Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lantern floating at Magic Island

This is an event I had planned to go to in 2009 but didn't make it. Like two years ago, there were some forty thousand people here, but we managed to get very close to the water's edge.

Actually, I ended up in the water (at least my feet). Next year I'm going to just head out in my kayak and get the best pictures ever. (I'm guessing that's somehow not permitted.)

This photo with my entry-level Nikon DLSR's telephoto lens is a bit nicer (and less crooked) than the iPhone4 photo above.

Memorial Day

This evening I will go off to Magic Island to watch Honolulu's unique lantern floating ceremony that has become a Memorial Day tradition here on Oahu, where it's still Monday despite the Tuesday dateline.

In the meantime, I leave you with a couple past Memorial Day posts to honor the brave men and women who have given up their lives for freedom and peace, particularly those whose sacrifice helped pave the way for a brighter future for South Korea.
As I state every year, if you have time this Memorial Day, go and thank a vet — of any war — and ask them a question or two about their experiences. And next week, when it's no longer Memorial Day, do the same thing. And the following week, too, if you can.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Brazil having nightmares of "neo-colonialism" as it is sucked into China's orbit

An interesting piece in the New York Times describes the conundrum Brazil finds itself in, a situation that has implications on the Korean peninsula as high-tech South Korea becomes more and more economically entwined with the PRC and the backward regime in North Korea finds itself increasingly reliant on China for its political survival.

Like South Korea, Brazil had thought that now was the time to stop being so dependent on US markets for its goods — electronics and automobiles in South Korea's case, agricultural products and raw materials in Brazil's case. In Brazil, some are questioning the wisdom of this bargain:
China has become Brazil’s biggest trading partner, buying ever increasing volumes of soybeans and iron ore, while investing billions in Brazil’s energy sector. The demand has helped fuel an economic boom here that has lifted more than 20 million Brazilians from extreme poverty and brought economic stability to a country accustomed to periodic crises.

Yet some experts say the partnership has devolved into a classic neo-colonial relationship in which China has the upper hand. Nearly 84 percent of Brazil’s exports to China last year were raw materials, up from 68 percent in 2000. But about 98 percent of China’s exports to Brazil are manufactured products — including the latest, low-priced cars for Brazil’s emerging middle class — that are beating down Brazil’s industrial sector.

“The relationship has been very unbalanced,” said Rubens Ricupero, a former Brazilian diplomat and finance minister. “There has been a clear lack of strategy on the Brazilian side.”
One can say the same of China and North Korea, which is being positioned to become a permanent part of Beijing's northeastern China development plans; at the very least China is seeking ports for its goods, but it may also be seeking markets. China has the son of Generalissimo Kim by the cojones, and with every twist they get new concessions that don't bode well for North Korea or a future unified Korean state (if Beijing were to allow that to happen).

For South Korea, it's a bit different. South Korean businesses use China as a factory floor, but Seoul is often afraid to do things that would cross Beijing, with echoes of that historic Big Brother-Little Brother relationship.

Anyway, it's just more evidence that China is not necessarily the benevolent counterbalance to Washington that some had wished for. I just hope it's not too late to do something about it. Please, ROK conglomerates, consider Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, etc.

Guidelines on how to be a true Seoulite

Over at the Los Angeles Times, writer Hector Tobar lists some rules that designate a true Angeleno* (defined, I guess, as someone who would never do those things "a real Angeleno would never do").

And that got to wondering: what would a similar list look like in regards to Seoul. That is, what are the guidelines on how to be a true Seoulite?

I guess it might include separating your garbage as second nature. Perhaps also turning on your hazard lights when traffic stops up ahead or someone let you into their lane (this is generally true of all Korean drivers, and it's something I miss in Hawaii and California... though that's about all I miss of Korean driving habits).

Using taxis as public transport would be another. And off the top of my head, that's what I've come up with in the Manoa Starbucks.

So have at it: what does a true Seoulite do? (And please, dispense with a list of memes, like a true Seoulite spits on the subway platform or something like that.)

* An Angeleno is someone from Los Angeles. Now who uses that term is open to debate. Those from Los Angeles County probably routinely use the word, though those from the City of Los Angeles proper may cringe at that. If you're from an L.A. County city with its own proud identity — Pasadena, Long Beach, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, etc. — you may also eschew the term. More broadly, some might include those from Ventura County, the Inland Empire, or OCers even though many of those places are an hour or more from Los Angeles. For Orange County, I prefer the term orangelenos. It's not a popular term, however, since I just made it up.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

very cool Seoul time-lapse

Courtesy of Gregory Curley's site (which The Marmot linked to from his very worthwhile photo blog), we have a very cool time-lapse presentation of Seoul, by one Oh Choong-young, set to the iconic Arirang:

It is very well done and has some nicely chosen representative images of the capital. Of course, time-lapse photography can make anything look more dynamic, but this is no false advertising: it really does capture the mood of our fair city.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pyongyang about to release OC man held since last year? (UPDATED)

I'm on Maui now and my only Internet access is via iPhone, so I'm reduced to typing posts with one finger and emailing important news links like this one. [UPDATE: Now back in Honolulu, I'm fixing this post up a tad.]

The conventional wisdom (er... conventional speculation) is that this is a move to secure food aid, but I wonder if Beijing is pressuring Kim Jong-il to stop kidnapping other countries' citizens in their effort to make North Korea "normal."

The link to the story is here.

And Mr Jun Young-su has been released. It will be interesting to hear what he tells us about why he was arrested (the speculation is that it's missionary work — something I guessed from the beginning — but you know how I get when the press lazily speculates about things related to North Korea).

Reuters offers some video:

And we'll have to see what quid pro quo, if any, was given in exchange for Mr Jun's released. Right now North Korea is clamoring for food aid, and the US is balking so far, so that right there may be where this is headed.

According to the Orange County Register, Mr Jun the "OC man" may not really have strong ties to Orange County after all. Apparently he hasn't really lived in OC for the past eight years (which might explain why they've done so little coverage of this story).

Then again, neither have I, for that matter, though it has been my "permanent address" for voting, taxpaying, and driver license purposes for the entire time I've been a Seoul resident. I wonder if My Jun's situation is a bit like that.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kia has Black hamsters; GM has Korean guinea pigs

General Motors will launch its new Cruze5, a hatchback version of the Chevrolet Cruze, in the Korean market. This is another sign of the importance South Korea has in GM's global perspective.

Anyway, kind of a cool-looking car. Sporty hatchbacks seem to be making a comeback even with mid-sized cars. In Europe, Hyundai's flagship Sonata (called an i40 there) will also be available as a hatchback.

The one where Kushibo called it on KJI's China trip

Can I call 'em or what?

Straight from one of the horses' mouth: PRC Premier Wen Jiabao is saying that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's trip to china was about learning how China's economy works, particularly the part of China close to North Korea.

From Bloomberg:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was invited to China to learn about the country’s economic restructuring and use that knowledge to revive his own nation’s shrinking economy, Premier Wen Jiabao said.

Wen made the comments during a meeting with South Korea’s President Lee Myung Bak in Tokyo, where the two leaders held a summit with Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Lee’s office said in a statement on its website. Kim arrived in Yangzhou in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu yesterday on the third day of his trip, Seoul-based Yonhap News reported.
Got that? This is exactly what I said here and here and here: the Dear Leader is being called over to Northeastern China, with an extra leg near Shanghai, to learn about Socialism With Chinese Characteristics so that Kim Jong-il can do the same in the DPRK.

You can't see it right now, but Kushibo is doing a cocky little "I'm right yet again" dance around the dorm room. Well, if you pay $19.95 a month, you could be seeing it.

But it's not about the contrarian Kushibo coming up with the correct analysis yet again while the mainstream media keeps harping on the Kim Jong-un-is-the-next-leader crap. It's about concern that the lazy media in South Korea, the US, and elsewhere are stuck on that one facile note, and it becomes the lens through which they (mis)interpret everything. It really does seem that they're missing the boat on the Kim Who Wasn't There, and thus they're ignoring the real story.

This trip has little to do with Kim Jong-un and everything to do with stepping up the Manchurianization of North Korea.

Meanwhile, Adam Cathcart over at Sinologistical Violoncellist has an interesting post listing twenty-eight things you may have missed about Kim Jong-il's trip to Big Brother China.

Three-way FTA?

The leaders of Japan, South Korea, and China are calling for early conclusion of a free-trade agreement linking the three countries.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Autocrats

North Korea Leadership Watch has a nice roundup of reports that Kim Jong-il's train is headed for Shenyang, with Yonhap speculating that his eventual destination is Beijing.

While he could be headed for the Chinese capital eventually, I think a visit to Shenyang is more keeping in line with what I believe the real purpose of the trip is (outlined here and more recently here): schooling Kim Jong-il (and possibly Kim Jong-un) on Socialism With Northeastern Chinese Characteristics™ as part of Beijing's list of demands to allow any dynastic transition to occur.

KAIST and porn

There's nothing more iconic in the Culture Wars than the rise of porn and the effort to curb the rise of porn (well, other than abortion, prayer in school, acceptance of Muslims by the mainstream, gay marriage, gays in the military, gay-themed television shows, pretty much gays doing anything).

For those who wish to block children from accidentally coming across sexual content when they, say, misspell milk, it's important to screen tens of millions of pictures and videos for boobs, butts, vajayjays, penises, etc., being displayed, inserted, slathered, or otherwise polished.

And according to XBiz Newswire, which is where I go for all my adult entertainment industry news, the good people of KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the MIT of the ROK), have developed a way to more accurately distinguish porn from non-porn using audio files:
Researchers Hoirin Kim and MungJon Kim created spectograms of audio clips using a radon transform to represent the voice, music and sound effects along a parallel path.

Results proved a clear distinction between porn audio, which is high-pitched, quick changing and repetitive, and that found in other forms of media, including music.

When tested across multiple soundtracks, the Kims achieved a 93 percent success rate and believe they have found a way to increase detection rates and lower false positives.

The Kims noted that by using sound, they avoid the problem of visual porn-identifiers (pornifiers) that can get tricked by any expanse of skin, like closeups of the face or other not-inappropriate body parts.
Boy, that must have been a fun research assignment. I'd love a job where I got paid to analyze porn.

This is what you get when you search for
naked+black+woman+pussy with
SafeSearch on. The system works.
I actually applaud this kind of thing, as I am horrified that my young nieces, nephews, and cousins might encounter something way too adult for their impressionable little eyes, especially as society — especially American but increasingly Korean as well — becomes so inured to seeing porn that we forget about the firewall between private activities and public displays or references (what I call the pornification of America).

Anyway, I wonder what gets caught up in the seven percent failure rate. My guess is YouTube videos of pigs snorting or long distance runners, plus church sermons that include a lot of divine praise ("Oh, God!").

I suppose that the next project for "the Kims" (wasn't that just special?) is trying to identify Korean people in porn so they'll know who to arrest.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Take a nuclear disaster, add a few heads-of-state...

South Korean President Lee Myungbak and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao have decided to meet up with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan... in Fukushima.

If you were a headman handler tasked with keeping your leader out of harm's way, where's the last place in Japan that you would suggest for a meet-up? Fuk-u Island.

Yes, I get that they want make "a gesture of solidarity over the ongoing nuclear crisis," but I don't know. The word ongoing is what troubles me. This is starting to sound like the premise to a corny SNL cartoon series.

But is it Hawaii time or Korea time?

Apparently some nutjobs believe the the Rapture is coming at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening, followed by terrible earthquakes in New Zealand. I have preloaded a whole bunch of posts to Blogger, just in case I'm not around. In fact, this is one of them, set to go up at 6:01 p.m., Seoul time. (Get it? Soul time... ha ha!)

During the Rapture, naked people
will float upward. Like this woman,
Roberta Mancino, only in the opposite 

direction. For those watching, it will 
be a rapturous moment indeed.
Could this be why Huckabee decided not to run, and Sarah Palin herself is waiting to announce?

Hmm... before I decide not to pay my bills, I wonder what the Bible says about all this. Let's open it up and see.

Ah, here it is, in Matthew 24, verses 35 and 36...
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
Oh, and 1 Thessalonians 5:2...
"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night."
My goodness. I guess it's a good thing I paid attention in church so I wouldn't be taken in by such heresy.

If you saw a whole bunch of people floating skyward like this,
you're screwed. Really, really screwed.
Get a
zombie kit together pronto. 

UPDATE (May 21, 2011, 7:24 p.m. HST):
We're all still here.

Are you prepared for a zombie attack?

The CDC thinks you should be:
So what do you need to do before zombies…or hurricanes or pandemics for example, actually happen? First of all, you should have an emergency kit in your house. This includes things like water, food, and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp (or in the event of a natural disaster, it will buy you some time until you are able to make your way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored). Below are a few items you should include in your kit, for a full list visit the CDC Emergency page.
I applaud the CDC's efforts to take the threat of zombies seriously. What with prions in the meat supply (Mad Cow Disease), genetically modified food modifying our genes in who knows what ways, and superbugs sitting like ticking time bombs in a lot of people's guts, it's better to be safe than sorry.

I am always chiding "M," who is afraid of cockroaches (with which Oahu is swarming), that if she gets so squeamish around bugs, how is she going to survive a zombie attack? I mean, she's got to toughen up (and possibly learn how to use firearms).

Anyway, whenever she jumps two meters backward at the sight of any creepy-crawly thing with more than four legs, I simply yell, "Zombies!" to her. It's shorthand for the reminder, "How are you going to survive a zombie attack when you're this squeamish at the sight of a bug that can't harm you?!" Gotta love tough love. Just gotta.

Anyhoo, while zombie attacks are a very remote possibility, it just so happens that zombie attack preparedness also makes for good general disaster preparedness. So it's a win-win, really.

Anyway, while I agree with this...
Plan your evacuation route. When zombies are hungry they won’t stop until they get food (i.e., brains), which means you need to get out of town fast! Plan where you would go and multiple routes you would take ahead of time so that the flesh eaters don’t have a chance! This is also helpful when natural disasters strike and you have to take shelter fast.
Free range brains. Braiiiins!
... I'm not so sure that I agree with this:
Pick a meeting place for your family to regroup in case zombies invade your home…or your town evacuates because of a hurricane. Pick one place right outside your home for sudden emergencies and one place outside of your neighborhood in case you are unable to return home right away.
I mean, while meeting right outside the home is good for a fire, earthquake, and some other natural disasters, being out in the open, all vulnerable-like, may not be the most optimal site if zombies are on the prowl. For that matter, perhaps not in a flood either. The "outside the neighborhood" plan might work, but not if it's a school. If I were a zombie, I'd be heading right for the local elementary. Mmmm... veal.

Half-million man mark

This photo is from January 25, 2011, when Orascom chairman Naguib Sawiris met in Pyongyang with Jang Song-thaek and Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, who is looking fat and fit, for whatever that means at his age and in his condition. Jang and Sawiris look totally sloshed; I suspect Kim Jong-il was the designated driver.

Orascom, the Egyptian telecom firm that is responsible for North Korea's cellular phone system, announced that they have reached the half-million mark in number of subscribers.

This is not news to denizens of Monster Island, who have read about Orascom's North Korean (ad)venture several times and have some idea what I think this could mean:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Educating Leader (UPDATED)

Although the WaPo had also reported that Kim Jong-un is the one in China, AP is now saying that it might actually be Kim Jong-il himself (Yonhap has the story here). This doesn't change my theory below: China is acquiescing to preservation of the dynasty only if North Korea goes along with China's plans and ideas, and Beijing will be pushing to make sure Kim Jong-un understands what is expected.

Here is the latest from Yonhap and the LAT. They are saying the original reports had it backwards and it is now kinda sorta confirmed that Kim Jong-il is in China, while they're still wondering if Boy Wonder is with him. Note that the the LAT's picture (shown below) is of the North Korean embassy in Beijing even though the reports indicate that the Dear Leader and/or his son are in the part of China much closer to the DPRK. Very confusing (not to mention sloppy), and I don't understand why they do things like that.

The media, which is largely failing to grasp the on-going story about China's Manchurianization of North Korea, is speculating that this trip "might be a request for food and economic aid," so they are assuming the final destination will be Beijing (and it indeed could be). The LAT's Barbara Demick does seem to have some inkling of what's going on, with her mention of the de facto Chinese takeover of a North Korean island in the Yalu River.

Regarding the confusion of Who's On First right now, the initial reports were not entirely wrong, as they were half right in saying that "it remains to be seen whether he was traveling alone or together with Kim Jong-il," and it turns out KJI is there and KJU himself might be there.

Actually, if L'il L'il Kim is not with Daddy Dearest, it would appear Beijing is less eager to groom Kim Jong-un, which strengthens my theory all along that KJU is being treated by China as The Kim Who Wasn't There and that they are only reluctantly going along with any inkling of a succession only in exchange for major concessions on reform and "minor" concessions on territorial control (see below). And the fact that either one of the Kims is in Northeast China strengthens that overall theory as well.

Just read this below and follow the links and it will all make sense.

This is the LAT's photo for the KJI-in-China story. It's a paramilitary police officer at the North Korean embassy in Beijing, opening a gate for a diplomatic car. Even though KJI is not in Beijing, this is the go-to spot for a photo for the story, which only confuses the reader. KJI is, if reports are correct, not in Beijing but in China's northeastern provinces. This is key because it is those provinces that Beijing is pushing to have North Korea integrated with. It is those provinces' economic reforms that Beijing is modeling for Pyongyang. By the way, I have visited this embassy, back in college. I talked with some North Korean diplomats inside. Nice people, or so it seemed. 

Yonhap is reporting that heir-inapparent Kim Jong-un is in China.

From Yonhap:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's heir apparent son, Kim Jong-un, has been confirmed to be visiting China, a source in a Chinese border city said Friday.

The junior Kim arrived in Tumen, in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin, early Friday morning, but his next destination has yet to be confirmed, the source in Tumen told Yonhap News Agency. The source asked not to be identified, citing the issue's sensitivity.

Security has been tightened considerably in Tumen and areas linking the Chinese city with North Korean border, the source added.

A ranking government official in Seoul said that the North's presumed heir may have certainly arrived in China considering circumstances observed so far, noting he is unlikely to travel to Beijing.
When Beijing summons the leader of its vassal state, it can only mean one thing. The problem is, we usually have to guess at what that one thing is.

The press will likely fall over itself showing how it is yet further evidence that the Young General is solidifying his role as next leader of North Korea...
The trip is widely seen as China's seal of approval for what would mark the communist regime's second hereditary power succession.
... but I, on the other hand, am a bit more skeptical.

As those of you who travel in the alternate universe of Monster Island* know, China is leveraging its tentative support for the Kim Dynasty as a way of solidifying its control over North Korea and its plans to integrate it into China's Northeastern Provinces, what I call the Manchurianization of North Korea.

We've already seen Chinese troops moving into the free-trade zone port of Rajin/Rasŏn to secure a Chinese-controlled outlet on the Sea of Japan. And we are likely witnessing Beijing allowing dynastic rule to continue as long as the Pyongyang regime makes economic reforms, including researching socialism-with Chinese characteristics as well as plain old capitalism.

In exchange for Beijing's continued support, the Pyongyang regime is also being forced to give political and geographic concessions that allow China to meld the future Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region with the provinces of Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang.

And thus it's notable that Kim Jong-un is not headed for Beijing but is instead going no farther than the provinces just beyond the river. No doubt this trip by the younger Kim is meant as a means to educate the future king. We've seen this before and we should expect to see it more and more.

So, in conclusion, it is not a seal of approval. It's driver's ed.

*actually a peninsula

Updating "Our Daily Breadth" blog roll

It's time for a little bit of housekeeping. Some of my favorite blogs and/or blogs I find most useful are listed in Our Daily Breadth, in the right-hand column, down there beneath World Famous Posts. Go take a look. I'll wait. I've got Raising Hope on Hulu, so I'm not going anywhere.

Among them are the usual suspects I routinely check out — The Marmot's Hole, ROK Drop, One Free Korea, Brian in Chŏllanam-do, and KoreaBeat — but the list also includes a few others of less renown that are still worth paying attention to. One of them, List of the Day, has absolutely nothing to do with Korea except for an occasional entry in "engrish photo of the day."

But nothing is constant except change, and so Our Daily Breadth must keep up with the times.

Out with the old.
They say change is good, but they're full of crap. Tell me how "a change for the worse" is good, unless we're talking about Kim Jong-il's pancreas screening or someone like that. A couple of really good blogs were lost today, and I'm not happy.

I find it a bit sad to be removing DPRK Studies, but the only post up, from eight months ago, is a message that blog owner Richardson is signing off. He didn't even leave up the old posts (please, if you ever stop blogging, leave the legacy for others to enjoy.... mkay?).

Now I can't say that Richardson and I saw eye to eye on everything — perhaps only a bit less than Joshua at One Free Korea and I do — but I liked the insight and the effort. It was a good blog.

Similarly, I'm a little disappointed to find that Foundatron appears to be having some hiccups. This is a blog that was dedicated to mapping and bicycling by someone in Seoul, and I put it in the Daily Breadth in part to encourage its development. Unfortunately, it appeared for a while that WordPress bots had taken over, and now it seems the owner is in the process of migrating to Google Apps, but for now I have no choice but to remove it — for now.

Also, Korea Pop Wars, by the eminently good guy Mark Russell, will be removed just because it's no longer updated. I will put his new blog, the not-nearly-as-Korea-related Mark Russell's Website, in the lesser blog roll.

Extra! Korea has come back from the grave, so I'm happy to keep that one up there. The Grand Narrative will also remain, even though I don't go there as often as I used to. I like the blog and I think the owner has great insight and everything, but it often tends more toward the salacious than the substantive, and I think it suffers. The "sociological image" series, methinks, has veered away from sociology of the people and is at times more akin to analysis of the advertising industry.

Sure, media images from commercials and pop music do affect what goes on in Korea or any other modern society, but if one were to get most of what they learn from TGN, I think they'd get a skewed picture of what everyday South Koreans are like, perhaps even on matters of dating and sexuality that the owner frequently discusses. Just a gripe, not a criticism; I do like the blog and I'm keeping it in Our Daily Breadth, so that obviously means something.

And Brian in Jeollanam-do stays, even though he's not actually in Chŏllanam-do anymore. He does maintain his blog, and his love of the region (some would say tough love) remains high. He's probably the Honam area's biggest promoter in English, and I say more power to him.

In Canada, this is how we do ddongchim
You must understand our culture.
Exposed Waygooks! will also remain, just because it's my blog and I do plan to upgrade it, especially after this summer when I plan to cruise Hongdae and Itaewon looking for oégugin and KoKos acting stupid. Or if someone sends me worthy pics.

In with the new.
But I am happy to add new additions as well. Chris at Destination Pyongyang deserves a spot for his analysis of what's going on in North Korea, a topic dear to me.

I have also recently discovered a blog of sorts that amounts to a robust newsfeed on North Korea where the owner, a peninsula-based gent named Tor, occasionally adds commentary. It's called northkorea.Collected, kinda self-explanatory.

I have also added The Chosun Bimbo, Adam Cathcart's blog, and Eat Your Kimchi to my "Blog roll of blogs that list me in their blog roll." I probably should have done that a long time ago. [UPDATE: I've made a further addition, seoulsuzy's A Seoulful Life, which has a lot of neat little personal tips on things to see and places to go.]

Some have asked me why I don't put such-and-such blog on the list. Well, there are some who go on hysterical rants that make sweeping generalizations about KoKos and their attitudes toward foreign residents while whining over and over again that KoKos make sweeping generalizations about foreign nationals. Sheesh. And then there are some where, owing to past uncalled-for acts that caused personal offense, I don't see myself regularly promoting the blogs of said bloggers, even if I occasionally comment on or even occasionally link to theirs and would share a brew of some kind if the opportunity presented itself.

Room for one more.
If you have a blog and you would like me to consider highlighting it, please drop me a line. Even if it doesn't make the eclectic cut for Our Daily Breadth, there is probably plenty of room in the only-slightly-less-prestigious "Blog roll of blogs that list me in their blog roll."

That is, unless you're doing something illegal, unethical, or overly weird, like koala porn.

Pyongchang a frontrunner in the 2018 Winter Olympics bidding process?

According to AP (via WaPo), Pyongchang (p'yŏng•ch'ang, aka Pyeongchang) and Munich are the favorites in the run-up to the July 6 vote:
The two days of meetings with IOC members consolidated Pyeongchang’s longtime status as the city to beat, but also provided Munich a tangible boost as a serious challenger and gave Annecy hope to believe it still has a chance.

“The French are working well and trying hard, but I think very honestly it will be between Germany and Korea,” Swiss IOC executive board member Rene Fasel told The Associated Press.

Another senior board member, Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, agreed.

“I think this one is a close race between the top two,” he told the AP.

Fasel said there is “no question” that Pyeongchang remains the favorite. The South Koreans, bidding for a third consecutive time after narrow defeats for the 2010 and 2014 Games, are pushing the case of taking the Olympics to a new winter sports market in Asia.

“I don’t think it’s that easy,” said Gerhard Heiberg, an executive board member from Norway. “It’s closer than what people say.”
Let's hope Kim Yuna can charm off the ice as well as on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

K.C. Choi donating $200K of his winnings to US tornado victims

One golf writer is holding out South Korea's K.C. Choi and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa as examples of "class act" athletes who area a stark contrast with their greedy counterparts others sports, notably the NFL.

While Mr Choi, who now resides in Texas, is donating a huge chunk of change to Americans in the South, where hundreds have been killed by freak tornadoes, Mr Ishikawa is donating his entire year's earnings to victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

While I think Messieurs Choi and Ishikawa deserve our admiration, I don't know how fair it is to bash NFL players. After all, their sport is far more grueling, which means (to me at least) that they have a much greater chance of career-ending injury, debilitation, and even death (concussions are a huge issue).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A lazy day on the windward side

We are winding our way from Kaneohe to Waimea Bay. We may take in a movie in Kaneohe on the way back. Any suggestions?

This spot is Kualoa Beach Park, not far from the oft films Kualoa Ranch.

After a hike up to Waimea Falls, site of a couple scenes on Lost, and then jumping off the rock a couple times at nearby Waimea Bay, we saw Bridesmaids. It was pretty funny. Nice to see SNL's Kristen Wiig given a chance to try out a starring role.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

And now it's the Democrats' turn to hold up the KORUS FTA

The Obama administration, which had sought to push through the Korea-US free-trade agreement by itself, wasn't terribly happy when the Republicans in Congress insisted on an all-or-none deal with the Panama-US and Colombia-US trade deals.

The KORUS FTA was a tough enough sell for the Democrats, whose union supporters worry more about a flood of Korean goods coming to America than the opportunity to sell more American goods to South Koreans. But suck it up they did.

With Colombia and Panama, where wages are far less than in South Korea, it may be tougher to get the unions to bite. And true to his relationship with Big Labor and his support of their interests, President Obama has said he will not seek Congressional approval of the three free trade agreements until Republicans agree to his demands to expand assistance for American workers who might lose jobs as a result.

From the New York Times:
President Obama has made the three deals a focus of his foreign and economic policy, but the Monday ultimatum reflects the political difficulty of advancing the deals in the face of high unemployment and opposition from parts of the Democratic base.

“This administration believes that just as we should be excited about the prospect of selling more of what we make around the world, we have to be equally firm about keeping faith with America’s workers,” said Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative.
While these deals may be good in the aggregate, there are some folks who are hurt far more, in the form of job losses that never come back, than they are helped with cheaper and/or better quality goods. While Obama's position may be pandering to a base he needs to come out in full force in November 2012, I'd like to think it's a good thing to be helping people get back on their feet if in fact they do lose their jobs as a result.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Coffee Gallery

This us a neat little coffee shop in North Shore's historic Haleiwa. We figured it was a nice change of pace from Starbucks or CBTL to do our work.

We also hit Macky's Shrimp Truck and chatted with several South Korean newlyweds over garlic shrimp voted best on the island.

It's a good day.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I have issues!... I'm Korean!

And that's the story of half the people I know. [rimshot]

Um, anyway, here's the political ad at the center of one of the first pander bear sightings of the new political season:

The ad is funny for its SNL-parody-style quality to it. But the more you watch it, the more, well, unfunny it becomes. It's pandering to minorities ("My wife is Korean!") instead of addressing issues that may face them. The guy's would-be district is 15% Asian... okay, so what does that mean exactly?

Anyway, what's even more sorta-borderline-offensive about it is that they seem to have taken their casting/ambience clues from CSI:Koreantown, what with the guy whose street cred isn't enough just looking Asian and having an Asian woman hanging onto him... instead he has to show how Asian he truly is by having his Kanji tats visible with his unbuttoned shirt. Because Chinese character tattoos are de rigueur for Hollywood-style representations. (I certainly hope his Robert Park-style long hair doesn't become a thing. That 'do is a don't.)

And of course the woman runs a dry cleaners. God forbid a Korean immigrant might be depicted as a retiree or a church secretary or something normal that lots of "I'm a Korean"s do.

This is being discussed over at The Marmot's Hole and ROK Drop, where some have questioned whether the "I'm a Korean" ajumma is really Korean, being as how her hair was not permed into a spherical brillo pad monstrosity.

Perhaps they've been thrown off by the kyopo pensioner not being acted by June Kyoko Lu...

... who portrays 82.6% of all depictions of Korean ajumma or halmŏni on television and film. It's in her contract.

A few also suggested that had Republicans run this ad, the Dems would be all over it. Well, the left (as represented by the Huffington Post) thought it was pretty wrong and "borderline racist." Someone from thinkprogress.org was "stunned into speechlessness."

At any rate, this mensch probably did exactly what he set out to do: Dan Adler got people talking about his campaign where he was running #3. We'll have to wait for the primary on May 17 to see if there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

Anyway, a HT to Wangkon. He alerted me to this well before it became a national meme, at which time I would have blogged it and given him credit, but Blogger was clogger at the time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

North Korea has abducted 180,000 people over the past several decades?

We all know about the abductions of dozens of Japanese and hundreds if not thousands of South Koreans, but a report by a US-based rights group says the real numbers go much further, with far more countries affected.

From BBC:
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says more than 180,000 people from 14 countries have been taken. The vast majority of these cases are not typical abductions.

They involve prisoners not returned after the 1950-53 Korean War and Japanese who settled in North Korea but were never allowed home.

Other reports highlight North Korea's foreign operations - including a Japanese college student and his girlfriend snatched from a beach in Japan by North Korean agents.

The figure includes more than 3,000 South Korean fishermen forcibly towed into North Korean waters and students in European cities - including London, it says - lured to the secretive state with the promise of jobs and then denied permission to leave.

In one such case at a London language school in 1983, a North Korean agent, Megumi Yao, was operating undercover, targeting Japanese students for abduction.

She promised them good jobs in North Korea, and introduced one of the students to her contacts in Denmark. A few weeks later, the student boarded a flight to Pyongyang and disappeared.
Not to make light of such situations, if true, but it would be hella hard to pull a midnight run in North Korea.

Who in their right mind would go to North Korea, you ask? Lots, potentially. I mean, nowadays English teaching in global backwaters is Xtreme Working for the college set, and I can imagine more than a few wanderlusters tired of the daily grind back in Seattle, Saskatoon, or Sheffield heading for Sariwon, only to find that the DPRK is one big Hotel California.

Among people I know personally, I've heard some of the adventure seekers — including my ex — say they'd consider teaching English in the Great Fright North, but this report, if true, would certainly make me think twice. (I myself had thought it would be interesting to temporarily teach public health at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology once I'm done with my grad studies.)

Then again, is a lack of regular Internet access being chalked up to an "abduction"?

Perhaps the most dire claim (and most believable, as in you'd better believe it) is this:
Some abductions, they say, are apparently a bid to train its intelligence agents, but the report also cites more recent claims that North Korean agents are targeting those in China's border areas who are suspected of helping their people escape the closed state.
Indeed, this is one more reason my hat is off to those people — often driven by religious conviction — who risk their safety, their freedom, and sometimes their lives to ferry people out of North Korea.

If some messianic would-be Moses like Robert Park or Aijalon Mahli Gomes really wants to do something worthwhile instead of setting oneself up as a bargaining chip, go and do that.

But cut your hair first (@Robert Park, because seriously you look like a Myŏngdong street preacher circa 1986).

Or grow some (@Aijalon Mahli Gomes).

Whoops. Too far.

Blogger down and crawling its way back up,
More news on Seoul Station attack

I do not know what was up with that, but for most of the day yesterday it was impossible to post anything. Also my user name temporarily changed, as did my location.

Anyway, it appears to be up. While I'm obviously able to post this right now, my most recent posts, including lengthy one I wrote about the explosion of gas bombs that occurred at Seoul Station and Kangnam Express Bus Terminal, has dissipated into the ether (Blogger says they're aware of that and working on it). I guess it could be worse: Brian in Chŏllanam-do appears to have lost all but one post over the last month (I kid! I kid! Enjoy Pennsylvania with your new bride! I have no social life.).

Meanwhile, we're getting police reports that authorities believe the devices were set up by a disgruntled attention-seeker (i.e., the "Namdaemun model"), which was one of three possibilities I'd assumed. (The other two being a hastily planned terror attack in the wake of Osama bin Laden's sudden demise and North Korean fifth columnists; I made a better case for them in the longer post).

From the Joongang Daily:
Seoul police said yesterday that the explosives that went off in Seoul Station and the Express Bus Terminal on Thursday were homemade devices that could be made with a “high-school grasp” of knowledge and that the parts used could easily be bought at large supermarkets.

“Based on our experts’ opinions, we feel that the suspect does not have professional knowledge of explosives and we strongly believe that this was a person who had ill feelings against society or wanted attention,” said Lee Sang-jeong of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. “After analyzing the evidence found, the brands of the hiking backpack and timer batteries from the two locations matched.”
The JAD article then goes on to tell you exactly how to make such a device. You know, just in case you are a disgruntled attention-seeker who decides to take it out on my 'hood.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seoul Station "bombing"

This is quite disturbing news. Apparently a "bomb" of sorts went off in a locker at Seoul Station, followed by a similar attack at the Kangnam Express Bus Terminal half an hour later.

From Yonhap:
A string of explosions involving what appeared to be butane gas occurred at Seoul's two major transportation hubs Thursday, prompting police to launch a terrorism probe.

No one was hurt or killed in the explosions at Seoul Station in the central part of the capital and Seoul Express Bus Terminal in southern part of the city, police said.

The explosives appeared to be homemade and had been placed inside lockers set up at the train and bus stations for public use, the police said. The explosions occurred about half an hour apart.

The police have evacuated the areas and are tracing a man who they said was seen on a surveillance camera putting a package inside the locker at Seoul Station. Only the explosives at the express bus terminal went off with a boom, they said.
The last part has me a tad confused: the Seoul Station device "exploded" but didn't "go off with a boom"? The Chosun Ilbo described the device as having wires and said no one has taken responsibility for the attack.

This has me a little rattled. As you all know, my home is about half a click from Seoul Station, and I go there quite frequently. With so many people milling around, it would seem an easy target, but people can be pretty diligent about detecting things that don't belong there; it's no wonder the attacker chose to place these things in a locker, but that necessarily mitigates the effects of a smaller explosive device like this.

Obviously the big question is who did this. There's the possibility that this is a forward planning-related attack by a North Korean group or their fifth column operatives. Think that sounds crazy? Well, a few years ago, it would've seemed a bit out of left field (ha ha!) but after the North Koreans attacked Yŏnpyŏng-do Island and killed civilians, all bets are off in terms of non-military targets and casualties. Remember, this is a regime that may be in its death throes, so who knows what they're capable of doing.

Of course, it's just as likely that this was some home-grown, garden-variety, attention-seeking sociopath. South Korea has seen the Taegu subway arsonist (massive death toll!) and the Namdaemun arsonist, so why not this? Of course, this doesn't quite fit that pattern, though. It is a bit too complex to be a sociopath's onanistic act in that there were two attacks in two separate locations: setting up the second means you can't stick around to experience the first. No, indeed this seems a bit more like it was done for political aims rather than maniacal sociopathic purposes.

So close to the killing of Osama bin Laden, one also wonders if this was a hastily prepared attack meant as retaliation. Yes, as a close ally of the United States, and one that sends so many Christian missionaries abroad (many of them the charity worker type, not just Bible-thumping proselytizers), the ROK is on al Qaeda's radar. In fact, it was one week ago that the Chosun Ilbo carried warnings that South Koreans need to be wary of heightened terror threats.

It's entirely possible that there is a nascent al Qaeda cell here, perhaps acting independently, and they threw together what they could for a last-minute attack. It's also plausible that this may additionally be a test run for something else, a way of gauging Seoul Station's Kangnam Express Bus Terminal's security measures and their response.

Whoever it is, I hope the authorities take this very seriously. Violent and murderous sociopaths need to be locked up — the Namdaemun arsonist had been released after other devious attempts — or else they will keep trying stuff. If it's something from the North, it's time to take seriously the violent faction within the chinboistas and the fifth column who do occasionally resort to murder and mayhem (though it's been a while since we've had an assassination).

And for goodness sake, if it turns out to be foreign bombers, don't respond with a cultural campaign — "Train station bombings are commonplace in many other countries, but they are considered socially unacceptable in Korea. Please refrain from this type of activity during your stay and you'll have a much more enjoyable time with the locals." Indeed, suggesting they try soju and samgyŏpsal might just set them off.

And for goodness sake, whatever you do, don't use this as an excuse for more background checks for English teachers. They've gone through enough as it is.

All right. Now go catch the bastard(s).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

To feed or not to feed

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations blog, Scott Snyder has an interesting overview of the debate over whether to provide food aid to North Korea.

US senators want to halt USFK's move to Pyongtaek?

From AFP:
The US military is also looking to consolidate dozens of bases around South Korea into two hubs -- Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Seoul, and Daegu, 300 kilometers (180 miles) southeast of the capital.

The move would allow US forces to leave their huge Yongsan base in Seoul, which was set up for the 1950-53 Korean War but now lies in the heart of the developed and densely populated city, leading to frictions with residents.

But the senators called for a halt, saying there was not enough clarity on who would pick up rising costs at Pyeongtaek where the US military wants to start shifting troops next year.

The senators also questioned the Pentagon's plan to allow more of the 28,500 US troops based in South Korea to bring families.

"There is an inherent contradiction in planning to increase the number of US military family members in South Korea when there is the real potential that a destabilizing security situation in North Korea could unfold rapidly and unpredictably," Webb said.
Honestly, this sounds a bit like some senators are shooting their mouth off because they have to say something.

If one values a US military presence in South Korea (and I definitely am one of them) then they have to go somewhere. But keeping them smack in the middle of the capital is no longer tenable. The move to Pyongtaek has been in motion and it will probably end up costing more in political capital and actual money if it were halted now.

As for Japan, I'm not as certain of the situation there, but I do think it is important for stability in the region for US Forces Japan to maintain a strong presence. They do not need to all be on Okinawa, but moving them all to Guam, a tiny island whose inhabitants are also chafing from the US military dominating much of the territory, is almost a nonstarter.

How about this for a proposal? Much of Japan is losing population, with many parts of the countryside emptying out as people move to the cities for economic opportunities or the elderly die off. Maybe it would be a boon to one or more of these areas if the bases formerly on Okinawa moved nearby. The land is there and there might be some folks who want jobs close to home.

Of course, my plan might be just as full of crap as Senator Webb's.

Who wore it best?
Osama versus Obama

Osama may be sleeping with the fishes (quite literally in fact), but that doesn't mean his fashion sense can't still have import.

So Monster Island poses the question: who rocked the keffiyeh better, Osama or Obama? (If you're still getting the two similar names mixed up, recall that the s in Osama stands for Saudi, while the b in Obama stands for born in Hawaii.)

So pick one:
  • Osama? More like Awesome-a!
  • Rock it, Barack! 

Eddie Jun stuck in North Korea but "well cared for"

Remember Eddie Jun, aka Youngsu Jun? His family sure does.

If you don't, here's a refresher: he's the Orange County kyopo who ended up getting arrested while in North Korea, for some crime he has confessed to but which has still not been specified to the rest of the world. Some had hoped that "The Elder" Jimmy Carter would be able to secure Mr Jun's release from the Pyongyang Palazzo, but President Peanut was snubbed.

Mr Jun remains in North Korea, but we get word that he is being treated okay and has even been allowed contact with his family:
The U.S. government says that an American detained by North Korea since November is being well cared for and has been permitted to speak to his family by phone.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday Swedish diplomats have visited Eddie Jun six times since March and were continuing at U.S. request to ask for regular consular access.

Sweden looks after U.S. interests in the communist state.

Toner called for Jun's immediate release on humanitarian grounds so he can be reunited with his family.
The literal message is that traipsing
into North Korea isn't very bright.
I'd really like to know what he was arrested for. Given his religious background, it could be anything from helping ferry North Koreans out of the DPRK and the PRC, to proselytizing and/or passing out religious materials, to helping spread discontent about the Pyongyang regime. And any of those could mean big trouble if he's convicted (which is likely).

Sure, the US eventually released Evan Hunziker, Robert Park, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, Laura Ling, and Euna Lee, but not until after a lot of hemming and hawing and perhaps some backroom quid pro quo (e.g., a favorite topic of Joshua at One Free Korea: not putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terror).

If this doesn't scream, "Stay the #+¢& away!" then I can't help you.

Well, despite my public proclamations about the foolishness of Americans publicly and purposefully going into North Korea without permission and the danger it puts on everyday North Koreans trying to escape or the way it ties the hands of Washington and its allies, I do hope and pray that Mr Jun is okay and continues to be okay. (And I add: we don't know yet why he was nabbed.)

If he's already staying at whatever villa is being used as the Pyongyang Palazzo and he's being seen by the Swedes and even allowed to call California, I'm not too terribly worried for Mr Jun's safety right now. Euna Lee and particularly Laura Ling were physically harmed during their ordeal, but this was almost entirely during their capture when they escaped back into Chinese territory. After they were in custody they were placed in a darkened room with no access to hot water, a form of torture DPRK citizens call "being in North Korea."

On the other hand, if he is actually convicted, things could be different. Though he would likely be released, the difference between Mr Jun and most of the others is that he is a full-blooded ethnic Korean and a male, and therefore with few mitigating excuses to release him.

So far only Robert Park fit that description, and I think the Pyongyang authorities quickly realized he was a nutjob and wanted to get rid of him. It helped things along that Robert Park cracked and told the KCNA everything they wanted to hear. People can be very magnanimous after a propaganda victory.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Will the Bulldozer ram it through?

The sign our traditionally dressed National Assemblyman Kang Gigap
is holding expresses opposition to the Korea-EU FTA.

Over at the Wall Street Journal blog, Evan Ramstad wonders if the ruling GNP (Grand National Party) will take advantage of its majority to simply ram through the pending US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) and the North Korea Human Rights Act?

If they don't get cooperation from the Democratic Party, that's just what they might do, and Mr Ramstad argues it might not be in the DP's interest to abstain:
The Democratic Party joined other left-leaning, opposition parties in abstaining from Wednesday’s vote on the EU FTA. That was portrayed in the South Korean media as a maneuver by DP chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, who got elected to the parliament in last week’s by-election, to curry favor with the smaller parties to support him for a presidential run next year.

But some in the DP instantly regretted the decision because the GNP passed the FTA without taking up assistance measures for farmers and retailers that the DP was pushing. Previously, the two parties had agreed that the GNP would support the DP’s assistance measures in return for the DP’s support on the overall ratification.
In general I support free trade, but I have qualms about people being overrun when the floodgates are open to new competition, so I kinda like the idea of this joint GNP-DP approach as a way to allow the inevitable in a way that makes things smoother. Supposedly.

I'd also like to see passage of the KORUS FTA without a hitch too many hitches.

And speaking of the NKHRA, the Joongang Daily has a good op-ed on it here. They also have a short but interesting article on the 101 North Koreans who have resettled in the United States.

Islands in the stream

View Larger Map

And the Manchurianization of North Korea continues. Now we have word that the two close-as-lips-and-teeth neighbors will work on co-developing Wihwa-do, an island in the river that makes up the western half of their common border (the Yalu in English and Chinese, the Amnok-kang in Korean):
The two countries plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on May 28 for development of the island on the Yalu River, the South's Yonhap news agency said.

Pyongyang has reportedly worked out a special law to set up a free trade zone on the island, which is separated by a narrow waterway from the Chinese city of Dandong.

The North's state media disclosed a deal last year to build a new cross-border bridge on the Yalu River as part of a major economic package announced by Beijing.

The two sides have agreed to turn the island into a base for logistics, tourism and manufacturing that would be linked to China's industrial complex to be built in Dandong, Yonhap said.
At the end of 2010, the Chosun Ilbo reported on discussions between Pyongyang and Beijing over control of the island, which abuts the Chinese city of Dandong. The Pyongyang regime may have wanted it hermetically sealed from the rest of North Korea (e.g., through a bridge directly from Dandong to the island) but the Chinese, who seem hell-bent on forcing North Korea out of its shell, wanted the bridge to go through southern Shinuiju so that people going to Wihwa-do would have to drive past a bunch of North Koreans.

And then there was also the matter of a lease. Pyongyang offered fifty years and the Beijing balked, so North Korea offered a 100-year lease. Just great: North Korea is giving up pieces of its territory to the Chinese (as in Rasŏn, where Chinese troops are stationed), so when/if unification does happen, there might not be any North Korea left.