Thursday, December 31, 2009

Daily Kor for December 31, 2009

Okay, so I was able to carve out a little time while taking advantage of a wifi connection at It's A Grind, my new favorite coffee shop chain. Don't expect this to happen again tomorrow, however, as I'll probably be at the Grand Canyon. Oh, and 새해 복 많이 받으세요.
  1. President Lee pardons Samsung chairman in bid to win 2018 winter Olympics (NYT, BBC, AP via WaPo)
  2. North Korea said to be looting heavy equipment from US-led nuclear consortium's unfinished reactor (NYT, Yonhap, Reuters via WaPo)
    • South Korea demands return of equipment (UPI)
  3. Kumho Asiana, facing cash crunch, agrees to sell controlling stake in Daewoo Construction (Reuters via NYT, Bloomberg, Yonhap)
  4. North Korea may conduct nuclear test in 2010 (UPI)
  5. ROK Justice Ministry plans to ease permanent residency requirements for overseas ethnic Koreans and long-term foreign residents (Donga Ilbo, Korea Times, Joongang Daily, Yonhap)
  6. Activists hold rally for "martyr" Robert Kim Park (AFP)
  7. South Korea, Japan, and China to develop "tourism pass" (Chosun Ilbo)
  8. President Lee promises that the canal plan is dead; and not Jason dead but really dead (Korea Herald)
  9. Government to set up database for convicts' DNA (Yonhap)
  10. ROK military to free up 9 million square meters for civilian use (Yonhap)
  11. Anti-English Spectrum "pretty sure" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was once an illegal English teacher in South Korea; Justice Ministry announces new E-2 visa regulations requiring English teachers to be tested for underwear bombs (Yonhap)
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Loose change for December 31b, 2009

 Economic news 
  • South Korea's current account surplus hits an eleven-month record. Total surplus for year is expected to reach $43 billion.
  • A consortium that includes South Korea, China, and UAE has been awarded a $9.7 billion contract to develop a natural gas field in Turkmenistan.  
  • An acceleration of South Korea's manufacturing and service industries makes the case for raising interest rates, which will increase Kushibo's mortgage payment. 
  • Current 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 

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Loose change for December 31, 2009

It's A Grind is nice enough to provide an hour of free wi-fi in exchange for buying a hot chocolate to fight the bitter cold of Nevada (which means "snowy" in Spanish; who knew?). So here is a truncated "Loose Change" list, with more to come.

 Economic news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 

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Reuters on further clamp-downs on FX in North Korea, even for foreigners

The following story, based on Chinese news reports, make it harder from underground markets to do function in their role of providing what the State cannot or will not -- including food for starving masses. 

Pyongyang may think they are doing a better job by clamping down harder, but the harder they tighten the screws, the less able to survive for so many more people than before, and thus (if I'm right about the tipping point of death) the faster they hasten their demise. 

By preventing even foreign visitors from using foreign currency, they have shown such an unwillingness to bend that demonstrates they don't realize that THIS TIME they have turned even many reluctant supporters against them.

BEIJING (Reuters) - Communist North Korea will ban the use of foreign currencies in markets and shops, China's official news agency said, citing a directive that appears to part of Pyongyang's efforts to tighten its grip on the economy.

The impoverished and reclusive state has tried to keep foreign currency out of the hands of ordinary people because its possession allows them to conduct commerce outside of the planned economy, which could weaken the grip of the state.

North Korea also recently abruptly announced a revaluation of its currency so old notes of its won currency will be exchanged for new ones at a rate of 100 to one.

The directive from North Korea's Ministry of People's Security seen at one of Pyongyang's commercial markets said that from January 1, residents will not be allowed to directly pay with dollars, euros or other foreign currencies for food, goods and other retail items, Xinhua news agency reported.

"Foreigners with foreign currency will also have to exchange it for North Korea's own currency to use it," the report added, citing the announcement.

The new measure would also apply to hotels and airports, the report said, adding that banks would establish foreign exchange services.

The announcement appears to build on North Korea's recent efforts to reassert control of the long-struggling economy, which has been increasingly exposed to small but growing market activities and black market trading.

Until now, foreign visitors to North Korea used currencies including the U.S. dollar and euro to pay for items in North Korea and were not allowed to use the local currency.

The move could add to public worries about the direction of the economy, with many citizens jittery about any savings they have built up in foreign currencies. U.S. dollars, euros and the Chinese yuan are also widely used in foreign trading.

A cap on the amount of currency that can be exchanged could wipe out anyone holding too much wealth in North Korean won. But with the latest announcement, their avenues for spending the money in markets may also be choked off.

"The relevant authorities will adopt measures to establish strict order for the circulation of the national currency," the directive said, according to Xinhua.

The Xinhua report first appeared on Tuesday and was more widely reported by Chinese state media on Wednesday.

It also warned that businesses breaking the new restrictions would be shut down and their property confiscated, and illicit foreign exchange deals would be "harshly dealt with."

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

UPI on how South Korea won the UAE nuke deal

Kolkata, India — The United Arab Emirates' US$40 billion deal with South Korea to build and operate four nuclear power plants in the UAE serves to underline how even hydrocarbon rich states are embracing nuclear power in a big way.

Of the total value of the contract awarded by the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation to a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Company, US$20 billion serves as payment for the construction, commissioning and fuel loading of the projected four units, while the remaining US$20 billion goes for operating and maintaining the proposed reactors for a period of 60 years.

Work on the first nuclear plant is expected to commence in 2012, with all four commissioned between 2017 and 2020. The KEPCO-led consortium includes Hyundai Engineering and Construction, Samsung C&T Corp., Doosan Heavy Industries and the Japanese-U.S. company Toshiba-Westinghouse. ENEC and KEPCO have also negotiated the key terms under which Korean investors will have an equity stake in the project.

The Korean victory surprised many, since France's Areva-led group was also engaged with the UAE on the nuclear deal. Moreover, the Koreans also beat the U.S.-Japanese reactor supplier GE-Hitachi.

On the face of it, the UAE seems to have opted for a partner that offers very little geopolitical gain. However, there are compelling reasons for the UAE's decision. Nevertheless, ENEC took pains to stress that it is open to doing business with other countries in areas outside the scope of the primary contract, including long-term fuel supplies, joint investments and training and education.

In fact, given that the UAE will outsource fuel cycle activities to third countries, there is every possibility that France with its prowess in enrichment and reprocessing may be a substantial beneficiary.

The UAE's desire for nuclear power is not as strange as it may sound. From the current round of climate change talks, it is clear that countries need to commit to reducing future carbon emissions. This applies to the UAE as well, which is set to see electricity demand almost treble from the current 15,000 megawatts to 40,000 megawatts in 2020.

Moreover, with the Gulf Cooperation Council states – Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar – seeing their water desalination requirements jump by 6-8 percent annually, the chief driver for nuclear energy may be their need for potable water.

The UAE presently generates 98 percent of its power from gas-based plants. Instead of using more of its gas reserves to meet its growing electricity consumption, the UAE can sell it in the international market, for profit. The avoided future consumption of gas can somewhat compensate for the substantial investment it is making in nuclear power, which it believes has the potential to increase the techno-scientific maturity of its economy.

Indeed, by turning to nuclear power the UAE seems to be going down a route that several other countries have taken in the past. A nuclear energy program is still seen by many governments as the best way to raise their overall scientific and technological base. This is because of the second order effects that nuclear research has on other areas of scientific enquiry and the vast range of technologies that must be simultaneously absorbed in the course of nuclear power development.

Naturally, the UAE has preferred a partner who is more forthcoming in rendering technological assistance. In the words of Mohamed al-Hammadi, chief executive officer of ENEC, "We were impressed by the Korean consortium's world-class safety and its demonstrated ability to meet the UAE program goals."

Hammadi also said, "Additionally, the KEPCO team dedicated a highly experienced team to our project and has shown a serious commitment to transferring the knowledge gained from Korea's 30 years of successful nuclear industry operation into the UAE program." It would be fair to say that the Koreans may have been more generous with the UAE by offering a long-term technology partnership.

South Korea may simply have offered the biggest bang for the buck to the UAE. According to some sources, South Korea's bid to build the four reactors was some US$16 billion lower than that submitted by the French group. This is important, as Abu Dhabi is the prime mover behind the UAE's nuclear policies. It set up ENEC with initial capital of US$100 million, and with an 86 percent share of the UAE's land and over 90 percent of its oil reserves, it is in a far better shape than Dubai. So it would naturally like to be judicious with this investment given the current state of the world's financial system.

The UAE could issue bonds in the future to fund its nuclear ambitions, in addition to the usual mix of securing financial support from export houses and banks.

For South Korea the deal represents a breakthrough of almost epic proportions. A statement from the South Korean president's office said, "This deal is the largest mega-project in Korean history," and "This contract is worth six times more than any other overseas."

The chosen reactor design – KEPCO's APR-1400 – has been talked about in the nuclear industry of late. Although sharing certain features with the CE System 80+, whose intellectual property rights are owned by Toshiba Westinghouse, the APR-1400 is essentially an independent product and has only minor consultancy support from Toshiba-Westinghouse.

Interestingly, the mega-deal came barely three weeks after Jordan opted for another South Korean consortium as a priority negotiating partner for a project worth about US$173 million to build a five-megawatt research reactor by 2014. Given that the UAE probably will require more reactors in the future and that other Middle Eastern countries are seriously looking to embrace nuclear energy, the South Korean nuclear industry may make even greater gains.

The UAE – or more aptly Abu Dhabi – is clearly working toward a long-term strategic plan, which it does not want derailed through any unnecessary distractions. This was evident from the beginning, when the UAE agreed to some of the most stringent safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency for its proposed nuclear program.

This also puts the UAE in the good books of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, which could now use the UAE as an example for other states with emerging nuclear energy programs and juxtapose Iran's recalcitrant behavior on the same issue.

This may have given the Emirates some strategic leeway to choose a development partner for their nuclear program – in this case South Korea – that optimized their requirements. Such farsightedness is rather rare in today's volatile Middle East.

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WSJ on North Korea's H1N1 problem

North Korea sent out a nationwide alert in recent days about the apparent worsening spread of H1N1 flu there, according to an aid group with contacts in the country.

The notice by the Seoul-based Buddhist aid group Good Friends follows the South Korean government's shipment of 400,000 doses of the flu treatment Tamiflu and 100,000 doses of the treatment Relenza to its impoverished neighbor earlier this month amid fears that a delayed response to the disease in the North could lead to serious consequences for the South.

Good Friends said this week that North Korean officials had issued a statement that said patients suffering from the disease should be given priority. The group said the statement was of a type issued only twice before, for seriously wounded soldiers during the 1950-1953Korean War and for a deadly skirmish with South Korea in 2002.

The true picture within highly restrictive North Korea is difficult to determine. Officials there couldn't be reached.

On Dec. 9, North Korea's official Korea Central News Agency confirmed that nine people had contracted the epidemic, also known as swine flu, in the capital of Pyongyang and the city of Sinuiju.

South Korean officials, who met with their North Korean counterparts during the flu-treatment shipments, said they were unclear on the situation. Lee Jong-joo, a deputy spokeswoman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said that the fact that North Korea officially disclosed it is fighting the epidemic suggests it could be serious.

"North Korean officials we met at that time said the country is setting up a tight disease control system and getting itself ready for an outbreak in the country," she said Wednesday.

North Korean officials were "very grateful" for the South's donated flu treatment, said Kim Young-il, a manager at the ministry's humanitarian aid team.

South Korea's aid to the North has dwindled since President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008. Mr. Lee tied aid to the progress in talks to halt North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Talks have been slowed by Pyongyang's delaying tactics.

Amid recent peace overtures by North Korea, the South Korean government said Monday it would provide North Korea with $22 million in general humanitarian aid.

"Medication shipment alone is not enough. Since the infection is closely related to nutrition, the Seoul government should allow civil groups to resume their private aid works to efficiently fight against the disease," said Lee Woo-young, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

Mr. Kim, of the Unification Ministry, said the government doesn't currently plan to ship more flu aid.

According to the World Health Organization, H1N1 has caused at least 11,500 deaths world-wide. But H1N1 activity has been declining in much of the world, including east Asia, it said.

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KEPCO's nuclear U.


    SEOUL, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), South Korea's state-run electric company, said in a press release Wednesday that it has been approved by the government to build the world's first graduate studies program focused on nuclear energy.

    The International Nuclear Graduate School (INGS), slated to open in March of 2012, will be established next to the Kori Nuclear Power Plant in the southern city of Gori, giving its students easy access to on-the-job training and practical learning experiences, the KEPCO said.

    The electric company also said the INGS, with a funding near 58billion won (49.6 million U.S. dollars), plans to accept 200 students per year, offering 2-year programs with specialized courses in nuclear energy planning, operation, and maintenance.

    The announcement came as South Korea signed a nuclear technology export deal with the United Arab Emirates worth 40 billion U.S. dollars on Sunday, establishing itself as a strong exporter in the industry. 

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"Speak English!" at the white sale

So I'm out shopping in Nevada suburbia, in a department store, talking to the Los Angeles branch of my Korean bank, in Korean but not terribly loudly (no louder than in English), when some middle-aged guy walking by growls, "Speak English!"

I guess that's what we could expect st s white sale.

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Japan's dangerously fertility rate, in a nutshell

Though an extreme case, this represents a trend that has demographers, sociologists, economists, and government wonks quite perplexed.

Link here. Shell of a nut, indeed.

And my apologies for merely sending links, but that's the best I can do when my only access to the Interwebs is my iPhone, with which Blogspot doesn't seem to play nice.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jibjab bids farewell to 2009

As the Zeroes come to an end (really, what the eff do we call this decade?!), and since I'm doing spotty blogging (which is Mancunian slang for a certain feminine condition) while I'm traveling, here's a little Jibjab piece to hold you over.

Here's hoping you and yours never become the target subject of a Jibjab video.

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CNN on North Korean fine art

Beijing, China (CNN) — Tucked in a quiet corner of Beijing's trendy art district, known as 798, a gallery offers an unusual collection of artworks. The oil paintings, ceramics and natural stones are staid compared to many of the avant-garde exhibits in the other galleries of the sprawling art district. But then again, these are works by artists who may not know much about the international art world: They live in North Korea.

The Beijing-based Jinghesheng Investment Company has partnered with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea's formal name, to exhibit -- and sell -- 60 oil paintings and 30 traditional Korean ink paintings.

"They were all carefully selected by the DPRK's Ministry of Culture," said exhibit director Li Xuemei. Although North Korean artworks may be available in some galleries in China and other countries, said Li, "you don't really know where they came from, but ours are surely authentic artworks from DPRK."

Inside a hall, the gallery showcases works of twenty North Korean artists affiliated with museums and art academies in Pyongyang. Li said the gallery receives as many as 100 visitors a day on the weekend and about 60 on weekdays.

The pieces depict landscapes and modern life. Many were painted by seasoned Pyongyang artists who hold honorific titles as "People's Artists" and "Merit Artists."

One oil painting, a socialist realist piece entitled "Huge Waves in the East Sea," is three meters high and ten meters long and covers an entire wall of the gallery. Four artists collaborated on the painting using a wide scope of greens and blues to create textured and turbulent waves crashing into taupe gray rocks against a backdrop of blue sky.

The collection also includes watercolors, elegant portraits of Korean women in modern and traditional dress and wildlife.

Li said the artwork is only sold to elite customers, typically Chinese entrepreneurs in affluent cities like Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Dalian. She said 30 percent of the works on display have already been sold, but she declines to quote any prices.

"Many people chose to collect this art because North Korea is a country still closed to the outside world, although it is seeking to open up in the future," Li said. "This makes North Korean artworks a good investment. Some artists have already passed away, making their work more unique and valuable."

While the arts' value may increase over time, their North Korean artists will not see any cash returns.

"In North Korea," Li said, "art is not private property and the value made from the sales will go directly to the state."

One artist and three North Korean government officials flew into Beijing to attend the opening of the show but stayed away from the media and declined to be interviewed.

Following United States special envoy Stephen Bosworth's visit to Pyongyang in December, speculation about the future direction of the communist state is high.

In October, North Korean leader Kim Jung Il indicated that Pyongyang was willing to return to multilateral talks on its nuclear program on condition that there would be progress in direct talks between North Korea and the United States. It remains unclear if Bosworth's trip will lead to a resumption of the six-party talks and further easing of tensions in the Korean peninsula.

Exhibits of North Korean art are rare, even in neighboring China, its closest ally. China and North Korea officially established diplomatic ties 60 years ago. To mark the anniversary, Beijing held two art exhibitions of North Korean embroidery and jewelry over the summer.

While contemporary North Korean art is typically laden with a heavy message, the artworks showcased in the 798 art district leaves out traces of politics or propaganda. New collections of North Korean art will rotate through the gallery until in the coming months.

"We'll show artworks on rotation," Li said. "We'll show different styles in the next collection."

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USA Today on South Korean golf

I'll deal with this later, when I have a connection besides the iPhone. But for now:

SUWON, South Korea — While taking a break from a grueling, day-long practice at a golf academy here, Jung Min Lee's face lights up as she recalls the beautiful courses in Florida.

What the 17-year-old golfer encountered upon her arrival in Orlando during her first U.S. tournament blew away her expectations. The expansive size and convenience not easily found in South Korea— short-game practice facilities and driving ranges in the same complex — wowed her and left her hungry for more international exposure. The relaxed manner and casual friendliness of players even amid stiff competition left a deep impression.

"It was a great learning experience," Lee says. "Korean players were really tense. I saw foreign players socialize when they want to, and focus when they need to. They seemed more relaxed. I'd like to adopt that style."

She will get plenty of opportunity. As a former junior national representative, Lee is among a highly-skilled group of Korean female golfers who are setting their sights beyond their native land.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Golf memories for 2009

Se Ri Pak ignited a golf explosion in her native Korea by winning four LPGA tour events in 1998, including the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open. Now, Koreans dominate the sport and are primed to continue their supremacy when the LPGA season begins in February.

Koreans have won the U.S. Women's Open three of the last five years. Of the top 50 players in the LPGA's Rolex World Ranking, 19 are Korean — including two Kims, three Lees and three Parks/Paks. It's by far the largest contingent representing one nation.

In 2009, Koreans won 11 of 28 official events on the LPGA tour. The winners list of other pro, amateur and junior tournaments are similarly dotted with Korean names.

While generations of Koreans competed abroad to test their mettle, many now deem the level of domestic competition just as fierce, if not more. The KLPGA — independent of the LPGA — ran 20 events this year.

"I think women in our country, even more so than men, are very competitive," says In-Chon Yu, Korea's Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism. "If you're a pro golfer in Korea, that means you're a serious player. They believe they can compete well in the U.S."

Such success has come at a price. Maintaining friendships and spending quality time with family are luxuries few can afford. Some golf parents have exhausted savings in trying to raise a star. Practicing 10 hours a day, many players find normal schooling impossible, leaving them unprepared for a real job in a hyper-competitive society.

Korean male players have had success, but not to the degree seen in the female ranks. Korean parents generally discourage their sons from athletic careers and steer them to traditional, academic pursuits, says Baikyou Sung, an executive at SBS Medianet, a Korean sports network.

The mandatory two-year military service for young men also is a detriment in player development. That didn't stop self-taught Y.E. Yang from beating world No. 1 Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship in August, a development that stirred newfound hopes of success on the PGA Tour.

Early beginnings

Fueled by family support and work ethic, Korean golfers are the products of a uniquely productive — and some say rigid and pressure-cooked — system.

Korea is an unlikely exporter of golfers. The government discouraged it well into the 1970s, deeming it an elite sport. The small, mountainous country of 48 million people has about 200 18-hole golf courses. Greens fees typically cost $150 to $200. It has brutal winters.

But once the sport caught on with the public, there was no turning back. About 3 million Koreans play golf regularly, the Korea Golf Association estimates.

Early success in golf has bred intense domestic competition and encouraged newcomers. In the mid-1980s, Korea had fewer than 200 junior golfers — ages 15 to 18 — who were good enough to shoot even par, according to Dong-Wook Kim, executive director of KGA. Now, there are about 3,000.

Se Ri Pak, K.J. Choi and Yang are legends in Korea. Pak's influence in particular can't be underestimated, Minister Yu says. Youngsters inspired to play by Pak in 1998 are called "Seri kids" in Korea.

"It was a struggle when I first started," says Pak, who has 24 LPGA wins and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007. "But now I see younger Korean players doing well in the U.S. I'm proud of them. Their presence here actually energizes me."

Many Korean amateurs start by following their dads to golf courses. When they show interest or potential, parents typically hire local tutors in one of about 3,000 neighborhood driving ranges.

Once a player decides to pursue a professional career, she withdraws from her regular school curriculum and practices full time with a coach or in an academy. There are about 50 golf academies with at least 10 students, estimates Douglas Koh, director of instruction at Paradise Golf Academy.

The success rate is minuscule. Only about 10% of amateurs pass qualifying school tests to become semipros, according to KLPGA. About 10% of semipros go on to qualify as KLPGA pro members. Of those pros, 108 competed in its tournaments this year, while its membership totals more than 1,400, according to the KLPGA.

Family matters

Despite second-rate facilities, Korean golfers have thrived on old-fashioned virtues — lots of hours on the job and sheer stick-to-itiveness that fueled the country's development. But that certain cultural factors are at play can't be denied, Yu says.

Parental fervor: Parents' zealous pursuit of their children's success is the primary driver of Korea's competitiveness, Yu says. Parents think nothing of spending thousands of dollars monthly on "hagwon" — or tutoring centers that teach everything from algebra and English to guitar and golf.

Children's schedules are tightly packed in pursuit of learning, and this fervor spills over to sports. Most golfers are constantly accompanied by a parent who serves as manager-chauffeur-gopher.

Korean parents typically spend $3,000 to $5,000 a month in rearing a golfer, which includes lessons, travel to tournaments and academic tutors. The average Korean household income is about $35,000 a year, and many families have gone into deep debt to finance their children's training. "A lot of Korean parents are passionate about it. They do it with the all-in approach," KGA's Kim says. And they want results fast.

Ha-Na Jang first picked up a club when she was 9, trailing her dad. After seeing his daughter display unusual physical strength for her age, Chang Ho Jang abandoned his furnishing business to train her full-time. Two years later, she was competing in her first tournament even though she had played on a full course fewer than 10 times.

Now 17, Jang emerged as a budding star when she shot 11 under at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., to win the Junior World Golf Championship in July. She is one of 12 national team representatives who will compete in the 2010 Asian Games.

But the pressure to turn pro weighs on her. Jang's family is supported by income from a restaurant it owns. Jang's father estimates he's spent nearly $1 million in training her. "I knew one of us had to sacrifice," he says. "My wife didn't want her playing. We had her fairly late and my wife wanted us to enjoy our life together."

Parents' win-at-all-costs mindset can be stressful for golfers, coaches say. "It's common to see them weep on the course if they don't do well, and the first thing they talk about is their parents," says Sung-Man Bae, director of Golf Digest Academy in Incheon.

Jang says she appreciates her father's push. But when asked if he is a tough teacher, she smiles, furtively glances at him and responds, "yes."

Following news media reports of golfers' early burnout and stress, many Korean parents have backed off, says Koh of Paradise Academy. They are starting to realize the consequences of raising one-dimensional, dependent kids, he says. "They're pushing them to study at least a few hours a night."

Filial piety: Su-Jin Jang, editor of Golf Digest Korea, says parental push wouldn't work without the reciprocal "hyo-nyo complex," or the desire to be a "good, dutiful daughter."

Confucian philosophy emphasizes "hyo" — or filial piety — as a virtue above all else. And with it comes young golfers' burden of ensuring a return on their parents' investment and willingness to endure "almost militaristic" training, Jang says.

Anna Lee, 22, a pro player who practices at Paradise Academy, says her parents' sacrifice is her chief motivator. She turned pro four years ago, but hasn't qualified for the KLPGA Tour. She's starting to feel old compared to her teen-age competitors.

"I want to repay back my parents as much as they've supported me," Lee says. "What lies ahead can seem like a daunting prospect. A lot of my friends are asking me why they don't see me on TV."

Korean players' discipline has been noted in international tournaments, with sightings of putting practices in the dark. But their singular focus — mixed with limited English and the discomfort of traveling abroad — have led to grumbling. A comment by Australian LPGA veteran Jan Stephenson in 2003 that Korean players' lack of English is hurting the game's popularity still stings here.

Korean players and coaches acknowledge their serious game face can be misunderstood. "You can almost see laser coming out of their eyes," Jang says of her competitors.

Players take English lessons seriously, if not always successfully. Anna Lee pays for a phone service that allows her to converse 10 minutes a day in English. Jung Min Lee gathers with other golfers for weekly lessons.

Jung Min Lee didn't let her limited English or international exposure affect her performance. Competing in the Polo Junior Golf Classic in Orlando, Lee shot 3 under in championship match play to win the title in 2008.

After the event, Lee fielded NCAA scholarship inquiries from the University of Southern California and Duke. But unwilling to leave her parents, Lee turned pro in Korea. She hopes to join the LPGA someday.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Daily Kor no more

Well, for a few days at least. I'm traveling through a part of America where wifi is not available, and trawling for news using this iPhone would take five times as long.

So pretend you're in North Korea, where the absence of a comprehensive source of reliable news would be normal.

Things will be back to normal in a few days, or next week at the latest.

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Daily Kor for December 27, 2009

It's late. I'm tired. I'm driving to Nevada tomorrow. Write your own stinkin' color commentary.
  1. South Korean consortium reportedly wins $40 billion deal to build nuclear power plants in United Arab Emirates (Reuters via WaPo, Bloomberg)
  2. Korean-American Christian human rights activist who crossed into North Korean detained by authorities (AFP)
  3. Thailand may seek UN sanctions over North Korean weapons seizure (RIA Novosti)
  4. National Assembly speaker says he will step down if ruling and opposition parties cannot strike a budget deal for 2010 by the end of 2009 (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  5. UN Development Program to restart operations in North Korea in February (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  6. South Korean government plans to raise amount of biodiesel in Diesel fuel (Yonhap)
  7. Incheon International Airport steps up security procedures in response to attempted terrorist downing of plane arriving in Detroit (Yonhap)
  8. South Korean national soccer team slated to play an African team in football friendly (Korea Times)
  9. Attempted coup in North Korea fails when military officers, weakened by hunger and weighed down by medals, are unable to stand (Yonhap)

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Loose change for December 27, 2009

 North Korea news and stuff 
  • The Los Angeles Times has its own focus on Robert Park, the Christian Korean-American who crossed into North Korea to protest human rights.  
  • The San Francisco Chronicle does a review of Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy
 Other Korea-related stuff 

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WaPo on North Korean reaction to Kim Jong-il's effort to wipe out wealth

From the Washington Post:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il moved early this month to wipe out much of the wealth earned in the past decade in his country's private markets. As part of a surprise currency revaluation, the government sharply restricted the amount of old bills that could be traded for new and made it illegal for citizens to have more than $40 worth of local currency.

It was an unexplained decision -- the kind of command that for more than six decades has been obeyed without question in North Korea. But this time, in a highly unusual challenge to Kim's near-absolute authority, the markets and the people who depend on them pushed back.

Grass-roots anger and a reported riot in an eastern coastal city pressured the government to amend its confiscatory policy. Exchange limits have been eased, allowing individuals to possess more cash.

The currency episode reveals new constraints on Kim's power and may signal a fundamental change in the operation of what is often called the world's most repressive state. The change is driven by private markets that now feed and employ half the country's 23.5 million people, and appear to have grown too big and too important to be crushed, even by a leader who loathes them.

The currency episode seems far from over, and there have been indications that Kim still has the stomach for using deadly force.

There have been public executions and reinforcements have been dispatched to the Chinese border to stop possible mass defections, according to reports in Seoul-based newspapers and aid groups with informants in the North.

Still, analysts say there has also been evidence of unexpected shifts in the limits of Kim's authority.

"The private markets have created a new power elite," said Koh Yu-whan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. "They pay bribes to bureaucrats in Kim's government, and they are a threat that is not going away."

The threat comes at a time of transition in North Korea. Kim Jong Il, 67, suffered a stroke last year. While he appears to have recovered, at least enough to maintain control, he has begun a murky process of handing power over to a third generation, in the person of his youngest son, Kim Jong Eun, 26.

The Kim family dynasty built and presides over a totalitarian state that has lasted more than six decades, far longer than its mentors, Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China. It is the only such state to have survived the death of the leader around whom a cult of personality had been built. Kim Jong Il assumed power in 1994, after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, the state's founding dictator.

It was an exceedingly bumpy transition: Famine killed a million people, the state-run economy imploded and private markets began an inexorable spread across the country. Still, it was a transition that had been in the works for more than a decade and was elaborately rolled out to the North Korean people, unlike the current succession.

"It would seem to an outsider that much less care has been taken to ensure a smooth dynastic transition this time around," said Nicholas Eberstadt, author of several books on North Korea.

Analysts in South Korea and the United States say there is little evidence that Kim Jong Eun has been groomed for power -- or that he is equipped to deal with the regime-rotting challenge presented by the growth of private markets and the rise of a bribe-paying entrepreneurial class.

In the view of several outside experts, this month's currency revaluation was a preemptive strike against the markets by Kim Jong Il, an aging leader who is worried about succession and trying to buy time.

"This was one of the strongest measures he could take," said Cho Young-key, a professor of North Korea studies at Korea University in Seoul. "Kim is thinking that if he can't control the markets now, in the future it will get even harder, and then he will be handing power to the son."

Stripping wealth from merchants is consistent with Kim Jong Il's long-held abhorrence of capitalist reform. His government regards it as "honey-coated poison" that can lead to regime change and catastrophe, according to the Rodong Sinmun, the party newspaper in Pyongyang.

"It is important to decisively frustrate capitalist and non-socialist elements in their bud," said the newspaper.

Closing the marketplace
Kim's government in the past two years has closed some large markets, shifted Chinese-made goods to state-run shops and ordered that only middle-aged and older women can sell goods in open-air markets, to try to limit the number of North Koreans who abandon government jobs for the private sector.

But capitalism seems to have already taken root. U.N. officials estimate that half the calories consumed in North Korea come from food bought in private markets, and that nearly 80 percent of household income derives from buying and selling in the markets, according to a study last year in the Seoul Journal of Economics.

Private markets are flooding the country with electronics from China and elsewhere.

Cheap radios, televisions, MP3 devices, DVD players, video cameras and cellphones are seeping into a semi-feudal society, where a trusted elite lives in the capital Pyongyang. Surrounding the elite is a suspect peasantry that is poor, stunted by hunger and spied upon by layers of state security.

In the past year, the elites in Pyongyang have been granted authorized access to mobile phones -- the number is soon expected to reach 120,000. In the border regions with China, unauthorized mobile phone use has also increased among the trading classes. And unlike most of the mobile phones in Pyongyang, the illegal phones are set up to make international calls.

Chinese telecom companies have built relay towers near the border, providing strong mobile signals in many nearby North Korean towns, according to the Chosun Ilbo, a Seoul-based daily.

Those phones have become a new source of real-time reporting to the outside world on events inside North Korea, as networks of informants call in news to Web sites such as the Seoul-based Daily NK and the Buddhist aid group Good Friends.

Good Friends reported last week that security forces in the northeastern town city of Chongjin executed a citizen after he burned a large pile of old currency. He was apparently worried that police enforcing currency laws would investigate him to find out how he had gotten rich, the group said.

Affordable electronics are also cracking open the government's decades-old seal on incoming information. Imported radios -- and televisions in border areas -- are enabling a substantial proportion of the North Korean populations to tune in to Chinese and South Korean stations, as well as to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, according to an unpublished survey of newly arrived defectors in South Korea. It found that two-thirds of them listened regularly to foreign broadcasts.
I'll comment on this later. Sphere: Related Content

"Million foreigner march" at The Sonagi Consortium

Adeel shares some thoughts and opinions on the 외국인백만시대 ("One Million Foreigner Era").

I want to be the first to coin the phrase: The OMF Era. Ha ha!

Follow THIS LINK for the post by Adeel.

Follow THIS LINK to write for The Sonagi Consortium.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Daily Kor for December 26, 2009

Another quick-and-dirty edition. It is, after all, a holiday over here in America. It's that wonderful day where family comes together and rips open presents, not that day where people wear funny hats and eat ice cream cakes.
  1. At least 17 people are killed in India after collapse of bridge constructed by Hyundai Engineering and local firm (AFP)
    • Hyundai plans to sue Gammon India over collapse (Yonhap)
  2. ROK President Lee Myungbak travels to United Arab Emirates in push to win major nuclear power plant construction contract (Reuters, WSJ)
  3. Korean-American human rights activist crosses into North Korea carrying God's message (links here)
  4. Citing negative influence on future-oriented relations, ROK foreign minister summons Japan's ambassador to South Korea to protest Tokyo's new education guidelines regarding Japanese territorial disputes (Xinhua)
  5. Ukraine denies links to plane full of North Korean arms forced down in Thailand (RIA Novosti)
  6. Korean national soccer team coach believes Ahn Junghwan will play in World Cup (ESPN)
  7. American arrested for assault in London in tragic misinterpretation of Boxing Day (Reuters)
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Bringing God's love to North Korea

This is the story from Reuters, in its entirety:
A U.S. human rights activist trying to raise global attention about the suffering of the North Korean people has crossed into the reclusive state, other activists and South Korean media said on Saturday.

There has been no comment from North Korea, which usually arrests foreign border crossers on site, or from U.S. officials.

Activists told Reuters that Robert Park, 28, had crossed into North Korea from China on Friday, while South Korea's Yonhap news agency and the Kukmin Ilbo newspaper quoted activists who went with him to the border as saying he had crossed at a sparsely patrolled point near the northeast border city of Hoeryong.

Park was quoted by activists who went with the border as shouting when he went across: "I am an American citizen. I am bringing God's love. God loves you."

The activists asked not to be named due to security concerns.

Park told to Reuters in Seoul earlier this week that he saw it as his duty as a Christian to make the journey and did not want the U.S. government to try to free him.

"I don't want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free," Park said on Wednesday before departing for China.

"Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will. (For) these innocent men, women and children, as Christians, we need to take the cross for them. The cross means that we sacrifice our lives for the redemption of others," he said.

Western governments and human rights activists say North Korea maintains a network of political prisons to crush the possibility of dissent where brutality is the norm and deaths are commonplace.

The North uses unlawful and arbitrary killings and stages public executions to intimidate the masses, critics say. They say it prevents free speech, controls all media and crushes nascent attempts at reform by executing or imprisoning those who oppose the state.

Park, a Korean-American, has joined various campaigns calling on North Korea to improve its rights record and said he would carry a message calling for leader Kim Jong-il to step down, the closure of prison camps and compensation paid to victims.

Park said he wanted to be arrested in order to pressure governments including the United States, South Korea and Japan to address the suffering of the North Korean people.

"Through the media and through sacrifice we are looking for the global leaders to be forced to give an account. There is no excuse," he said.

Earlier this year, former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a high-profile journey to North Korea to win the release of two U.S. journalists who were held by the state for about four months for suspected illegal entry.

The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of U.S. media outlet Current TV, were arrested in March working on a story near the border between North Korea and China.

The two said they crossed into the North by accident and were taken into custody in China by North Korean guards who chased them back across the border.
Yonhap also has the story. So does AP.

I originally posted this story in its entirety from Reuters, without any comment. I don't know what to make of such people. On the one hand, they do draw attention to the plight of the people in North Korea, but on the other hand, they seem to only bring crack downs on the areas where they managed to cross over.

This comes at a time when the public in North Korea is on edge over the currency revaluation, and the authorities may be highly sensitive to the influence of outsiders. In the end, is this bringing harm to the people it is intended to help?

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Daily Kor for December 25, 2009: Peacekeeping on Earth, bad will beyond the Tumen

I dozed off while tracking Santa via NORAD, so this is me getting up the next morning to finish the news report I should have done about seven or eight hours ago. Nothing has actually changed: Japanese textbooks are still removing the claim to Tokto but speaking euphemistically about territorial claims (which, to be fair, includes things other than Tokto). A step in the right direction for good relations, I suppose. And other stuff, too, but none of it really comes together for a Yuletide theme.
  1. In absence of direct mention of Tokto but a general description that Japanese students understand territorial problems, Seoul reiterates its position that there is no territorial dispute with Tokyo (Xinhua)
  2. Crew of plane carrying tons of North Korean weapons detained for at least twelve more days (ABC, WSJ, AP via WaPo)
  3. National Assembly passes bill allowing for quick deployment of ROK troops for UN peacekeeping operations (Korea Times)
  4. Korea Institute for Defense Analyses believes North Korea could conduct a third nuclear test (AP via WaPo, Yonhap)
  5. South Korea is considering a cap-and-trade scheme to control greenhouse gases (Yonhap)
  6. North Korean authorities detain "obese, jocular" deer herder crossing Tuman River (Yonhap)
    • Finnish embassy in Pyongyang demands to see prisoner (AFP)
    • Confiscated goods include DVDs, MP3 players, and extensive list of contacts (AP via WaPo)
    • KCNA releases Dear Leader's favorite venison recipes (Xinhua)
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Loose change for December 25, 2009

 North Korea news and stuff 
  •  The Chosun Ilbo has a piece on Kristine Kwok of the South China Morning Post and the experiences and difficulties she and other Western journalists faced in North Korea when she accompanied PRC Premier Wen Jiabao to Pyongyang.
  • North Korea's ceremonial head, Supreme People's Assembly President Kim Yongnam, reportedly told visiting American business leaders about how threatened North Korea feels from its neighbors.
  • Kim Jong-il nearly doubled the number of "field guidance" trips this year, from 90 in 2008 to 156 in 2009. 
  • This story suggests the United States will pursue a "Ukrainian solution" to denuclearizing North Korea.
 Other Korea-related stuff 
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Honoring two men from the Tumen

The Defense Minister may have missed the ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of Kim Jong-il assuming control of the military, but in his stead we had the two soldiers who nabbed stupogants Laura Ling and Euna Lee at the frozen Tumen last March.

Reports the New York Times:
The two soldiers appeared in a North Korean state television program broadcast Thursday to mark the 18th anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il's assumption of command of the country's army, Yonhap reported. The program's anchor said Kim has given them an award for apprehending Ling and Lee and also gave them special leave, according to Yonhap.

The soldiers said that several people crossed the frozen Tumen River into North Korea on March 17 and took photos, Yonhap reported. They also said they overpowered them at gunpoint, believing they entered the North with hostile intent.

Son Yong Ho, one of the soldiers, said that he received a hero's welcome when he later arrived in his hometown, according to Yonhap.
Being forced to watch North Korean television would be someone's version of hell. If you think American Idol is bad, North Korean Idol is far worse.

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Merry Christmas from California

Please pay no attention to the phallic palm trees in the background. Sphere: Related Content

One of our dinosaurs is missing

The AFP is reporting that North Korea's Defense Minister has not been seen for almost a month.

Septuagenarian Vice Marshal Kim Yongchun has been absent from North Korea's publicity machine since the end of November (which would hurt his chance to become Grand Marshal and run parades). From the AFP:
Vice Marshal Kim Yong-Chun, 73, failed to attend a national meeting Wednesday to mark the 18th anniversary of leader Kim Jong-Il's assumption of the army's supreme command, Yonhap news agency said.

The ceremony in Pyongyang brought together senior party, army and government officials, as well as representatives of the public, according to Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency.
But Kim Yong-Chun was not seen on TV footage of the meeting and his name was absent when broadcasting stations reeled off a long list of participants.

It would be considered an astonishing act of defiance for an invitee to deliberately miss the highly symbolic event aimed at eulogising Kim Jong-Il's leadership, observers noted.

The vice marshal's last public appearance was reported on November 29. State media said he accompanied Kim Jong-Il on a visit to a military-run livestock farm.

Kim Yong-Chun is known to be suffering from severe diabetes which almost cost him his eyesight and hearing, Yonhap said.
I'm always interested in these things because I'm always trying to get a picture for how strong Kim Jong-il's position is. Did Vice Marshal Kim fall out of favor? (Though perhaps a bit speculative, the AFP article suggests that with their comment on such "an astonishing act of defiance.") If so, for what? Is this a chink in the armor?

Or is he sick and possibly dying? And if so, does this weaken KJI's position in any way, since his strength comes largely due to his relationship with the military?

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Daily Kor for December 24, 2009

If Santa Claus can plan his escape from the North Pole, why not North Korean loggers working in Siberia? Meanwhile, we have yet another possible country destined to receive North Korea weapons: Sri Lanka. It might be easier to start making a list of countries not thought to be receiving them. Did I already say that? I'm tired. Too much Christmas shopping. Roads are bad in Southern California: Californians with their SUVs glued to their ass all competing for a handful of parking spaces. It'll all be over tomorrow (it's still the 23rd here). Merry Christmas, everyone!
  1. South Korean authorities acknowledge that about one dozen North Korean loggers working in grim conditions in Russia have defected (Straits Times)
  2. South Korean authorities clear way for both LG and Samsung to set up flat display plants in China (WSJ, Reuters)
  3. Thai authorities now believe North Korean weapons shipment was headed for Sri Lanka (AP via WaPo)
  4. Hyundai Motor union accepts wage deal (Reuters)
  5. CJ O Shopping to buy 55.2% stake in ON* Media Corp, making it a dominant player in cable TV (BloombergWSJ)
  6. Justice Ministry vows tougher punishment for election law violators (Donga Ilbo)
    • Government announces plans to step up scrutiny of government officials and heads of public corporations (Korea Herald)
  7. Voice of America quotes a UN official who says that North Korea sold 3400 tons of weapons to Congolese insurgents (Chosun Ilbo)
  8. North Pole announces end to policy of one-sided gift-giving; says children will continue to behave badly unless there is reciprocity and accountability (AP via NYT)
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Loose change for December 24, 2009

 Economic news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
  • The Associated Press suggests that North Korea is taking a gamble by turning to air smuggling instead of shipping out arms by sea. 
  • A joint North-South tour of special industrial zones in Vietnam and China may have backfired as DPRK officials are now looking at higher wages for North Korean employees in Kaesŏng.
 Other Korea-related stuff 


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