Monday, September 26, 2011

The Seoul Place Name Project

Call me crazy, but sometimes I think Seoul needs to be a bit more like Hong Kong, or even London. Bear with me a little while I explain.

I sometimes take my Korean skills* for granted living in Korea, until I meet someone like my ex who speaks little Korean and has a struggle getting beyond any basic task outside of Itaewon. While her lack of Korean skills are understandable up to a point (there is little pressure for anglophones in Seoul to learn Korean, and there are surprisingly few affordable and effective classroom resources in which to do so), it is sad that she and others like her are missing so much.

And I'm not just talking about ease and convenience in day-to-day tasks; it's also the discovery of pleasurable tidbits for the brain. To me with my modest knowledge** of hantcha (Chinese characters used in Korean), some of the place names sing with a kind of sweet poetry. That is, many of the places have names with a real meaning beyond something-something-ku, this-dong, or that-ri. For those who don't speak much Korean, maybe Seoul and other Korean locations could benefit with a colorfully evocative English name, akin to the colorful or descriptive place names common in Hong Kong, like Causeway Bay, Prince Edward, North Point, Diamond Hill, Little Whinging, etc. Its Londonesque names are definitely a whiff of Hong Kong's century and a half of British influence.

Some would be more obvious than others. Using literal or slightly altered versions of the meanings, nudged along with a little of each name's history, Yongsan-gu would be Dragon Hill, Chung-gu could be Central City, and Chongno (Jongno) can be Bell Street. Tongdaemun-gu (Dongdaemun) would be East Gate and Sŏdaemun-gu (Seodaemun) would be West Gate, even though the actual gate has long since disappeared.

(a real place, but not in Seoul)

Kangnam (Gangnam) could be a more literal "River South" or "South River," but perhaps also "South Bank" or "South Han." The problem with that is that while Kangdong (Gangdong) would be East Bank and Kangbuk would be North Bank, that makes Kangsŏ (Gangseo) "West Bank." Just that one, we'll call West River.

How about Nowon-gu (蘆原區)? A name that sounds in English like not a single soul is there actually is formed from the Chinese characters for reeds and rushes (蘆) and prairie, meadow, or plain (原). How pleasant it would be to reside on that rocky peak-abutting plain and pass a "Welcome to" sign that says Reed Meadow (just below "Nowon-gu," in English).

No, I'm not crazy. I think such things incline people to discover the roots of where they live and give them ownership over their locale. Much of Seoul was once little tiny rural villages, even just a hundred years ago, and they have a history. Hong•ŭn-dong (Hong-eun), for example gets its name (弘恩) from when the king told women who had been taken by the Mongols (and thus disgraced) that they could regain their honor by washing away their disgrace in the river there, or so I've been told. The name literally means Great Mercy or Great Charity, which could be a fitting name for the neighborhood in English as well. Sure, having names that sound like you're in some odd version of the English countryside might curb some anglophones' desire or need to learn Korean even further than now, but a name like "Great Mercy" might pique the interest of some just enough to try to learn about the period in question.

Of course, we'd have to take poetic license with some of them. The second character in Mapo (麻浦) means shore or beach (since it's along the river), but the first one can be flax, sesame, or even hemp. Though I grind up fresh flaxseed and mix it in with my oatmeal every day, flax just sounds too close to flatulent to be a pleasant-sounding place name. Though the appropriate name would depend on which kind of ma is meant by Mapo, for now I think Sesame Beach or Sesame Shores has a nice ring. Frankly, "Hemp Beach" might attract the wrong kind of people.

* I have virtually no formal training in Korean, as I obtained my Korean skills from early on, listening to friends and family speak and then by being immersed in the language while in Seoul. I am not "fluent" in Korean, and would instead label myself "highly functional." That is, I can adeptly handle, completely on my own if armed with a dictionary, virtually any task I need to in daily life, even complicated things like obtaining a bank loan, including reading a bank loan contract, though I would have to muddle through it by looking up an occasional word. In a complex work situation, I can follow most of what is being said and express what I mean to say as well. Do not get the impression I am bragging about my Korean skills, for it is the opposite: my lack of high-level fluency after having lived in Korea for a total of around fifteen years, on and off since I was a teenager, represents a failing on my part, a testament to my general laziness and lack of drive to go beyond what I need.

** As for Chinese characters, about ten years ago, I tested myself with a Japanese kanji book and I could at that time write 100 and read about 300. However, I have a knowledge of several more hundred characters' pronunciation as word blocks in Korean, even if I am unable to recognize them in their Sinicized form. Again, that I am so piss-poor at hantcha is a personal shortcoming on my part. 

... Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A trip down memory lane

Remember back in 2002, when we had the World Cup, and everybody was just hoping Korea Republic would at least get off the ground floor, just win at least one match in actual World Cup play, maybe if we're lucky we'd move on to the next round? And remember how Korea Republic kept winning, and winning, and it was like, ohmigod, can you believe how well we're doing, and Korea Republic kept pulling these amazing victories out of thin air, and we made it all the way to the semifinals?

And remember how some of the wins were actually pretty controversial, and some people say that Korea Republic didn't really deserve them, like that one against Italia, where they were eliminated after some calls that maybe kinda sorta perhaps could have gone the other way, but the referee stood by his calls, and Korea Republic went on while Italia went home muttering about unfair officiating? Remember all that?

That ref has been sentenced to 2½ years in prison on heroin-smuggling charges.

... Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 23, 2011

Falun gone...

The ROK government, cowering like Gollum in the face of China, has decided to deport ten Falun Gong adherents, which has prompted protests like the one above.

I've seen their small protests in front of the Central Post Office in the Myŏngdong district of Seoul, but I never realized they had numbers like this. Nor did I realize they were all band geeks.

Anyway, my prayers go out to those who have been forcibly returned to the PRC. I'm sorta on the fence about how I feel about Falun Gong, but I think it's pretty clear they are persecuted in China and face hardships if they are compelled to return.

... Sphere: Related Content

South Korea still has fastest download speeds

That's what's being reported in AFP:
The United States placed just 26th in the analysis of the speed of worldwide Internet connections conducted by Pando Networks.

The average download speed in South Korea was 2,202 kilobytes per second, Pando said, with Romania (1,909 KBps), Bulgaria (1,611 KBps), Lithuania (1,462 KBps and Latvia (1,377 KBps) rounding out the top five.

Japan was next at 1,364 KBps, followed by Sweden (1,234 KBps), Ukraine (1,190 KBps), Denmark (1,020 KBps) and Hong Kong (992 KBps).

The average download speed in the United States was 606 KBps, slightly better than the worldwide average of 580 KBps, Pando said.
Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Latvia, eh? I woulda thought they'd be more concerned with upload speeds, if you catch my meaning.

Anyway, sad to see that the US's speed is barely one-fourth that of South Korea. I guess that would explain why writing this post took three days.

... Sphere: Related Content

Unemployment at three-year low

Not to jinx it or anything, but the economy in South Korea is humming along, despite a global downturn and a recent drop in the value of the won.

Unemployment has dropped to only 3.1 percent. I would say that's only about one-third that of the US, but I suspect a slight apples-and-oranges approach to data collection. I will say that it's much better than my immediate household, where unemployment has remained at a daunting 100 percent since 2010.

... Sphere: Related Content

stem cell hub of meccas

Well, it looks like those who thought that Korea could move past the failings of Hwang Woosuk and still build a thriving industry around stem-cell research may be right: well-known NFL football player Terrell Owens is in South Korea trying to get his knee fixed.

... Sphere: Related Content

Big business in Korea oppose carbon-trading law

This is hardly a surprise. It will be a costly endeavor and the brunt of that will be borne by the companies themselves.

But frankly, I'd like them to have their feet to the fire so they'll keep cleaning up the air.

A little less carbon-making, a little more action please. All this air pollution ain't satisfactioning me.

... Sphere: Related Content

Samsung seeking revenge on Apple?

And they may end up doing it by blocking sales of the upcoming iPhone 5 (or iPhone 4s) in Europe. A similar effort is supposedly underway in South Korea itself*. All this is apparently tit-for-tat retaliation for Apple blocking Samsung from selling a certain phone in Germany.

Make it stop! Make it stop!

* How many words will the resulting Metropolitician post be? 0 to 2000? 2000 to 5000? 5000 to 100,000? Over 100,000? 

... Sphere: Related Content

CSM on ROK naval base on Chejudo

The Christian Science Monitor has a report on the major confrontations occurring on Cheju-do, over the ROK military's plans to build a naval base there that will allow South Korea to project its growing naval power to the region and perhaps strengthen its alliance with the US and even Japan.

If you're a regular reader, you already know my thoughts.

... Sphere: Related Content

President Lee says gas pipeline through North Korea a win-win

And by that he means that the Pyongyang regime wins if they cooperate and keep it running, and they win if they go all high-jinks brinksmanship on Seoul by shutting it off.

Nah, just kidding. Here's what he really said.

But seriously, this can not end well.

... Sphere: Related Content

Things invented in Korea: An incomplete list

  • ondol, under-floor heating
  • seedless watermelon (or not)
  • kyopo angst
  • kayagŭm
  • some of the stem cell technology

... Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Netflix to compete with... Netflix
(OR: Hasty Hastings)

I remember before the 1997-98 Asian financial meltdown (known locally as "the IMF Era"), a time when many Korean corporations foisted upon us whatever the heck they wanted us to buy, irrespective of whether it was ready for primetime and worth the money we, their captive audience, had to pay in the trade-protective South Korea of that time.

It was as if the various chaebol were working off of Dana Carvey's "Grumpy Old Man" character on Saturday Night Live: you're going to pay high prices for low quality, and you'll like it! (Um, we were the Grumpy Old Men who accepted our fate in this analogy that I'm beginning to realize was ill-conceived, and the chaebol were making us Grumpy Old Men who accepted our fate... Um, just pretend you never read this paragraph, and don't watch the video.)



I was reminded of late-20th century Corporate Korea's ham-handed and tight-fisted approach to the goods- and services-buying hoi polloi when I read the latest in the possibly suicidal public relations fiasco that is unfolding at Netflix.

In this 2010 post, I explained why I had earlier switched from Blockbuster to Netflix, largely a protest when Blockbuster no longer let me turn my mail-in movies at one of their brick-and-mortar stores in exchange for a new (and free) DVD to watch while I waited for the next to be mailed in. Netflix enticed me with their budding online service. As its offerings grew, so did my love for this service.

The problem is, everybody loved this service, which was only $2 more than the basic service of DVDs-only. Ultimately, Netflix decided it was unsustainable and they announced in July that henceforth (from September) the mail-in DVD service and the online streaming service would be separate services on your bill: $8 for either or $16 for both. This was a 60% markup for those who had been enjoying both at $10.

The cinemaphilic masses were ready to revolt. Many complained that they were going to quit Netflix altogether in protest (but like me with Blockbuster, they would realize they had few options). When Netflix lost the rights to stream Starz, many rightfully complained that they would be paying more money for less service.

But I decided to stick it out. I like Netflix on my iPhone (I also have a Hulu+ subscription, also $8), and between the two, it makes up for not having cable (there's no app for that).

But then came yesterday's email from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (a copy of which can be found here, though it lacks the personalized "Dear Kushibo" right before "I messed up" and "I owe you an explanation," which was changed in the blog to "I owe everyone an explanation").

In a nutshell, Mr Hastings said that he did a poor job of explaining to all the Netflix customers why they were raising the prices sixty percent, going into some detail about how DVD mail-ins and streaming services were very different services and the latter never really worked at $2 a month add-on. Please understand.

So far, so good. You had me at hello. Yadda yadda yadda. Yes, despite being a starving grad student on a shoestring budget, I got where they were coming from. I accepted it. It was merely the cost of three cups of brew coffee at Starbucks or Coffee Bean which I probably shouldn't drink anyway because I tend to add too much sugar... so they were kinda sorta doing me a favor.

But then I got to the second half of the letter:
So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.

It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, but now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated.
Okay, so let's get this straight. We raised price because we had no choice, and then the public revolted because they didn't understand. So to make them understand, we're going to add insult to injury by splitting this more expensive service into two different websites, thereby stripping the service of the convenience of being able to coordinate your movie-watching preferences between mail-in and online.

Whiskey tango frack! Are they now daring us to stay with Netflix?! The ability to so easily choose mail-in when something is not available through online streaming, or vice-versa, is one of the greatest things about Netflix. I'm sure they have sound technical reasons for splitting them in two, but this is being penny wise and pound foolish: I'm sure there are a lot of people who have just decided to write them off.

Let's say I want to watch the movie Poetry (Shi in Korean). Right now, I go to netflix.com and look it up and see if it's there. Oh, lucky me, I can watch it online. If it weren't available online, I'd probably add it to my queue. But if the two are split, then I'd go to the online service first (still netflix.com) and see if it's there. If it is, then goodie for me, I can stop. If it's not, then I have to go click on to qwikster.com, log in, and then go through the process of looking for the same movie.

At the risk of sounding like the precious little lotus blossoms I'm always grousing about, that's too much work. I don't mind pay $6 more for quality service (seriously, when they added the online streaming virtually for free, I thought they were on crack), but jiminy frickin' Christmas, don't make it harder for me. What's to stop me from axing my mail-in service altogether and going with Blockbuster, which seems to have a few titles you don't? Yeah, I came to you, Big Red Envelope, when I was jilted by Blockbuster, but maybe I should consider going back to the blue envelope. They've suffered long enough. (Too bad Netflix's mind-numbing screw-up didn't happen before the Blockbuster stores went under.)

Yeah, yeah, this will allow them to offer greater service, like video games. But I don't care about video games. They are a vortex sucking all time from my life, which is why I avoided connecting the Wii all last school year.

So, in conclusion: Netflix is punishing us for their mistakes. This is the straw that broke the camel's back for a lot of people, possibly including me.

Boy, I do sound like a grumpy old man.

... Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cheney goes Time Warp on PBS Newshour


Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Many decades ago, there was a Lon Chaney who scared the bejeezus out of audiences whenever her appeared. His namesake Dick Cheney, who is hawking an unapologetic book about his years in the Bush43 administration, is not much different.

Few would expect the former Vice President to apologize for misleading the public into believing Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, so it should come as no surprise that he's still a master obfuscater hell-bent on misleading the electorate. From the PBS Newshour site:
JUDY WOODRUFF: You talk about national security more than the economy in the book. But when it comes to deficits, you responded to something that Paul O'Neill, the former treasury secretary, wrote, when at one point you told him Ronald Reagan proved deficits don't matter.

You responded he took you out of context; that is not really what you meant. But, today, how much of a priority should there be on deficits?

DICK CHENEY: Oh, there has to be a big priority on it.

We're to the point now, especially as a result of looking at our long-term debt problem and entitlements in particular, we have to have -- I hope the special committee that's been appointed will, in fact, adopt a major program to reduce our deficits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though there wasn't that sort of focus on deficits in your administration?

DICK CHENEY: Well, first of all, the deficit wasn't nearly as big obviously as it is today. It's been significantly expanded under the Obama administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it was $400 billion when you and President Bush left office.

DICK CHENEY: But now we're talking about a deficit, a debt that rivals our total national annual economy of upwards of $14 trillion.

The situation today is more serious than it was then. It's going to require us to go after entitlements, as well as all other aspects of federal spending. And it's essential that we do it.
That's right, Dick Cheney is pushing the Republican Time Warp strategy for 2012. And Ms Woodruff seems to be helping him. In fact, the last Bush-Cheney budget (for FY2009) was some three times that $400 billion amount, and his administration and other Republican administrations are responsible for about $10 trillion of that $14 trillion.

Republican policy in a nutshell: Budget deficits and national debt don't matter, unless the Democrats are in the White House, at which time we cry "national emergency!" over the problem and hope the hop polloi forgets that we created it.

... Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Today's funnies: Obama jobs bill

I get what the original intent of the above cartoon was, but one could easily discern its meaning as, "Whatever the Republicans touch turns to shit." That's how I interpret it.

Anyway, this Gen-Xer here remembers a time not terribly long ago when there was a bit more respect for opposing viewpoints in politics, such that a cartoon like this might have been considered a bit over the top. But it's a crazy fractured-up country we live in.

... Sphere: Related Content

Health care rant

The following is a lengthy comment (yes, comment; kushibo has a brevity problem) I left at ROK Drop, in response to GI Korea's offering of what he thought might be a good healthcare system for the US. Click HERE to go past the jump.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"It's a foreigner... Run for your lives!"

After a discussion with "M" (who is from Kansai) about how average Japanese are nearly petrified to talk with gaijin in English (an issue that came up in relation to The Black Guy on the Bus™), I directed her to this video, which I originally saw at Roboseyo's site (it's also at Popular Gusts).



Yup, she says. That's Japan.

I will say, though, that I don't know which is worse, having the locals run from you (e.g., Korea, Japan) or have them angrily and loudly tell you to speak English, dammit! (e.g., the United State of America).

... Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 16, 2011

OC kyopo woman killed in Costa Mesa tree collapse?

Oh, God, what a horrible tragedy. This woman was driving her Hyundai Accent in Costa Mesa, a central Orange County community near Irvine and Santa Ana, and a large eucalyptus tree fell on her. The Washington Post has the AP story here, and the Orange County Register has the story here, which still carries a title saying the victim was "injured."
One person was killed when a tree slammed into a car Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Police received initial reports of a vehicle crashing into a tree, but when officers arrived at the scene, it wasn’t immediately clear how the driver was injured, Costa Mesa police Lt. Mark Manley said.

“It may have been a tree just fell onto the car,” Manley said.

Rescuers responded to the intersection of Irvine Avenue and 17th Street about 2 p.m.
Commenters at the OCR site are criticizing that paper's coverage (as they often do) for only getting half the story. They point to stories in the Los Angeles Times, and at KABC, the local ABC affiliate.

The latter has a witness saying that the firefighters tried to rescue the woman by lifting the tree but dropped it onto the car a second time, possibly killing her:
A witness said that the woman was alive and talking to other witnesses at the scene while in the car under the tree.

"They were talking to her, communicating with her, she was still talking back about everything," she said. "She was okay, she was alive and breathing."

But she said when firefighters tried to lift the tree off the vehicle, it dropped for a second time.

"When they went to lift it, it might have been too heavy, and it just dropped back down and crushed the car even more," she said. "It got more smaller, it was just terrible."

The witness was unsure if the driver was still alive when the tree dropped back down.
Just horrible. People buying cars often check how well they do in head-on, side, and rear-end collisions, and Hyundai vehicles seem to do well in that area, but there seems not much one can do to protect against a massive tree falling on your vehicle.

Initial reports didn't identify the deceased driver, but it was later reported that the car is registered to a woman named Haeyoon Miller. Whoever the victim is, thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family.

That large trees grow up near roadways and sidewalks relatively untended brings occasional tragedy like this. Back in Seoul, I know a lot of people mock the way trees over roadways are denuded practically every year, but my understanding is that this keeps their size under control and prevents them from getting too big to stay healthy and reliably upright. If that is true (and I'm not expert on tree maintenance, so I really don't know), such seemingly drastic measures make sense, and perhaps avert disaster (though Korea's abysmal driving conditions cause traffic deaths the good old-fashioned way).


... Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 12, 2011

UPDATED: Republican Debate at the Reagan Library



Every voter in America should watch these things, particularly this one where Rick "Galileo" Perry made his national debut. I haven't finished watching, but none of the Tea Party-supported candidates strikes me as anything less than sorta terrifying to have in the White House. I like intellectually curious people who can form opinions on their own but who rely on solid evidence to come to conclusions.

I like people who aggressively study things they don't know about, not politicians who talk about things they've merely heard of. I think a lot of the Republican field don't get why and how we got into the economic mess we're in, and thus they have no real clue how to get out of it. Instead they've subscribed to bogus notions that demonize unions, teachers, Obamacare, Medicare, and social programs in general, and lately Social Security as the cause of our ills. Instead, it's money politics and deep-pocket special interests, lack of effective regulation of the finance industry, expensive wars, worship of the rich as supposed "jobs creators," etc.

At this point, if I had to vote for someone in the primaries, it would be Huntsman or Romney. But if the election were held today, I'd have to vote for Obama over any of them.

Oh, and Ron Paul is clueless on public health. Despite being a physician (practicing when?) he apparently has no understanding of "herd immunity" and the importance of things like HPV vaccination. I have respect for Ron Paul's consistency and largely agree with him that it is desirable to have the states or private sector do much of what the Federal government does, but we probably wildly disagree about what those things are that the Feds do better because of scale, streamlining, and the cross-border nature of so many problems.

Where he and I might find common ground is on the need to get money out of politics so we don't have politicians beholden to corporations and special interests in order to get elected or re-elected, so we can drastically reduce their influence on our laws and policies.

UPDATE:
I'm reminded why it's better to experience something firsthand than to just get the highlights from a news program. From the sound bites I'd heard, health care was hardly mentioned, but it was in fact a major issue in the Reagan Library debate.

On health care, frankly, the Republicans are a mix of gross hypocrisy and profound ignorance. Gross hypocrisy because they are all against Obamacare when in fact Obama's Affordable Care Act is made up of elements once supported by GOPers, before Obama started to praise them. Also, from the time when the GOP killed Hillarycare in 1993 and 1994, through the period when Republicans controlled the House and Senate and the Bush43 years, no healthcare reform was attempted. Even now, their major healthcare legislative push is the repeal of Obamacare, with nary a word of what they'd replace it with.

And then there's the profound ignorance, because worship of the free market has blinded most of the field — with the possible exceptions of Romney, Huntsman, and possibly Gingrich — to the market failure that is health economics. This is the kind of thing that necessitates individual mandates.

At least no one talked about America having the greatest health care in the world, or else I'd have to get into a long screed about my uncle's Alzheimer's condition forcing my aunt to go bankrupt, America's abysmally bad infant mortality rate, or the large number of uninsured people who clog up the Emergency Room for regular medical conditions because they can't afford regular doctor's visits.

They've now moved onto energy policy. It's quite brazen that they can say with a straight face that Obama is "strangling the American economy" by supposedly putting the kibosh on new efforts in oil, coal, and nuclear, when they fail to acknowledge things like the Gulf oil spill, the Yellowstone River spill, or the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

We've even got Bachmann saying (34:13) the Federal government should "pull back on all the regulatory restrictions" so we can create more jobs. Well, Ms Bachmann, what about all the jobs lost in the fishing, crab, tourism, and recreation industries when the Gulf oil spill happened? I'm sorry you think that protecting lives and the environment is such a nuisance. She still thinks $1.93 gas is merely a function of Obama policies and not, say, due to the Arab Spring.

Gingrich says (around 62:45) he agrees with Obama (!) on charter schools and gives him kudos for taking on the teacher unions in that regard. This reminds me of why I have considered supporting Gingrich in the first place: he is adept at seeing common ground and coming together for a grand compromise, à la the great budget agreement with Clinton back in the mid- to late 1990s. Gingrich also hit (around 67:00) a lot of the same things I feel about curbing illegal immigration (tough line on employers but also a humane approach to deportation). Bachmann ducked the question about what to do with the 11 million illegals once the border is secure.

I like Huntsman's pledge of no pledges (78:00).

And I'll have more on Ron Paul's HPV remarks (49:00) later. It went on for several minutes, with Bachmann and Santorum going on about parents' rights versus government's rights, when in fact it's about public health and saving lives versus parental rights (MSNBC has a piece on that, knocking her assertion, based on a voter coming up to her, that the HPV vaccination may cause mental retardation. Bachmann is an uninformed politico recounting the unvetted stories of random strangers, and she wants to use this knowledge base to propel herself into the White House.

Governor Rick Perry (around 45:00) calling Social Security a "lie" and a "Ponzi scheme"... wow. Just wow.

Governor Perry also (around 82:00) gave props to Obama for getting Osama bin Laden. But then he went and ruined the good impression I was getting by saying that spending wasn't creating even one job. This is patently false. We can see in the recent job numbers that strong job creation in the private sector is being offset by job losses in local governments because of budget cuts. It's the budget cuts that are causing us to have zero net job growth.  Perry, like so many other Obama critics, does not see as the possible outcomes of stimulus or no stimulus that we might have continued to hemorrhage jobs without the stimulus. They see lackluster job growth as a failure of the stimulus, when the absence of a stimulus and bailouts and what-not might have been far fewer jobs. Really, is that so hard to understand?

Bachmann complained that Obama's support of the rebels in Libya might lead to a global caliphate, part of the fantasy on the right that everyday Muslims and Islamists are interchangeable and fundamentally dangerous. This is another one of those things that irks me about the presidential candidates in the Republican field: the gross hypocrisy when it comes to things they oppose that Obama has done vis-à-vis what they supported that Bush43 and past Republicans have done.

Obama's actions in Libya have been a cake walk compared to what Bush43 has done in Iraq, and if there were any place we've gone into where those who would want a caliphate would rise up, it would be Iraq. But it's the same issue regarding raising the debt ceiling or having a budge deficit under Bush43 or Obama: when the former does it a lot, it's acceptable, but if the latter does it at all, it's the end of the world!

I think the most telling thing was Ron Paul saying he believed in the message of Ronald Reagan but not how it turned out. I think the same could be true with just about any of the Tea Party-supported candidates. I want a principled pragmatist, and just when I've been mulling voting Republican at the presidential level (I did vote to re-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger), the GOP has lurched so far to the right you can't see them because of the curvature of the Earth.

Finally, I thought the tribute to Ronald Reagan and the introduction to the Reagan Library (around 42:00), with the focus on the nonagenarian Nancy Reagan, who was in the audience, was a very nice touch. I need to visit that place the next time I'm in California.

... Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where were you?

The lead-up to the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks are inescapable. It's everywhere I typically go to for news: on NBC News, PBS, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, etc., etc. International students I know have asked me what I will do to mark the occasion. Even they realize that the September 11 attacks may be the defining moment of Gen-Xers and Gen-Y.

Here in Honolulu, we are about as far away from New York City, the Pentagon, or rural Pennsylvania as you can get and still be in an US state. But the obvious parallel between that infamous date and December 7, 1941, inevitably draws this island into the 9/11 mindset.

I was taking a nap when the first plane hit the towers. At the time I had a job that required me to get up at 4:30 a.m. every Monday through Saturday, and I often found myself taking a late evening siesta in order to make it to 10 or 11, when my friends would want to meet.

My boss called me, which woke me up. "Did you see what happened?" he asked. "Go turn on the news. A plane hit the World Trade Center." Frankly, I don't even know if he said it in English or Korean, but I seem to have remembered the conversation in the latter.

I also don't remember if I was watching CNN or AFN Korea, or both, but I had found one or two stations that were staying on what had happened in New York, and then Washington. I called a close friend in Nebraska who had been to New York just a few months earlier; she was getting ready for class and she hadn't heard about the plane hitting the WTC until I called. We were both watching together when the second plane hit.

There was this sickening feeling deep in my stomach when I saw that. A visceral response as I realized what was happening. There was no escaping the fact that this was not an accident.

I stayed up, eyes glued to the television. Halmŏni came in and asked if I shouldn't be in bed, why was I watching TV, what is that on the TV, did the North Koreans do that? Halmŏni hates North Koreans.

No, I told her. We don't know. It could be anyone. I then went to work on doing a news write-up for a local news program, something that would go on the air. It was heart-wrenching, trying to navigate my own tumultuous emotions while actually doing work related to the incident.

I ended up having thirty minutes of sleep that night. The next day I was constantly reminded of the horrific incident. When my own recollection of the horror wasn't plaguing my thoughts, I had to deal with so many people coming up to me and offering condolences and asking if I'm okay. Any Korean who knew that I'm an American. At my grad school classes that day, at least a dozen conversations between myself and other Americans began with, "Oh, my god!"

When I was finally able to, I called my family to see how they were doing. All were on the West Coast, but they were as rattled as I was. Everyone. I also learned from my sister that my brother-in-law had been on one of the flights to Los Angeles that had been hijacked, but a day earlier. My mom wanted me to come to California, thinking it would be safer. No, I told her, Seoul was probably the better choice, but heading for the US was no option either for the next two weeks.

The evening of September 12, Korean time, I had to deliver a speech of sorts and the events came up. Try as I did to maintain my composure, my voice kept cracking. It was all I could do to keep myself from weeping at the thought of all the death and destruction.

At that point we thought as many as ten thousand might have died. It would be weeks, I think, before we realized it was only three thousand.

And everyone stood in a unified stance, behind the president, waiting to see what he would do. Afghanistan was a no-brainer, if the Taliban was not going to give up Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Iraq was a complete surprise to me; I thought that Cheney and Bush were rattling sabers to scare Saddam Hussein. I never though they'd really attack. At least, I thought, we might be finally rid of that horrible dictator. That was a consolation prize over a war I had hoped would never begin, and one that quickly became mismanaged and caused the other one — the justifiable one — to go off the rails.

I'd been expecting packages from the US Mainland, including my International Driving Permit. The grounding of all flights meant a delay of weeks.

I still feel a sense of anger, loss, and melancholy about a brighter future that slipped from our fingertips. In the end our unity became polarization. Our war(s) to avenge and definitively assure "never again" ended up bringing us to the edge of financial ruin.

So, what about you? Where were you on 9/11?

... Sphere: Related Content

Hawaii Finder #2011-something or other


Name that trail.

 ... Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Korea National Police Agency going all out to prevent foreign suspects from falling victim to racist Korean police

This is an interesting story translated over at Korea Beat:
From now on, detectives investigating crimes by foreigners will be re-assigned whenever they make racially discriminatory remarks.

The National Police Agency (경찰청) announced on the 7th that, in order to protect the rights of foreigners suspected of crimes and to expand the reliability and impartiality of the detectives who investigate those crimes, those detectives will be subject to a system of removal.

According to the Agency, investigators who use racially discriminatory language, fail to notify the consulates of foreign criminal suspects, compel suspects to make statements through force or lack of sleep, or fail to read them their Miranda rights, will be re-assigned at the request of the suspects in order to prevent improper investigative techniques.

Unlike when Korean suspects file such a request, where an investigative means committee is formed and makes a decision on the detectives being re-assigned, for foreign affairs detectives there will be automatic re-assignment without a committee or reason given.
Wow. That's great that the National Police Agency is so keen to prevent foreign suspects from falling victim to racist cops, but automatic re-assignment seems to have some potential for abuse itself. It would seem that a savvy suspect could simply keep making accusations of racially discriminatory language in order to impede an investigation.

Perhaps rules will be in place to guard against such action (e.g., verifying what is said by means of videotaping of interrogations). I hope this also doesn't become merely new rules that are not enforced. Still, I think there are enough organizations, from Catholic charities helping foreign migrant workers from poor countries to groups like ATEK, that would easily create such an international stink if such rules were violated against an innocent person, that they could keep the police reasonably in check. One would hope, anyway.

... Sphere: Related Content

Picture of the day: Who's who at the North Korea anniversary party

I clicked on this link which the Washington Post had described thus:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his son watched a massive military parade in Pyongyang on Friday, to mark the 63rd anniversary of the country's founding.
One would expect from such a caption that those two — and perhaps only those two — watching the parade way up their on the dais, were positioned in a way that it was truly a sign that the Young General had taken his place of honor at the Right Hand as the Rightful Heir of the Dear Leader.

Yet we see, yet again, that The Kim Who Wasn't There™ doesn't even get to stand next to his dad. Nope, the Ascension of Kim Jong-un is by no means a done deal, even if the WaPo and the Associated are hanging on that prospect. For now, the would-be Radiant Leader is merely the Dreary Wallflower.

Perhaps I need to go do a KCNA check once again and see if Kim Jong-un is still mentioned so little that he is essentially off the radar.


... Sphere: Related Content

Koreanization hits American ports?

This kind of organized union violence and property damage — orchestrated in part online — is something you would expect to read about a Korean shipbuilding plant, not a port in Washington State:
Hundreds of angry longshoremen stormed through a grain shipping terminal in Longview, Wash., early Thursday and held security guards at bay while descending on a disputed train full of grain, cutting brake lines and dumping cargo.

The predawn labor protests came after a clash with police Wednesday in which hundreds of longshoremen blocked railroad tracks near Vancouver, Wash., to prevent grain cargo from reaching an export terminal 45 miles farther west. In that protest, they far outnumbered officers, pelting police with rocks and spraying them with pepper spray, police said.

There have been no serious injuries, but 19 protesters were arrested on charges of trespassing during the initial protests Wednesday.

Police were not present during Thursday's predawn action at the terminal, but they said six security guards were held inside a guard shack while protesters attacked the train, broke windows in the shack and pushed a private security vehicle into a ditch.

"Yesterday there were probably 300 or 400 of them. Today there was even more, and we were just outnumbered," Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha said in an interview.

"At this point, we hear there are longshoremen coming down from the Seattle-Tacoma area to assist. When the longshoremen were leaving, they were saying they would be back, this was not over," he said.

The call for mobilization hit the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Facebook page Thursday morning: "Call out the troops, we're going on a road trip!" one union member wrote.
Hey, longshoremen's union, thanks for giving the anti-union Tea Party types ammo in the ideology wars about collective bargaining and labor movements.

... Sphere: Related Content

UPDATED: Orange County Crime Story of the Day: Henchman, indeed

A kyopo from Orange County who has played bit roles in various movies, including a stint as a henchman in Austin Powers, has gotten life in prison for a kidnap and rape over two decades ago.

From the Los Angeles Times:
To millions of moviegoers he was Doctor Evil's henchman Random Task.

But now a 40-year-old Orange County actor famous from an "Austin Powers" movie will be spending life in state prison in connection with a 1990 Christmas Eve gang rape and torture of a woman taking a walk to see the seasonal lights.

Joseph Hyungmin Son was found guilty Aug. 25 of felony torture, an offense that carries a life term without possibility of parole. The actor was originally charged three years ago with numerous sex crimes but because of a statute of limitations, prosecutors eventually won a conviction on torture.

The crime unfolded seven years before the 1997 movie "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery."

According to prosecutors, a woman walking back to her apartment alone with her dog after going to look at Christmas lights with a relative and friend was stopped by Son about 12:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve 1990. Son asked her for directions and then with another man dragged her to their car, threw her in the back and drove away.

Son and the other man told her they were driving to Compton, pistol-whipped her and repeatedly threatened to kill her. Prosecutors said Son then repeatedly raped, sodomized and forced the victim to orally copulate him in the back of the car. He also tortured her with a firearm. Son's cohort Santiago Lopez Gaitan, 40, of San Antonio raped the woman.

Afterward, Son threatened to kill the victim and counted the bullets in the gun out loud as she pleaded for her life. Son and Gaitan finally allowed the woman, identified only as Jane Doe, to leave, naked and with her pants tied around her eyes. The victim was actually in Huntington Beach and went to a nearby home where homeowners called the police.

While physical evidence was gathered in the case from the sexual assault, the case went cold. Son, however, was convicted in May 2008 of felony vandalism in an unrelated case and was forced to give a DNA sample. That sample was then linked to DNA collected in the 1990 case, prosecutors said.
I guess playing an evil sidekick wasn't much of a stretch for him. Good riddance.

UPDATE (October 2011):
Mr Son may have killed his own cellmate in prison.

... Sphere: Related Content

"Hello" as "hate speech," an essay

"Hello!"

This is the age of Twitter on your iPhone. You can document right there in the moment something good (or bad) that has happened to you. It's the age where you can blog something good or bad at a traffic light, at a game, right there in the restaurant, or anywhere you happen to be, with great immediacy.

If, for example, someone in a Las Vegas department store who has overheard me speaking Korean on the phone growls, "Speak English!" (a bit relevant to the recent The Black Guy on the Bus™ incident), then I can blog about it right there on the spot. It gains some credibility despite the lack of audio because the "facts" are laid down right away, and my surprise-turned-to-anger was great enough that I felt compelled to share it with others.

It wasn't always so. In the days before smart phones, people usually had to wait until they got home, to the office, or to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf before they could put thoughts to phosphorus. And before camera phones became so ubiquitous (I still like that word, despite its recent ubiquity within Korea), we would have to merely describe, hours or days later, what we'd seen, in our blogs, in list groups, in emails back home, on USENET, on snailmail, or even the guest columnist pages of the local newspaper. This was always unsatisfying to many readers, who would eventually come up with a standard reply: "Pics or it didn't happen!" That's probably why Steve Jobs invented the iPhone.

Um, anyway, as someone who has lived in Seoul off and on since being a teenager, who has lived there for over a third of his life and at this point most of his adult life, a good chunk of that is in the pre-smartphone era, at a time even when few people had email addresses, when the Kexpat list-serve was The Marmot's Hole of the day, and a good back-and-forth might take weeks if it were on the pages of the Korea Times or Korea Herald. My first camera here required negatives to be processed (and it wasn't cheap).

It was frustrating, because living in South Korea, just as now, different people would have different experiences, but it would be so hard without Google, voluminous tweets, or even grainy pictures from an old LG camera phone, it would be very hard to document claims that we made. Right now, I take pictures of everything, but there are literally thousands of things I would have taken a picture back in the day if I'd had at least a camera phone with me everywhere I went, giving me an arsenal of pictures I could use when making arguments on future posts on a blog somewhere that had not yet been created.

If I'd had an iPhone back then, I'd probably have filled it up with pictures of people running around the Panpo-dong Kim's Club in a panic as the economy started to collapse before our very eyes in the last days of 1997. I'd have made a collection of the once-ubiquitous page-sized movie posters that used to be put up in neighborhoods as a collection of movie advertisements or local notices, including one that depicted how violent an American movie was by showing just a frightened woman with a gun pointed right in her face. No concern that kids impressionable kids would be walking by and seeing this on a regular basis, but also very telling in that, while some in Korea complained American movies were too violent, the marketers who made and then disseminated this poster obviously thought that "violence sells."

But when I made that argument (to a KoKo) and cited that poster that is still clear in my mind's eye, my claim was regarded as incredulous, in part because I could not produce said poster. "Pics or it didn't happen."

That's right. It's been so long ago, that I think a lot of people have forgotten what it was like in the days before we could document right there in the moment.

I have run into this kind of problem when describing how much things have changed in South Korea. Though I'm not particularly old (I'm a Gen-Xer in grad school), I've lived in South Korea longer than most bloggers or commenters in the K-blogosphere, and the lack of documentation of so many things before the Millennium makes it hard to make an argument. The owner of The Grand Narrative called this view of mine annoying or some such (I'm still looking for the link to that).

So I was a little giddy when I saw Casey Lartigue, a once ubiquitous writer for the Korea Times who has found his way to the K-blogs, post links to some of his articles from before Y2K. You see, he'd given me the documentation to back up a claim I'd made that was, frankly, nothing more than my word against anybody who might choose not to believe me.

Back in 2009 (pre-Y2.01K), I had written the following, in response to someone asking (first line below, in bold) about the effects of constantly being called "foreigners":
Do they call us foreigners because we stay here a year or two, or do we only stay here a year or two because they call us foreigners?

Oh, my God! If the precious little lotus blossoms can't handle being called oégugin or foreigner (or gaijin or whatever), then they should stay home where they can wrap themselves up in the cocoon of their majority-ness and feel all secure. Never leave your home country in that case.

Seriously, if someone is so sensitive that would cause them to leave, then they really have too thin a skin. This reminds me of the people who thought little kids shouting "Hello!" was "hate speech" (I'm not making that up).

Damn fu¢king racist Koreans. Most racist people in the world! Fu¢kin' Koreans always shouting Hello!
Now you may or may not agree with my perhaps too-harsh sentiment (being a kvetchpat often stems largely from being stripped of one's "racial transparency" back home), but the main point here is about "Hello!" being "hate speech." Yeah, that was really an argument making the rounds. Not merely that it was annoying to be singled out as a tall, blond White dude, but that shouting "Hello!" was race-based mockery. Mockery. They were making fun of you based on your race.

If you were to acknowledge that the Hello-ee (is this where Haole comes from?) was indeed being noticed because of their obvious physical differences, but that shouting "Hello!" was a way to be friendly or even inclusive, you were dead wrong. Because it was mockery! They were shouting it because of their racism! "Hello" is "hate speech."

So when Mr Lartigue decided to post an old KT piece from August 1999, in response to The Metropolemicist's rant about The Black Guy on the Bus™, I was pleased to see it contained a reference to such:
I heard other complaints from expatriates. Some are bothered by the personal questions many Koreans ask. Some also complain about the lack of personal space and privacy that they have in Korea . By far, the most incredible complaint I heard is that some expatriates feel unfairly singled out by drunks and smart-aleck children shouting, "Hello!"

Now that I'm back in America , I can see that drunks here aren't exactly the most dignified of souls. And many of the kids will tell you to "go f...yourself" if you tell them to tie their shoes. In our respective countries, when encountering rude or playful children, we say, "stupid kids." While in Korea, far too many Americans will say, "stupid Korean kids," attributing the "hello" to a character flaw in Koreans.
I'll be the first to admit that I didn't always see eye to eye with Mr Lartigue, a staunch libertarian. And although he does not corroborate that some of the plaintive cultural plaintiffs did in fact call it "hate speech," but he does independently confirm that there were in fact a number of people making "the most incredible complaint" that they were afflicted by people shouting "Hello!" to them.

Now, if you've read this far and you're hoping for some grand bow to tie this all up with, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I had meant to write a three- or four-sentence post tying my "hate speech" remark at Brian's with the newly posted Lartigue piece from 1999, but I was too tired. This morning, after a restless night of bad dreams of being chased by arachnoid monsters in a post-apocalyptic California, I woke up and just went to town, reminiscing about the days when we could prove so little of what we lived through in Seoul, in South Korea, or in Asia at large, and just had our stories.

If these North Korean kids don't say "Hello," it really might be hate speech.

... Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 9, 2011

Obama's jobs speech: We are tougher than the times we live in

I was going to tweet some of my thoughts, but Twitter seems to be overwhelmed with people trying to do the same.

I'm watching it online at the Los Angeles Times website (which annoyingly refreshes itself every five minutes, forcing me to miss about fifteen seconds of speech). [UPDATE: The Telegraph has the transcript of the speech, which I may put snippets of in the text below.]

I'll tell you, it's essentially State of the Union 2011-1/2. A lot of good points, many of the reiterations of things he's called for in the past (e.g., taxes done in a way where everyone pays their fair share), but the highlight — and the opener — was his America Jobs Act (?) full of such things as building up infrastructure, giving tax breaks to those who hire new people, helping veterans get jobs, etc. It has a lot more in it than I'm laying out here — and he insists it will be paid for — so I'm not doing it justice. Go read up on it.

As I expected him to do, he called for quick passage of the FTA with South Korea, but also with Panama and Colombia (I wasn't so sure he'd include those two). That's a great point, but again he says that if people in America are going to drive Hyundais and Kias, he wants to see people in Korea driving Chryslers and Fords and Chevys (I hope he realizes they already drive Chevrolets!).

His regulation-reducing effort was also highlighted. We need to make sure that regulations are there to protect the health and welfare of the country. At the same time, he says, we should resist the desire to deregulate completely, getting rid of things that provide environmental protections, protections for workers. "We shouldn't be in a race to the bottom, ... but a race to the top." Dismantling protections to make the corporations stronger is not the way to go, he says.

That was, in fact, not his only nationalism-infused statement. American will be #1 again, we'll be top in the world, there's no reason we can't beat China, etc., etc.

Overall, a good and timely speech, one that emphasizes bipartisanship (he emphasized over and over how his proposed jobs bill was a litany of things supported by both Dems and Republicans) and is filled with a bunch of points that I generally agree with. Now just get on it. As you said, the people who elected "us" don't have fourteen months to wait.

Of course, with House Speaker John Boehner not applauding at things one would think Republicans would support — like how the GI Bill helped a whole lot of people go to college who otherwise couldn't have — I expect something of an uphill battle (some Republicans who weren't even going to attend dismissed the speech before it was even made, some even boycotting it).

And why not? If the Republicans want to re-take the White House next year, it's better for them if the unemployment rate remains high, and it seems that gridlock to block Obama's plans to fix the economy in order to keep it high actually is their strategy. But Boehner may have been listening to that speech and thinking, at some point, that maybe his job will be more secure and he can effect more of the changes he wants, if he remains head of the House in a second Obama administration. But that's just a thought; I can't read his mind, nor he mine.

... Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Multiculturalism in Korea"
at The Sonagi Consortium

Newly added Sonagi Consortium blogger itissaid has taken a prominent K-blogger to task over his criticisms of Korean society and the media, and what it means (or doesn't mean) as Korea moves toward being a multicultural society. A real barnburner of an inaugural post. 

Follow THIS LINK for the post by itissaid.

Follow THIS LINK if you'd like to be a contributor for The Sonagi Consortium (even just an occasional one).

...
Sphere: Related Content

Wikileaks: US ambassador says Koreans "behaving irrationally" on Tokto

And they "may do something crazy"! So said the US ambassador to Japan, in 2006.

From the Wikileaks site itself:
Classified By: Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer. Reason: 1.4 (b)(d).

¶1. (S) At 11:00 a.m. on April 20, the Ambassador spoke
with VFM Yachi, at Yachi's request, regarding simmering
tensions between Japan and the ROK over a planned Japanese
maritime survey near the disputed Liancourt Rocks (reftel).
He explained, briefly, that the ROK intended to propose to an
international commission in June that features on the bottom
of the sea in the disputed area be given Korean names. Japan
wants to survey the area in order to make a counter-proposal
at the meeting. Korea, Yachi stated, may use force to block
the survey ship. Yachi further noted that he might travel to
Seoul the following day, April 21, to try to resolve the
matter peacefully.

¶2. (S) The Ambassador stated the United States understands
that Japan is within its rights under international law. The
Koreans are behaving irrationally, and the United States is
concerned that they may do something crazy, causing a major
problem. Everyone needs to back off, he stressed, to enable
the matter to be resolved peacefully. We do not want our two
allies shooting at each other, he asserted. The Ambassador
advised that he might get in touch with FM Aso later in the
day.

¶3. (C) Yachi thanked the Ambassador for his concern and
said he would do his best. He requested that the Ambassador
send an Embassy representative to the Foreign Ministry to
hear Japan's position on the issue.
SCHIEFFER
I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation. While I think that South Korea in 2005 and 2006 did collectively need to just chill despite noise made by Tokyo over the islets long claimed by Korea and firmly in South Korea's hands for over half a century, I think Japan was out of line for trying to conduct such a survey in what are essentially territorial waters of the Republic of Korea or the EEZ that they generate. South Korea had no choice but to react with a show of force.

Korea is not "crazy" or "irrational" for being adamantly opposed to the Japanese attempt, and it's most unfortunate that the then-newbie US ambassador to Japan would editorialize as much. I seriously doubt the good Ambassador John Schieffer to Japan had any more direct knowledge or informed clue of what the South Korean side might do than anyone reading K-blogs back in 2005 and 2006.

I note that, five years later, no such "crazy" thing has happened from the Seoul side to bear that out.

... Sphere: Related Content

AFP video: "North Korea seeks foreign help for controversial resort" at Mt Kumgangsan

It's all in the video, which focuses a lot more on English-speaking Malaysian tourists walking around and looking at things than it does offering any news that would support the title they offered up.



Well, I guess they do have Kim Kwang-yun, director of the Mt Kŭmgangsan International Tourism Leadership Bureau, giving some sort of pitch to the Malaysians, starting at 1:47. But we don't hear him say much, as the AFP video editor seems to be afflicted with ADD. I'm guessing Mr Kim had offered a free trip if the Malaysians agreed to hear a pitch on Kŭmgangsan time-shares.

And who wouldn't want to invest in a North Korean tourism project? After all, it's only on rare occasion that the North Korean soldiers who patrol the place shoot and kill your customers, and the infrastructure is already there, built by and then stolen from the previous investors, so all you have to do is come (and bring hard currency)!

For something more solidly newsy, we have AP instead of AFP, in a separate article, saying North Korea is "looking to China" in a "drive to boost trade and investment":
Chinese travel agents, potential investors and foreign journalists recently traveled into the North to get a look at the special economic zone Pyongyang is promoting in Rason. It lies in the far northeastern tip of North Korea, 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Pyongyang, but will be about an hour’s drive from China once the road is completed. ...

The market, a 13-year-old experiment in small-scale capitalism, has been so successful that the Chinese managing company, the Tianyu Group, is planning to expand the jam-packed 54,000-square-foot (5,000-square-meter) market to 320,000 square feet (30,000 square meters), Tianyu vice director Zheng Zhexi said.
The AP article is heavily focused on construction of the Chinese highway to North Korea's Rasŏn/Rajin industrial port development, which is a key part of incorporating North Korea into China's Northeastern Provinces, part of what I call the Manchurianization of North Korea.


Back to the video above. The AFP short film does offer a taste of why the Malaysians have come to this part of North Korea: secrecy. Several of them state that they're curious about secretive North Korea because they want to figure out why it's so secret. I guess if I were from a country billed as "truly Asia," then I'd be darned uncomfortable if I didn't know what all the other Asians were up to. 

And maybe North Korea really can rescue Kŭmgangsan with foreign tourists. Stick an affordable ski resort up there, make sure skiing accidents outnumber shooting incidents, and cash-carrying nouveau-riche Southeast Asians will come in droves (that sounds disparaging to the newly rich SE Asians, but I don't' mean it as such; good on them for starting to do well).

And in the end, if Pyongyang decides that it can rescue rural North Korea by replacing South Koreans with Southeast Asians, they're simply copying what Seoul has been doing for years in rural South Korea.  


... Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Starbucks plans a double shot

[source]

Still short of their goal of having a franchise in every South Korean living room, Starbucks has announced plans to nearly double its presence in the Republic over the next five years. If all goes as planned, we will have 700 shops in South Korea by 2016, up from the current 370.

At the same time, they're planning to triple their presence in China. Just great. The last thing we need is Chinese Netizens who are angry and suffering from insomnia.

... Sphere: Related Content

A beautiful day in Lanikai



President Obama vacations somewhere around here.

Have a happy Labor Day, what's left of it.

... Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 5, 2011

Kvetchpat of the day: Do you know South Korea?

KoreaBeat, among other places, highlighted this video by one David Dutton.



A well-done piece of work, one which tough-guy KoreaBeat himself said made him feel "a little misty-eyed with nostalgia."

But wait, to just let this blatant propaganda slide would be disingenuous, nothing more than promoting false advertising.

See, some people think I only write shiny, happy stories about people in Korea holding hands, that I ignore all that bad stuff because I'm trying so hard to protect Korea's image, whatever that means.

Well, on the off chance they're right — and they might be, if you ignore all the critical stuff I write — I thought I would print, without editorial input, the following comment from one of KoreaBeat's commenters, giving it "equal time" as today's Kvetchpat of the Day:
This video is a great example of how camera + editing = lies. South Korea is a depressing country which thinks that e-sports are better sports than real sports. It has a fast increasing gap between rich and poor. Pollution problems that are as the soundtrack sings 'poisoning your body'. The longest ongoing war in modern history with more than a million casualties. South Korea is losing it's soul as its culture is eaten from the inside out by the gaudy golden arches of Americanization. But don't take my word for it that Korea is to anyone but the most shallow tourist a depressing place, just check the suicide rate statistics...the highest in the OECD. Funny though, the video didn't show anyone throwing themselves in front of a Seoul subway train; an event that happens at least once a day here.
Hmm... perhaps I should fisk this, talk about how anyone who has been in Korea for a significant length of time knows pollution is considerably better than before, not worse, and although South Korea has a serious problem with suicide, the Gini coefficient (a measure of the gap between rich and poor) is fairly manageable, but right now my real-world responsibilities aren't giving me the time to do so.

... Sphere: Related Content

Death, taxes, and forced sex with soldiers

Over at The Marmot's Hole there is an interesting discussion on Japan's culpability regarding the so-called Comfort Women sex slaves from World War II, in the wake of the Korean Constitutional Court saying that the South Korean government did wrong by the Comfort Women (and, by extension, others who were victims of Imperial Japan and did not receive compensation) by not divvying up the settlement money in 1965 and instead using it for economic development (it was the seed money for the Miracle on the Han). Although I don't think Tokyo doing an end run on paying compensation lets Japan off the hook ethically (or possibly even legally), I've long held that Seoul owes something to the Comfort Women and other forced laborers.

The conversation at TMH is interesting, with folks like Sonagi pulling up ads that are nearly completely in kanji/hantcha (Chinese characters) with hardly any Han•gŭl (Korean characters) at all. Others are talking about the nature and various forms some women were caught up in or duped into the Comfort Women positions back then.

And everybody's favorite Imperial Japan Apologist, Gerry Bevers, had this to say about various forms of slavery that may have been employed to obtain sex slaves on the Japanese front during World War II:
Bonded labor may be consided a form of slavery in many countries today, but in the 1940s it was obviously not considered such in Japan and Korea. You have to consider the times.

Today, some people may consider taxes a form of “bonded labor” because people are forced to pay them even without a signed contract. If you do not pay them, you can go to prison.
So, um, being forced to have sex with multiple soldiers every night for several years was merely a form of taxation in 1943? Okay, then.

Anyway, the order of the day was massacring civilians, torturing and killing people for experimental purposes, forced sexual servitude, and wholesale elimination of entire ethnic groups and other forms of genocide. So, going by Gerry's you-have-to-consider-the-times argument, all that's a-okay.

In response, Linkin' Lawyer Ben Wagner points out that Japan was a signatory on international agreements regarding what was euphemistically called "white slavery" back in those days, something to note when one "considers the times."

I'd also like to point out two things. First, like his arguments that Tokto (Takeshima) actually belongs to Japan, much of his case on Imperial Japan's near lack of culpability for anything bad that didn't really happen to Koreans (Japan's greatest ally!) rests on his speculation that such-and-such was what was really going on. In this case, he supposes (without evidence) that most of the Comfort Women were prostitutes and the true sex slaves were a very teensy-tiny percentage of the whole, if they exist at all.

The second thing is that using sex slavery in recent times — which has been a serious problem in South Korea — to suppose that "voluntary" prostitutes today means women were probably volunteering to be prostitutes back then, is quite disingenuous, and it gets bass-ackwards any cause and effect. What happened in the 1940s may have laid the groundwork for a whole new industry in Korea in the 1950s and beyond, but the existence of a systematic form of white slavery and prostitution in the late 20th and early 21st century had no effect on what happened in the 1940s.

... Sphere: Related Content

Well, I wouldn't trust whomever was trying to swallow up my country, either.

Ah, Wikileaks, the gift that keeps on giving us leakage.

I actually found this one quite encouraging: North Korea's Dear Leader apparently doesn't trust Beijing as far as he can throw them (despite his handing over the northernmost reaches of the DPRK to the Chinese).

From AFP:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il expressed distrust of his country's major economic prop China during a 2009 meeting with a visiting South Korean businesswoman, according to a US diplomatic cable.

The cable released by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks summarises a meeting between the US ambassador in Seoul and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jung-Eun, who had recently returned from a meeting in Pyongyang with the leader.

The cable dated August 28, 2009 quoted Hyun as saying Kim had made a comment about "not trusting" China, without elaborating.
That's nice to know, as I'm quite worried about a desperate regime in Pyongyang handing over the country bit by bit, in order to stay afloat.

The Wikileaks documents revealed some other interesting things as well:
Kim also complained that Seoul's unification ministry tasked with handling cross-border relations had "lost the driver's seat" to the foreign ministry, which he asserted did not understand North Korea. ...

Discussing relations with the United States, he told Hyun he had altered some parts of the Arirang festival to "fit American tastes".

Arirang involves tens of thousands of performers in mass games and artistic performances that praise the communist regime and the ruling dynasty.

The leader reportedly told Hyun he had cut out a sketch depicting a missile launch because he had heard Americans did not like it.

"He had also been advised that South Koreans did not like to see so many soldiers in the performance, so now more students were included," the cable says.

However, Kim described relations with Japan as "far worse than ever before" and Hyun was told separately by a senior official that the leader had ordered Japanese cars banned from Pyongyang's streets.
Wow, so KJI does care what the public thinks. Just not the public in his own country.

... Sphere: Related Content

Korea top in the OECD... for suicide... again

The Voice of America has an article highlighting the latest news reports in what has long been an infamous, chronic problem in South Korea: the terribly high suicide rate.
South Korea has the highest suicide rate among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

South Korean news reports say about 15,500 people in South Korea committed suicide in 2009. This represents about 28 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 people, or about 42 people on average daily.

The country's suicide rate is the highest among 34 OECD member countries.

The Yonhap news agency quotes a new report by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which says that suicide is the number one cause of death for people aged between 10 and 40 years in the southeast Asian country.

It says the second most frequent cause of death for South Korean people in that age bracket is traffic accidents, followed by cancer.

Yonhap quotes a ministry official saying the government is planning to open prevention centers throughout South Korea to help lower the suicide rate.

It says a new legislation on suicide prevention passed the National Assembly in March.
I am curious about how the centers will work out, including whether they'll get enough funding from the government and acceptance by the public. Perhaps I should investigate when I'm in Korea next, but in the meantime, past thoughts of mine on the suicide epidemic can be found here (with more links here and here, with some overlap).

UPDATE:
Cory in Korea has a fairly thorough post on the issue, the kind of thing I'd write right now if I had a bit more time. As I suggested in my link about the suicide epidemic just above, as well as in comments on other blogs, one of the biggest problems to overcome is that suicide has come to be seen as normative and even noble. From a public health perspective, this is a disaster of despair.

... Sphere: Related Content