaii State Department of Health. The student is recovering from what appears to be a mild illness.

Other students and staff members who have been in close contact with the student are being notified and will be evaluated. The affected areas of the student's residence hall are being disinfected. The student and two roommates, who are displaying symptoms of the illness, are being isolated in separate rooms.

Anyone who shows signs of flu-like illness contact the University Health Services at 956-8965. Symptoms of H1N1 virus include: sudden fever, coughing, sore threat, body aches and pains/fatigue.

The university president has said, "As everyone is aware, influenza is a current concern in Hawaii so all of us should follow good infection control practices, including avoiding others if you are sick with flu symptoms. That will help reduce the spread of the virus."

Health officials continue to stress the importance of following the recommended public health guidelines: cover your cough or sneeze, wash your hands often and do not come to work or school if you are sick.

There are currently no changes to university operations or activities and the campus is operating normally.
Rather than hauling them off to a medical facility for quarantine, apparently they were kept in the dorm. The very crowded dorm. But in separate rooms.

And then yesterday:
Over the past several days, two additional members of the university community have tested positive for H1N1 flu (swine flu) — a student and a staff employee. Both are recovering from mild forms of the illness.

Earlier this month, on May 8, H1N1 was confirmed in a university student, who has since fully recovered.

Anyone who shows signs of flu-like illness should contact the Student Health Services. Symptoms of H1N1 virus include: sudden fever, coughing, sore throat, body aches and pains/fatigue.

We continue to encourage everyone to follow good infection control practices, including avoiding others if you are sick with flu symptoms to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Cover your cough or sneeze, wash your hands often, and do not come to work or school if you are sick.

There are currently no changes to university operations or activities and the campus is operating normally.
I guess three infections out of some tens of thousands of students and faculty isn't so bad. But when we had someone in this dorm (home to 400 people) come down with meningitis, a deadly disease caused by viral or bacterial infection, university authorities seemed more concerned with privacy protection than providing information to the potentially infected. They just said that there was an infection, not in which units or when. When I called and asked about such details, I was told flat out that they couldn't give that information in order to protect the privacy of the infected individual.

Fortunately, we had only the one case. But with H1N1, there is the potential for many more. The timing is lucky, though: School is out for summer, and the dorms are mostly vacant.

Well, he was right the last time.

Baduk has been insisting that Roh Moohyun has faked his death and in fact it was his body double that was offed.

When it comes to clones and doubles, you ignore Baduk at your own peril.

[left: Professional Roh Moohyun impersonator Kim Chol. When he lost work after he refused to get eyelid surgery, Mr Kim returned to driving a taxi in Taejŏn. Mr Kim has been accounted for since reports of President Roh's death.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Do you have swine flu?" replaces "Are you married?" as second question asked by Seoul taxi drivers

This according to a study by the Metropolitan Taxi Passengers Association.

"Where are you from?" still remains in the top position, while "Do you like Korean girls?" has dropped to number four, now tied with "Why aren't you married?"

Two-thirds of all H1N1 cases in Korea are English teachers

Fifteen out of twenty-two, according to the Korea Herald (though one is Korean).

Just sayin'.

[above: Epidemiologists believe that foreigners' larger eyes may allow a wider opening for the swine flu virus to enter the body. Because, I mean, there has to be some reason for all this. Is the virus xenophobic? I'll bet the virus is xenophobic. Can we sue the virus for human rights violations? Brendon Carr?]

Stick shift

Though I think there is merit in engaging North Korea, there is also something foolhardy in being all carrot and no stick, as I often said of Roh Moohyun. 

In the wake of North Korea's presumed nuclear test, current ROK president Lee Myungbak is showing he is not afraid to apply the stick. 

While the UN Security Council — including Russia and China — quickly condemned North Korea's "blatant defiance," Lee has upped the ante in the real world: He has announced that Seoul will in fact join the US-led effort to intercept shipments on the seas believed to contain equipment for WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) known as PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative). 

This will allow Seoul and Washington, and perhaps Tokyo, to share more intelligence, but it also means that South Korean vessels may end up doing battle with North Korean vessels. That prospect of military conflict had caused considerable debate, but the nuclear test pushed Lee over the edge. 

[above: PSI exercise in Croatia]

Meanwhile, several pundits discuss what to do in the Washington Post. Dan Blumenthal and Robert Kagan tick every possibility off and explain why each won't work in the present situation. In the end, they say we have no choice but to wait it out for Kim Jong-il's physical demise, since his political demise isn't likely to happen otherwise. A WaPo editorial says something similar: the best way to react is essentially to not react

Indeed, what if Kim Jong-il detonated a nuclear bomb and nobody blinked?

Kansai kids returning to school... H1N1 looks to jump the pond (Or: swine whine)

To get an understanding of why South Korean health officials are very nervous about the spread of H1N1 (aka swine flu), take a look across the East Pond of Japan to see what's happened there. Last Wednesday, when the total number of infected had reached 193, officials were claiming that the disease was starting to fade, according to the Japan Times.

It had mostly hit schools in the Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, where 4400 schools had closed to stop the spread of the virus. This week, most of those kids are going back to school, but they might be sent back home if more cases emerge. Meanwhile, the same Japan Times is reporting that the total confirmed cases numbers 346, about one-tenth of the Mexico outbreak. 

Take a look at a map of Korea. Look where Japan is. Woo... kinda scary. Now look at a map of Asiana or Korean Air routes to Japan. Even scarier. Korean carriers Asiana and KAL fly to more cities in Japan than they do in Korea. 

South Korea is on the verge of an H1N1 outbreak coming from Japan. In fact, among the Quarantine-51 arrestees detainees quarantined, it is believed they might have become infected in transit at Tokyo's Narita Airport. But the quarantine of these folks associated with actual cases of H1N1 infection are being seen by some as xenophobia. It's all about keeping down the English teachers, isn't it? 

We all know this is a bunch of overreaction, just an excuse to keep the Americans behind locked doors, right? H1N1 is nothing to worry about. After all, 98% of those infected in Mexico didn't die. I like those odds!

Yeah, I'm being sarcastic. As I've said before, this is another case of public health officials being called chicken little when they're successful. This is not the run-of-the-mill flu (which itself is deadly enough), even though most of those infected will have regular flu-like symptoms. This has a significantly higher death rate, and we may be just witnessing the first round. This is scary sh¡t indeed if we decide it's no big deal, so just shut the fu¢k up already. 

If you really have to whine, contact ATEK and see if they'll run another human rights abuse campaign

Eating on the run in Koreatown

The Kogi BBQ truck has become almost as famous as that Scottish wallflower who is about to win the Britain's Got Talent contest, even if it gets fewer hits on YouTube, but other Korean offerings in Los Angeles are less well-known.

But an L.A. Times list of good eats in Koreatown and its vicinity has come from an unlikely place: a list of places to eat along the route of the Los Angeles Marathon

The relevant places:
Koreatown is where eating options really multiply. This stretch of the race route along Olympic Boulevard is a 3.3-mile fast track to downtown that's jam-packed with culinary excitement.

Manna is a high-volume haven for "unlimited meat." For $16.99, belly up to a grill-topped table on the covered patio and grill short rib, brisket, black pork belly, marinated pork, chicken and beef.

Kaesung Kimchi sells seven types of kimchi, including turnip green and standard cabbage. Down the block, Kyong Ji and her husband Yeng have built ChoSun Galbee into an ivy-covered temple for refined marinated short ribs.

In the shimmering new Olyford Plaza - named for the intersection of Olympic and Oxford - Miari Noodle House is a contemporary restaurant specializing in chicken, clam or kimchi noodle soup.

Sa Rit Gol is patterned after a traditional country house in Korea. Owner Kyung Hah has earned a devoted following for her cuttlefish pancakes and chile-blasted pork belly.

Around the corner, Healthy Zone 52 specializes in porridge. A tank near the door hosts clinging abalone, just one of the available toppings.

An unnamed restaurant with a cartoonish crab and fish logo resides on the corner of Olympic and Harvard. Grab a chile-doused bowl of steamed crab or sea squirt, then cross the street for red bean buns, almond cookies or cakes at Francaise Bakery.

A lesser-known but larger branch of Guelaguetza showcases "Autentica Comida Mexicana." Consider multiple moles and chilacayota, a sweet drink with squash, cinnamon and brown sugar.

A smiling pig in a chef's hat signals your arrival at Moo Bong Ri, which focuses on soon dae - Korean blood sausage.

O Dae San Korean B.B.Q. is a sleek barbecue parlor named for a Korean mountain. Owner Chul Oh's place features leather booths, stainless steel hoods that swallow smoke and short ribs marinated in "house special sauce."

Market World Plaza is best known for a Korean supermarket, but in the wings, you'll find Tous Les Jours, a link in a 1,000-branch bakery chain popular for items like snow pea rolls and sweet potato "pie." Adjacent Pizza Land pipes crusts with sweet potato and stuffs "walnuts" with red bean paste.

Beverly Tofu House resembles a mountain cabin, with tables, benches and stools crafted from tree cross-sections. Since 1986, it has focused on soon tofu - soybean cake stews - pairable with barbecue meats and seafood for a bargain feast.

J. Plaza features Jeon Ju, a 12-year-old restaurant named for a Korean city that's famous for bibim bap. Jennifer Lee features sizzling stone pots with short rib or a mélange of octopus, squid, shrimp, clam and imitation crab. Ju Sun Ko produces "kal kook soo" - traditional housemade noodles – at 2-month-old Seoul Noodles. You'll also find wheat flakes and herbal chicken stew with jujube, ginseng, chestnut, garlic and rice.

Neighbors Nak Won and Hodori are both open 24/7/365 and feature photo specials. At the former, grab a bowl of spicy soup loaded with clear vermicelli and braised beef. At the latter, snag a heaping platter of kimchi fried rice.

Dae Sung Oak – Jenny Lee's "Big Shiny House" - hosts tabletop barbecue grills and handmade buckwheat noodles. Watch the runners pass by from the upstairs dining room.

Shik Do Rak is dedicated to duk bo sam, slippery rice paper filled most often with deckle, brisket or marinated kalbi.

Seoul Garden serves sizzling beef on platters shaped like turtles and cows, plus slabs of broiled cod in spicy soy sauce.
All I can say is that I hope the proprietors' ability to cook is better than their (in)ability to Romanize. 

[above: The beef may be high quality at Chosun Galbee, but the staff suffers from Mad Vowel Disease.]

Abandoned homes becoming a health hazard?

[above: You can never be too early with your St. Patrick's Day plans. Attention house hunters: If they're advertising an emerald pond, run the other way.]

The Orange County Register is reporting on abandoned homes, such as the one shown above, where, for example, neglected swimming pools have the potential to become breeding grounds for West Nile Virus-carrying mosquitoes.

[above: Mosquitofish added to pool to eliminate the bloodsucking vectors. I know an old lady who swallowed a fly...]

Stay classy, economic crisis.

The real question is: Will OC have to start importing the mosquito spray Bongo trucks? (photo source)

Monday, May 25, 2009


Though the M-word was not used, sources I have that are usually reliable say that Roh Moohyun's death was not a suicide. 

KIRA apologizes for North Korean nuclear test

KIRA would also like to officially apologize for today's North Korean nuclear test, which may or may not actually be a stockpile of fireworks detonated in a mine shaft. Since Pyongyang only exists today because of money funneled through Kŭmgangsan and Kaesŏng, Seoul takes full responsibility.

And apologies that it happened on Memorial Day, which was no doubt an attempt to further offend Americans, just like in 2006 with the Independence Day missile test.

Kushibo would like to go off the KIRA script for a moment and say: "Who the fu¢k cares? Ignore them. It's probably just an earthquake they're now taking credit for, after the fact."

[above: Members of the Korean People's Liberation Army receive mass training in how to jerk off the Dear Leader, should they ever be called upon for this task.]