Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free stuff to do in Hawaii
(and nearly free stuff)

I'm a grad student on a budget, so I'm always on the lookout for things that are free or cheap, which is sadly rare in Hawaii.

This is going to be an ongoing list, but for now, I'll start with a few.

On Oahu:
  1. The hike to the top of Diamond Head (parking costs about $5, but you can walk in for free).
  2. Pearl Harbor's USS Arizona Memorial (though the nearby submarine USS Bowfin and the USS Missouri cost money).
  3. Hanauma Bay, go snorkeling with an amazing array of tropical fish and the occasional sea turtle (entrance is $5 but free if you're kama'aina [local resident], and the snorkeling equipment can be rented for $5 or so if you don't have our own).
  4. The self-guided Oahu tour of Lost (well, I guess this will cost for gas).
  5. Whale watching (during the winter months) from the paved trail to the lighthouse near Makapuu, the easternmost point of Oahu (from which you can see Molokai and even Maui, and supposedly the Big Island).
  6. Any state beach, as well as Waikiki.
  7. Watching tourists along Kalakaua Avenue (both the shopping district and the part that runs along the beach).
  8. The nightly fireworks display from Waikiki (and the off-shore spectacular every New Year's Eve).
  9. The Halloween Parade in Waikiki, Honolulu's answer to Mardi Gras (wild costumes that are inappropriate for children). 
On Kauai:
  1. Kauai Coffee Company (free samples and a free tour). I was expecting a bit of a pricey tourist trap — cough! Dole Pineapple Plantation on Oahu cough! cough! — but this was the real deal and all free.
  2. Waimea Canyon.
  3. Sprouting Horn blowhole.
  4. Wailua Falls, the double waterfall shown in the opening of Fantasy Island.
  5. Any state beach.
  6. The hike along the Na Pali coast, starting at Haena Beach Park and going west. 
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

You'll say I'm crazy now...

Screenshot from NBC News story on KJU's new bride.
(Used without permission because knowledge yearns to be free!)

... but I think the North Korean regime is getting ready to declare Kim Jong-un emperor or king, not unlike triumphant "generals" before him in Korean history.

This would accomplish two things. First, it would legitimize and solidify his role in the minds of everyday North Koreans. Second, it would be a powerful tool in Pyongyang's new charm offensive: a new and quirky royal family with a hot(tish) royal bride that would be the subject of occasional gushing portrayals.

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Light blogging...


I'm in Kauai until Sunday (Hawaii time) breaking in my hiking boots. These brand-new shoes, pristine prior to yesterday, took me on an eight-mile hike along the Na Pali coast and up a very rocky trail to a stunning waterfall.

We witnessed the sunset but nearly got stuck in the dark, so we were in a rush to get back. Hence the name, from the original Korean settlers (all 할머니) who hiked the region in the late 1890s, 나... 빨리!

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Strange Rise and Fall of North Korea's Business Empire in Japan - Atlantic Mobile

The Atlantic has an interesting article on North Korea's under-the-table (and sometimes above-the-table) activities, with a focus on how they're falling apart (and, methinks, giving Kim Jong-un's regime impetus to reform).

A snippet (before I expand on this later):

"In late June, a Japanese court ordered Chongryon, a business, education, and banking organization formally representing pro-North Korean members of Japan's ethnic Korean minority, to auction off its ten-story office building in downtown Tokyo, effectively ending its mission of bringing money into North Korea and pushing propaganda out. The group's problems are essentially financial: Chongryon owes the Japanese government nearly $750 million for a late-90s emergency bailout that rescued the group's network of credit unions, which were rapidly de-capitalized because of remittances to North Korea during the country's devastating mid-90s famine, an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that killed up to 2 million people.

"As with just about anything regarding North Korea, even the surface-level truth belies deeper and darker realities. If it weren't for the chronic economic crisis and resulting famine that gripped North Korea in the 1990s, as well as a rising anti-North Korean strain in Japanese politics, then the criminal enterprises, communal bonds, and official connections that made Chongryon such a formidable political and cultural organization may well have remained intact. It took economic collapse, regional crisis, and domestic political upheaval to bring Chongryon to its knees."



This succinct email was sent from my iPhone. 
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Korea's underwater gold rush

The article is about two weeks old, but the New York Times had a story (covered in their July 9, 2012 podcast) on the recent surge in underwater mineral exploration, in which South Korea is a major participant:
Mr. Dettweiler has now turned from recovering lost treasures to prospecting for natural ones that litter the seabed: craggy deposits rich in gold and silver, copper and cobalt, lead and zinc. A new understanding of marine geology has led to the discovery of hundreds of these unexpected ore bodies, known as massive sulfides because of their sulfurous nature.

These finds are fueling a gold rush as nations, companies and entrepreneurs race to stake claims to the sulfide-rich areas, which dot the volcanic springs of the frigid seabed. The prospectors — motivated by dwindling resources on land as well as record prices for gold and other metals — are busy hauling up samples and assessing deposits valued at trillions of dollars.

''We've had extreme success,'' Mr. Dettweiler said in a recent interview about the deepwater efforts of his company, Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Fla.

Skeptics once likened mining the deep to looking for riches on the moon. No more. Progress in marine geology, predictions of metal shortages in the decades ahead and improving access to the abyss are combining to make it real.

Environmentalists have expressed growing alarm, saying too little research has been done on the risks of seabed mining. The industry has responded with studies, reassurance and upbeat conferences.

Robotic prospectors are less grizzly
and ultimately cheaper than their human
counterparts, but are also less likely to
inspire Jack London-esque novels.
The technological advances center on new robots, sensors and other equipment, some of it derived from the offshore oil and gas industry. Ships lower exploratory gear on long tethers and send down sharp drills that gnaw into the rocky seabed. All of this underwater machinery is making it more and more feasible to find, map and recover seabed riches.

Industrial powers — including government-supported groups in China, Japan and South Korea — are hunting for sulfides in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. And private companies like Odyssey have made hundreds of deep assessments and claims in the volcanic zones around Pacific island nations: Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
On the surface of it (no pun intended), this sounds great: one could easily argue that the oceans, not space, is the last frontier, but environmentalists warn that we really don't know the true effects (and external costs, those not paid by the commercial actors but rather borne by others not sharing the profits) of mining the ocean. We had enough troubles with driftnet fishing, derisively described as "strip-mining the ocean," but this might result in actual strip-mining of the ocean.

And with clashing claims over Tokto, the Kurils, and islands in the South China Sea, this new semiprecious and precious mineral rush could lead to maritime territorial fights.

A miscalculation could result in a sort of "reverse alchemy," with the search for gold turning into battles with lead.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

I guess all those Koreas look alike

Can the London Olympic organizers get anything right?

The North Koreans reacted the way I
might if people think I'm a Canadian.
After all the flap over security mismanagement, now we get word that they mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag on a jumbo screen instead of North Korea's before a women's soccer match Wednesday.

As you can guess, this didn't elicit smiles and chuckles from the North Koreans. In fact, it prompted them to refuse to take to the field for nearly an hour.

The London organizers have since apologized, but it may be too late: Pyongyang has already threatened to cut off relations with London, said in a signed KCNA editorial that the Queen looked frumpy, and demanded food aid.

Son Kwangho: "We are the DPRK, you running dog bootlicker! Not ROK. We are democratic... and people's! Oh, just you wait... someday we will have missiles that reach Shetland Islands. Then all your ponies are belong to us!"

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Next season on “The Bachelor”...

UPDATE: 
Whoops! In my bleary-eyed state, I read "Kim Jong Un Married" as Kim Jong-un unmarried."

North Side Story... wait, no... A Korus Line! [source]

So forget the entire rest of the post, although if I changed a few things here and there, it could apply to a North Korean leader looking for a mistress. I mean, just how many mistresses did Kim Jong-un's father have?

Anyway, while I debate removing this post entirely, I would like to point out that my earlier point still stands regarding how woefully inadequate our knowledge of North Korea is compared to how much the South Korean media pretends to know.

Anyway, I'd like to know more about the young woman married to the Young General. Perhaps she is a wise woman who can temper any similarities he might have had to his father, and guide him in a way that actually betters the plight of the people.

ORIGINAL POST: 
CNN is reporting that North Korea's Radiant Leader is confirming that an eligible bachelor (as opposed to a married ajoshi on the prowl who cheats on the side).

Now I find this funny, not only because "confirmed bachelor" was code back in the days of Madmen for a closeted Homersexual (autocorrect likes that word), but also because it's amazing how much the South Korean side claims to know about this young man whose name they had for years gotten wrong in Korean (they thought, based on the "un" spelling that he was 김정 instead of 김정).

Anyway, if Fox had cojones the size of beach balls, they could really have marriage to The Young General be the prize for a season of The Bachelor.

Holy(sh¡t) matrimony.

And y'know what? I'd bet they would get lots of people willing to be the eligible bachelorette. Yeah, I have that much faith in humanity.


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(mis)adventures in autocorrect

In my bleary-eyed post-arrival state, my fingers were slightly off when I'd meant to hit the three characters for "job" but inadvertently input their counterparts to the left.

iPhone's autocorrect, however, was most helpful in "correcting" my error:
hiv --> HIV
So now my mom may be thinking I can't go to California this August because of my new HIV. Let's just hope she reads my lengthy iMessage texts as carefully as I proofread them.

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone.

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Perhaps it's a stretch, but maybe the Korean state can learn from Penn State

I'm sitting here on an eight-hour plane ride from Fukuoka to Honolulu, too bleary-eyed to read the English subtitles on the distant monitor showing the third or fourth Japanese rogue cop movie in a row (they promised Marigold Hotel \ where the heck is it?!), so I'm looking through the last save my iPad made of the NYT.

Inevitably, the Penn State disgrace comes up. The NCAA has dealt the school and it's famed football program \ which systemically ignored obvious sex abuse of children because it didn't want to derail the money train \ a brutal blow.

Given the punishingly harsh publicity Penn State and the once saintly Paterno have received, it's not all that surprising that the hammer would come down so hard on the program and the university. Nor all that disappointing. While it's inherently unfair to those who had absolutely nothing to do with this case that they are (indirectly) being punished, a message has to be sent that such egregious behavior (and not just the child molester Sandusky's) should never be tolerated, especially when protecting profits is the primary motivation for ignoring or burying the horrendous abuse.

Sex assault, whether child molestation or rape of an adult or some other similar assault, leaves its victims so scarred, and often truly effed-up... there's just no way to overstate the seriousness with which these cases should be taken (and prevented in the first place). If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I pray you never do.

Those were my thoughts since the Sandusky case and the subsequent coverup came to light, a nearly identical reaction as when the systemic abuse within the Catholic clergy was exposed layer by layer. But as I read the NYT piece just hours after leaving Seoul, I couldn't help but think of similar coverups and the general habit of looking the other way when sex abuse occurs in institutions that fear their image will be damaged if those cases become publicly known.

I think it is easy to see loose parallels between Penn State and, say, regional communities in south Korea where serial sexual assault had occurred and the police bullied the victims and their parents into silence. In some cases the parents were chided for ruining the reputation of their towns, a familiar refrain.

But local communities don't have the equivalent of the NCAA. Sadly, there is no real incentive to make sure those cases of systemic abuse are pursued with due diligence, except for the remote possibility of even worse publicity when the coverup itself is exposed.

UPDATE:
If I can track it down, I will write something up on the editorial cartoon that appeared in Wednesday's Korea Herald, which suggested equivalency between what Jerry Sandusky did to his child victims and what Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky.

From The New York Times:

NEWS ANALYSIS: Real N.C.A.A. Penalty for Penn State, but No Cheers Yet

Although the punishment was harsh, the outsize role of money in college sports may be a bigger factor in the degree to which the Penn State scandal will resonate at universities.

http://nyti.ms/OV4Kxx


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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chillin’ at Fukuoka International Airport...

... home of the world's most unfortunate airport code.

It's been a great time in Seoul and Pundang, though I didn't get in the rural travel (e.g., Ullung-do) I'd hoped (including the Yosu Expo).

Nor did I get all my research done. But I did verify (sort of) that ROK citizens are regularly tested for HIV (and a few other diseases, including syphilis). But that's another post for another time.

Ooh... I'm being paged. Maybe I'm being upgraded. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dear Kushibo: What's across the street from the Itaewon McDonald's?

Ah, what's in today's mail bag?


Dear Kushibo, 

Tom, Kushibo, and Seoul Guy what’s across the street from McDonald’s in Itaewon? of course you don’t know. None of you actually lives in Korea. 

Signed,

-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-

Dear Dreamboat Annie,

It's funny you should ask that, because almost at exactly the moment you left this comment at ROK Drop, I was actually in the McDonald's in Itaewon, munching on an Egg McMuffin set (Egg McMuffins are better in Korea than Hawaii for some reason).

But off the top of my head, I couldn't recall what was across the street from Mickey D's, except for some nice eatery a little bit up the hill, so I had to go back and snap a picture. It turns out there's a beauty shop that does Brazilian waxes and "manscaping" and has a bear baring a bare bear crotch to drive that point home. Is that what you were looking for? The number's on the photo I snapped (above).  
 

Yours,
Kushibo
Although Dreamboat Annie's motivation for that question was probably something else and she doesn't really care what's across the street from the Itaewon McDonald's, here's the picture I took anyway:

My finger has a special message for you.

In fact, this may have been just a dig from Annie, who has joined that bandwagon of people thinking I don't have any business posting so prolifically on Korea because I don't live in Korea. And indeed, although I am now in Seoul (well, Pundang, actually) and my actual home is here and I think in some way that constitutes living here, it has been three years since I was last in Korea. (She also thinks I'm paid to blog, but that misperception may be my fault.)

This is the longest I've been away since I was a teenager. This was not by design, since I had been coming back every six months or so and spending about two months a year in the Seoul area working (even in Hawaii I work for a Korean corporation), doing doctoral research, hanging out with friends and relatives, etc., etc., but some important personal matters that have been first and foremost (since right after I got to Hawaii in 2006) simply did not allow it in 2010 and 2011.

And indeed, it has been an eye-opening experience being away for this long. I've often said that, in terms of change, five years in Korea is like twenty years in the United States, and this "decade" being away has been eye-opening. The traffic patterns have changed, already ubiquitous coffee shops have spread like cockroaches, there's an obvious effort by city governments to create green open space, things seem more orderly and sophisticated, etc., etc. Things that are the same are the constantly-under-construction nature of Seoul.

Perpetual reinvention is the thing that is the same and makes everything different at the same time.

But even while I'm away, my own academic work keeps me up-to-date on what's going on "back home." And even if it did not, I have professional, social, familial, legal, and financial ties to Korea that keep the bond strong. (Three years of being away has left me with a bunch of fires to put out — from getting my finances reordered to paying three years of property tax to getting my vehicle working again to giving face time with my employers.)

That my point-of-view in my blog is so often against the grain of other English-language blogs has more to do with my personal and experiential background than with having been abroad for three years. Back in 2005 and 2006, before I went to Hawaii, I was just as "contrarian."

When I write things in support of, say, HIV testing for all English teachers (as well as all F-series visa holders and all ROK citizens) and criminal background checks for long-term (i.e., over 90 days) residents, more than a few English teachers tend to think I'm against them (especially when they forget things like this), and some choose to make it personal. The "You don't even live here!" meme is a popular one.

Of course, I'm not the only blogger who gets flak from the English-teaching crowd. The Marmot's name is being dragged through the mud because he had the audacity to agree that some of the bad reputation of English teachers as of late (I remember when English teachers were treated as honorable professionals) has been brought on themselves, at least as a group. And that's why he's being called a moron.

Of course, Marmot has long had his detractors, especially Gerry Bevers, who seems particularly bothered by The Marmot's mockery of Gerry's relentless effort to defend Imperial Japan. From his latest blog aimed at demonstrating that the Japanese are good people because Koreans are bad:
So, is the neutrality of The Marmot's Hole really debatable, especially when the man behind the blog wanders Korea wearing the traditional Korean clothing hanbok and brags about his eating of dogmeat?
Not the Marmot.
Some other guy
in apŭrikabok.
I don't know why people bag on The Marmot for wearing a hanbok. Back in Africa he also wore apŭrikabok (or whatever Africans wear) and, as Zen Kimchi noted, he looks damn sexy in a hanbok. It doesn't make him a sellout.

So I guess the point of this rambling post is that people go after me, people go after other bloggers with whom they disagree, and they justify it by making ad hominem attacks. Gerry has done it with me as well, back in my pre-Hawaii days when I was a way-too-frequent-commenter at The Assa Hole.

On the plus side, it can be fun and occasionally memorable. After a heated exchange (when is an exchange involving Gerry over Japan with anyone not heated?), Gerry asked if was going to respond to him or "have you already posted your one-comment limit for the day?"

To which I replied:
Sorry, Bevers, unlike you, I receive neither masturbatory joy nor subsidies from right-wing sources for flooding the Internet with a one-sided, historically skewed, Imperial-apologist view every time someone utters the word "Tokto," so I will try to limit my writing to just this one comment.
I soon thought better of what I'd written and issued a unilateral apology:
The last paragraph of my post up there was over-the-top. I apologize to Gerry and anyone else who may have been offended by that.
With a glimmer of humor (and no small amount of admission), Gerry replied:
No problem, Kushibo. Like Japan, I was taunting you.
But I had the last laugh:
Good, then. Like Japan, my apology may be meaningless. ;)
Ah, good times.

A less pleasant exchange was when Gerry, as he is wont to do, accused me of taking the Korean side on the Tokto issue (and Comfort Women issue, etc.) because of fear of my "Korean handlers." To which I replied:
[Gerry] Open your eyes, Kushibo, and stop kissing up to your Korean handlers. You have been in Korea long enough to know what is going on. You do have to be afraid. It is possible to live among Koreans without having to kiss their butt.

Fu¢k off, Gerry. Just because I don't believe that "Korea was Japan's greatest ally" and that it's all a big Korea-generalted lie that Korea was butt-fucked by imperial Japan doesn't mean I'm ass-kissing anyone.

I have been critical of Roh for his diplomatic war almost since I started my blog. i have written things that are harshly critical of some of the nationalist sentiments that bubble up in Korea. You, on the other hand, are unable to see anything that would suggest even the slightest bit of culpability on the part of Japan, either past or present.

The Black Dragon Society is sure as hell getting their money's worth from you.
I concur with all who think Gerry is an asshat (and possibly a paid shill like Christine Ahn seems to be for Pyongyang). Even though I actually called his school to defend him and protest his firing when he supposedly got kicked out over his Tokto views (which turns out not to have been true, according to them: they canned a whole bunch of people from that school because of restructuring, including his fellow English teacher, and Gerry was allowed to re-apply).

Anyway, I'm really in Korea, Dreamboat Annie. Send me an email through my Blogger profile page and we'll meet up and have a beer. If your userid is gender-appropriate and accurately descriptive, a few more beers.


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First Hawaii and now Korea...

Oh, shyte! I think Daniel Dae Kim is stalking me.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Peresnorka Watch: Reuters source says Kim Jong-un to reform North Korean economy after purge of pro-military Vice Marshal

"To that six-year-old kid who will someday run North Korea!"

Remember when I surmised that the Radiant Leader could be North Korea's Gorbachev or at least it's Deng Xiaoping? If you can't remember or if you're new to the Island, see here, here, and here.

Anyway, if Reuters is correct, we might be finding this out sooner rather than later:
Impoverished North Korea is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms after young leader Kim Jong-un and his powerful uncle purged the country's top general for opposing change, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing said.

The source added that the cabinet had created a special bureau to take control of the decaying economy from the military, one of the world's largest, which under Kim's father was given pride of place in running the country.

The downfall of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho and his allies gives the untested new leader and his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who married into the Kim family dynasty and is widely seen as the real power behind the throne, the mandate to try to save the battered economy and prevent the secretive regime's collapse.

The source has correctly predicted events in the past, including North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006 days before it was conducted, as well as the ascension of Jang.
The ouster of Ri Yongho is itself a major story, with the Chosun Ilbo reporting that the Vice Marshal went down with guns blazing, leaving perhaps dozens dead. (Seriously, that almost sounds like the opening shots of a civil war, or arguably a twisted sort of coup.) If those reports are true, it could mean the military is facing two stark choices: either give up their starring role and the power that comes with it, or decide that they've had enough of the Young General's antics and boot the Kim Dynasty from power.

[UPDATE: Joshua at One Free Korea takes a detailed look at the sacking/shooting/drowning/illing of Ri Yongho.]

Many of us would like to believe that all this recent intrigue means the Swiss-educated, Michael Jordan-loving Kim Jong-un really is a reformer on wolf's clothing and that he has the cojones (and the acumen) to push his reformist ideas past the dinosaurs in the nappŭn nomenklatura.

Reuters seems to think this is a possibility, although this all could merely be the result of Big Brother China's efforts to mold the DPRK into the PRC's post-Deng image, and KJU and his handlers know that's the surest way to hold onto power for the next generation or two (the CCCP certainly isn't going anywhere anytime soon).

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Well, that certainly Samsucks for Apple...

In the latest in the ongoing Apple-versus-Samsung war, the two frenemies (frenemies because they compete with each other but Samsung also supplies many of the components in Apple's most coveted products), a judge in the United Kingdom has told Apple to run ads saying that Samsung did not copy the iPad.

From Reuters:
Apple has been instructed by a British judge to run ads saying that Samsung did not copy its design for the iPad in the latest twist in the ongoing patent battles between the two tech giants, according to Bloomberg.

Judge Birss, who ruled last week that Samsung did not infringe Apple's designs because its Galaxy Tab tablets were not "as cool" as the U.S. company's iPad, said Apple should publish a notice on its website and in British newspapers to correct any impression that the South Korean company copied Apple, Bloomberg said.

The notice, which is in effect an advertisement for Samsung, should remain on Apple's website for at least six months, the report said.

The judge, however, rejected Samsung's request that Apple be forbidden from continuing to claim that its design rights had been infringed, saying that Apple was entitled to hold the opinion, the news agency said.
As a long-time Apple user but also a Seoulite who recognizes that Korea's fortunes rise when Samsung does well, I don't know which side to take in this battle. While Samsung's tablets look like Apple's tablet, I'm not really sure how different you can make a tablet look.

Anyway, as I'm wont to do in any post involve Apple getting some unexpected news, I'll end this post with, "How do you like dem Apples?"

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Being a "balancer" is so 2004

I am extremely terrified of Chinese people in Korea.

Over at The Atlantic (HT to Wangkon), Dartmouth Professor Jennifer Lind writes that South Koreans' desire to hedge their bets against China is the real reason politicos have scuttled Japan-born South Korean President Lee Myungbak's eagerness to enter an intelligence-sharing agreement with Tōkyō:
Still, there's something more behind the unraveling of the GSOMIA accord -- South Korean ambivalence about the country's role in the unfolding U.S.-China drama. Several defense and foreign policy analysts in Seoul told me, when I visited recently, that many of their countrymen shied away from GSOMIA because they saw it as part of a U.S.-led security architecture positioned against China. They added that many South Koreans are dismayed that, as they perceive it, the U.S. increasingly sees China as a military threat. A professor at the Korea National Defense University named Lee Byeong-Gu told me, "In particular, signing the GSOMIA agreement is worrying to Koreans in light of the recent U.S. 'pivot' or 'rebalancing' toward Asia, which many people fear represents an increased containment effort toward China. Some South Koreans are calling for their government to sign an intelligence-sharing agreement with Beijing as well as with Tokyo. South Korean legislator Shim Yoon-joe commented that signing such a pact with both Japan and China is important in order "to wipe out the allegation that the Korea-Japan military pact is a stepping stone to trilateral cooperation to check China."

South Korean analysts also emphasized to me that China is their country's top trading partner. As Aidan Foster-Carter put it, "South Korea can hardly afford to be seen as ganging up on the country whose growth largely drives its own." This year marks the tenth anniversary of the normalization of relations between South Korea and China. One researcher at a think tank in Seoul remarked to me that his institute has planned conferences and other events to commemorate the anniversary, and that South Korea's many other foreign policy institutes are all doing the same. At a time when the Americans appear to be orchestrating a coalition to balance against China, South Koreans are celebrating with it a milestone in productive and friendly relations.
Anyone who recalls how badly then-President Roh Moohyun and crew shredded good relations with Japan during 2005's Japan-Korea Friendship Year would scoff at the idea that Seoul doesn't have the cojones to upset Beijing as well during the diplomatic decennial.

And the idea that South Korea doesn't want to tick off its number-one trading partner? Well, I scoff at that. In the United States, top politicians want to burn Olympic uniforms because they were made in China! And yet, Chinese continue to buy American goods and ship their own to the States.

As with the US browbeating the Middle Kingdom, would South Korea's economic relationship with China change much at all were it to strengthen its longstanding military relationship with the Americans? Doubtful. I mean, look at how Beijing already uses South Korea as a whipping boy, egging on its Netizens to attack South Korea for all kinds of surreal and imagined things. Yet they continue to buy South Korea products and ship their own to the ROK.

You see, the other side of that don't-piss-off-China equation is that China needs the rest of the world to buy its stuff (as well as to send it stuff so it can make stuff).

Anyhoo, most observers would agree the primary reason South Korean politicians were up in arms over the miasmic GSOMIA is that it's Japan. And with Japan, there is a heightened sensitivity owing to, I don't know, maybe the sixty years prior to the Korean War. Japan's motives are more cautiously scrutinized, its leaders' utterances more closely parsed, their actions analyzed more carefully, etc., etc. Lee's supposed "secret treaty" with Tōkyō smacked of the 1965 normalization treaty that many South Koreans feel sold a lot of poor folks — including the so-called "Comfort Women" sex slaves — down the Han.

Even though I think South Korea and Japan should be natural allies at this point, not everyone agrees with me, and my cause is not helped by the idiotic right-wingers that think their own country was the victim during World War II and that everything Imperial Japan did in Korea was all for Korea's own good, etc., etc.

Nonetheless, there is some merit to Professor Lind's contention that a lot of South Koreans probably don't want to conspicuously position themselves against China. All except rabid chinboistas (who want the US out because they are actually pro-North Korean) are comfortable with the fact that South Korea is firmly in the US security camp, but some want (à la Roh Moohyun's "balancer of Northeast Asia" comments) for South Korea to use its unique position (i.e., that of not having invaded any of the others or being a threat to any of the others) to play mediator and make Northeast Asia a happy-go-lucky funland (which Autocorrect briefly changed to Finland... hmmm).

Back in the middle of the last decade, I asked a KBS news anchor about Roh's "balancer" declaration, and her remarks back up my suspicions about the real meaning behind the "balancer" comment. Roh wanted to be more Sweden than Switzerland, and if he'd said "mediator" or "hostage negotiator" instead of "balancer," that would have been much clearer (but inexperienced and poorly educated heads-of-state tend toward occasionally odd lexical choices... go figure).

So while I think that Professor Lind's comments have some merit, I think she is making a mountain out of a molehill. Yeah, there was some questioning about how closely South Korea should follow the US when then-President George W. Bush was asking Roh to send ROK troops to Iraq, but that is so ten years ago. There was also a lot of pent-up frustration with the US that was let loose in 2002 and 2003 (when Dubya's "Axis of Evil" comment made a lot of South Koreans fear the US was going to unilaterally attack North Korea and spin the Peninsula into a state of war), so naturally that outdated meme tends to stick.

Do you notice I keep bringing up Roh? Maybe the problem here is that Professor Lind is walking through a time machine on her way to Incheon International Airport. Things are different from a decade earlier, and not just because Lee Myungbak is extremely pro-US or the Iraq War is over, but also because South Koreans have since been scared sh¡tless by Chinese belligerence, including support for North Korea's deadly attacks on the South, Chinese fish pirates attacking and killing South Korea Coast Guardsmen, and Chinese students showing their anger that South Koreans would be so brazen as to criticize China.

In fact, this is what I wrote in the comment section at The Atlantic:
Hear, hear! When I read that "many South Koreans are dismayed that... the U.S. increasingly sees China as a military threat," I can't help but note that many, many South Koreans themselves have come to see China as a belligerent bully.

Chinese students in Korea, organized by their government, waving giant PRC flags and attacking peaceful protestors (on North Korean human rights, Tibet, etc.) in the heart of Seoul went a long way toward burning that connection into people's brains.
And that's why I recycled the picture above (from here).

But if you don't want to take my word for it, let's ask Beijing how they feel. As if to underscore my point further, China essentially threatened South Korea if it were to go ahead with GSOMIA:
China has many means to influence South Korea. When domestic forces fail to stop Seoul’s unfriendly moves against China, China should implement means to exert pressure on the South Korean government.

China and South Korea are close neighbors, and China is also deeply involved in the Peninsula’s affairs. This determines that the relationship between Beijing and Seoul has to be friendly. If their strategic partnership is ruined, this will bring a lose-lose situation.
And this sentiment — "That's a nice country you've got there, South Korea... it would be a shame if something were to happen to it" — is why I have an ironically titled "Benevolent Big Brother China" label for many of my PRC-related posts. 

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

WaPo: South Korea outpaces the U.S. in engineering degrees

As every American from Obama on down bemoans the US's slipping standards, the WaPo points out a huge skills gap that could (mostly) bode well for Korea's future but poorly for America's: South Korea outpaces the US in engineering degrees, with one in four Korean college students majoring in engineering, compared to one in 20 in the United States.

How the ROK got there and what it means is the focus of the Washington Post story:
South Korea far outpaces the United States in the percentage of young adults with college degrees—63 versus 41 percent—and its K-12 students routinely outperform U.S. children on international assessments. While South Korean leaders have begun to fret that their young people—raised among skyscrapers and affluence—are pursuing higher-paying jobs outside technical fields, the workforce remains highly tech-savvy: One in four South Korean college students majors in engineering, compared to one in 20 in the U.S.

The reason for the glut of engineers can be summed up easily: South Korea’s education system was designed to produce them.

As Lee explained, “My path has been set since elementary school.”

South Korea’s school system—unlike the American system—is centralized and regulated according to economic demands. The national ministry of education and the ministry of science and technology are one and the same, and the president’s vision for economic development can have immediate reverberations in schools.

For decades, South Korea’s strategy for success has been to outsmart its more powerful neighbors. In a country with few natural resources, the next technological breakthrough is sometimes referred to in Korean as the next “meal.”
Of course, with an abysmally low birth rate, kids growing up without a childhood, and increasing household debt (much of it spent on extracurricular education and overseas study), some would say that South Korea is paying the price for this "over-education" strategy.

Nevertheless, perhaps there is a lesson for Americans to learn if they really want to, as Obama puts it, "win the future." I'm not one of those people who likes to rail against fictitious majors in underwater basket weaving or master's degrees in The Vagina Monocles, but I do agree the US may need a few more people with solid science and skills.

Sure, while it's true you can only go so far without creativity and critical thinking (the popular — though often unfounded — criticism of South Korean education being that it fails to provide this), the converse is also true that if you've got creativity coming out your orifices but little in terms of math and science acumen and ability (or solid reading and writing skills) on which to base it.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Great Wall is becoming a great pain in the arse

In the US, the "Culture Wars" are fought over gay marriage, abortion rights, and whether it's okay to pray in class or at football games. In East Asia, the "Culture" part relates to claims over ancient peoples — were the Koguryo folks Korean or Manchurian (and therefore "Chinese")? — and the "war" part has the potential to become the real type if the historical claims spill over into territorial claims.

Against that backdrop, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that some Chinese cultural experts are claiming that the Great Wall of China (and Manchuria and Mongolia and perhaps Korea) is about 2.5 times longer than previously thought — three times the width of the United States — if piles of stones capable of blocking horses are counted:
Zhang Lingmian was collecting walnuts in the countryside north of Beijing last autumn when a friend from a nearby village mentioned a mysterious structure in the mountains that had stumped locals.

The retired cultural heritage official and his friend scampered uphill for two hours, whacking their way through the brambles after the path ran out. At the top of a 2,700-foot-high ridge, they reached a long trail of haphazardly placed rocks.

Zhang says he immediately recognized what villagers called "the strange stones."

"I knew right away it had to be part of the Great Wall of China," Zhang recalled on a recent hike to show off his discovery, about 50 miles from central Beijing.

Although most of the rocks had tumbled down, a few piles reached up to Zhang's chest. "The walls just had to be high enough to keep the barbarians from crossing with their horses," explained Zhang, who says he has been studying the wall for 33 years.

The Great Wall of China may be one of the most recognizable structures on Earth, but it is still in the process of revealing new layers of itself — to cries of disbelief and fury in some quarters. At a time when Beijing is asserting its territorial borders in the South China Sea, the discoveries are not universally applauded.
More to the point for this blog, Korean historians are in an uproar because the supposed Chinese wall stretches all the way to the North Korean border — an area of the People's Republic of China that is not native to the Han Chinese and was once part of the ancient Korean kingdom of Palhae and Koguryo.

Funny that the main part of the Great Wall was intended to keep out the invaders whose territory China now claims as their own in order to justify their cultural (and territorial) designs.



The Not-All-That-Great Wall of China
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After overseeing all those parades, it was just a matter of time before they made him Marshal

I guess when your co-military leader retires "due to health concerns," it just makes sense that you take over his duties and then declare yourself supreme leader.

And that's just what Kim Jong-un has done. It seems like Radiant Leader and the faction behind him (more of the latter than the former) is solidifying his position.

And maybe that's a good thing. I'm still holding out hope that the Swiss-educated, Michael Jordan-loving twentysomething is looking history straight in the eye and thinking he's rather stand up as a Gorbachev than lay down as a Ghadaffi.

More on this later...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/kim-jong-un-announcement-marshal-military_n_1681532.html

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Get crackin', people!

Korea's abysmally low fertility rate is a constant subject in the news. This Chosun Ilbo story is no exception:
Korea needs to increase its birthrate from 1.24 in 2011 to at least 1.8 if it wants to maintain its national power, according to a study. The study released on World Population Day on Wednesday by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs stresses the need to increase the birthrate to about 1.8 over the next decade to maintain the population at over 50 million.

This would enable Korea to maintain its social, economic and defense power while minimizing the population decline, the institute speculates.

The institute warns that too many people avoid marriage and childbirth. In the report, it calls for "a new system which provides welfare or insurance covered jointly by the government and employers because it is difficult for women to take maternity under the current employment insurance."
State-sanctioned nookie. (Seriously, I think the ROK gov is this close to encouraging teenagers to get knocked up.)

In the field of demographics, the calculus is simple: the sooner you get people married the longer their period of fertility will be. Yeah, most will be able to put off having kids to whenever it is they want to start having kids, but many will accidentally get pregnant earlier and go ahead and have them, and then, perhaps, accidentally have another later.

If the government wants to help toward that goal, then they should continue helping put couples together, help reduce the time spent on education, and eliminate or dramatically curtail the amount of time people spend doing koshi (preparing for exams) for civil service exams, etc., because these burn up some of the most productive years for having kids.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The most disturbing thing I've seen today

Well, other than the GIs with the full arm tattoos at the bar we went to this evening, it's this plastic surgery advert I've seen in the subway and on buses.

This is just extreme. Moreover, it's a blatant message that if you don't live up to some impossible ideal, you're kinda sorta worthless (or at least worth less) if you don't fork over millions and millions of won and mutilate your face.

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The times they are achangin'...

Having lived in Seoul off and since I was a teenager, I remember when studying Marx (except for the Brothers) would have gotten you jail time and therefore was done in secret commie klatches.

Nowadays, though Marxism is widely discredited, I saw this chinboista event advertised openly in public downtown and here at Ewha University.

My own take on Marx (since we necessarily study him in the field of sociology, even if not all of us revere him) is that his diagnosis was largely correct but his prescription was way off base.

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I call this one "Stitch's cousin made a poopoo"

I don't mind the traditional haechi, but the cartoon one should be adopted by Lilo and sent to Kauai forthwith.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Spotted in Ichon-dong: Bakersfield

I've been to Bakersfield. Trust me when I say that if there's something cooking there, it ain't bread. (as for the smell, well, maybe something else is cooking.)

Perhaps this sounded-good-on-paper marketing idea should have been run by a native English speaker from California. (Or maybe it was.)

I'm so bad. So breaking bad.

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Police to confiscate cars of repeat drunk drivers

This is one more nail (along with the advent of ubiquitous sobriety checkpoints) in the coffin of drunk driving:
Police said Thursday they are planning to confiscate vehicles from habitual drunk drivers in a desperate bid to wipe out inebriated drivers.

Announcing a comprehensive package of measures to revamp the traffic regulations, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said efforts are underway to adopt the confiscation plan as well as other measures to improve the traffic system.

Putting the eradication of drunk driving as the top priority, the police said they will step up the crackdown on those getting behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol.

According to the envisioned plans, drivers with repeated drunk driving offenses will have to forfeit their vehicles as part of their punishment, the police said.

The police noted they will also push to root out illegal parking, motorcycle gangs as well as drivers who cause severe traffic jams by trailing cars bumper-to-bumper to pass an intersection even after the light has turned red during busy traffic hours.

Monitoring of drink drivers in areas near popular nightlife spots and frequent accident sites will be also intensified, the police said.
This may be a good time to invest in a 대리운전 company.

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The Bank of Korea has unexpectedly lowered my mortgage

Not just mine, but million of other peoples', in a perhaps belated acknowledgement that the rest if the world ain't climbing out of this hole anytime soon.

And if that saves me W50,000/month (wild guess) I'm happy. From Yonhap:
South Korea's central bank cut the key interest rate for the first time in more than three years on Thursday, underscoring its urgency to cushion the bitter impact of the eurozone debt crisis on the local economy.

Bank of Korea (BOK) Gov. Kim Choong-soo and his six fellow policymakers lowered the benchmark 7-day repo rate by a quarter percentage point to 3 percent for July. It marked the first rate cut since February 2009.

The decision, which was not unanimous, came as a surprise to the market as only one out of 15 analysts predicted a rate cut for July in a survey by Yonhap Infomax, the financial news arm of Yonhap News Agency.

The BOK slashed the key rate by 3.25 percentage points to a record low of 2 percent between October 2008 and February 2009 to fight global financial turmoil. The bank raised it by five steps between July 2010 and June 2011 to curb inflationary pressure.
Thanks, ROK BOK. You're OK in my book.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Huh?



I don't get the ethnic part nor the ice part. At the same time I'm imagining a vague drug reference was slipped in by an evil English editor.

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Kushibo singlehandedly thwarts South Korea's whaling plans

Breaching for joy.

Or something like that.

From The Australian (a newspaper, not a person):
South Korea has confirmed it will abandon for now its plans to start a scientific whaling program after strong protests from Australia, the US and other nations.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-hwan had told him during talks at the East Asia summit in Cambodia today of the decision.

No reasons were given for the about-face, but it's believed South Korea may have been surprised at the strength of the opposition from its main security guarantor the US and a key trading and defence partner in Australia.

Minister Carr congratulated South Korea for taking the advice of the International Whaling Commission in not proceeding with its plan to begin "scientific" whaling off its own coast.

"Korea has committed itself to green growth and is capable of becoming a global green superpower," he said.
This, of course, is in reference to the story I brought Monster Island readers a week ago, about the terrible, terrible, terrible idea for South Korea to join Japan in pushing "scientific" killing of whales as a cover for supplying whale meat to a market that really should just die, (no small reason being that it would be detrimental to Korea's national image at a time that it's rising and the world is also starting to pay attention to Korea in the run-up to the 2108 Pyongchang Olympics).

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Burmese kimchi?

With a hat tip to WK, I give you... Burmese kimchi!


The globalasianculture website describes it thus:
Mogok Rice Noodles with Stewed Chicken, topped with Shan Preserved Mustard Leaves, or 'Burmese Kimchi.'
To which WK editorialized:
NOOOOoooooo!!!!
The header for the email was "WTF?", but that's a long-running header for all sorts of things sent back and forth between several of us. (WK wasn't also fond of the idea of kimchi beer.)

I'm guessing I have less of a problem with the Burmese kimchi than WK. Y'see, folks like ZenKimchi are adeptly promoting Korean food like there's no tomorrow, and like everything else, that comes with unintended consequences. As Korean food becomes more "mainstream," I've seen more and more examples of the word kimchi being used as a descriptive stand-in for other countries' pickled vegetable dishes.

And someday, when we start hearing about Irish kimchi, we know that usage has arrived. In the meantime, I'm guessing that ZenKimchi (judging by his comment at the recent smoothie post) would rather see pickled mustard leaves described as kimchi than Kyochon Chicken, Smoothie King, Kraze Burger, Mr Pizza, and Paris Baguette, marketed as Korean food.

Now, I am not a foodie. Simply put, I'm lethargic about trying new things but I like just about everything put in front of me, including things others don't like and things I probably shouldn't like. But I must admit that pickled mustard leaves with some egg and banana (?) and mango (?) thrown in sounds very appealing. (Hawaii has made me love mango, except during mango season, when they are literally falling off the trees and you can't give 'em away!)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Comfort Women statues and threats of terror

Back in Seoul after an unusually long hiatus, I was eager to visit a few places I'd been reading about in the news and blogs. Among them was the Comfort Women statue (or should I say, enforced sex slaves) located right across the street from the Japanese embassy.

So last week I headed there with my Nikon D60 and my iPhone 4. I walked purposefully down the street (I'd been to the embassy a few times, once to purchase a used right-hand drive Toyota Crown back in the 1990s, so I knew where it was). Down the street, I could see several policemen in the area, which is hardly surprising since they are tasked with protecting the various foreign missions, including the embassy of the former occupiers.

But as I approached the statue and stopped in order to position my Nikon, I was told by the senior police officer there, in Korean, that I could not take any pictures of the statue. Obviously I asked why that would be, and he told me there had been threats made to the statue.

Lest someone think that my rusty-from-Hawaii's-ocean-breeze Korean skills may have yielded a comprehension FAIL!, the polite-but-stern senior police officer (who looked to be in his late forties) mentioned the English word "terror" when he reiterated the reason.

I am usually not a confrontational person, though I can be when the situation warrants. This was not one of those times, and I thought that I would try charm and reason (I am very charming when I want to be). I told the guy I am from Seoul but lately I've been studying in Hawaii where I do a Korea news blog, and I'd been reading about this poignant statue — which I support — and I was keen to get a picture. I told them I'd read about the right-wing Japanese asshat (though I didn't say asshat) who had messed with the statue and I was sure was on their minds, but they said their threat was one from the future.

He asked me what my blog was and I used the ambient wifi to quickly type www.rjkoehler.com on my iPhone to show him Monster Island. Fortunately I had something a little less ridiculous than usual as the top post and he did that pensive ajŏshi sigh to show he was going to relent.

Just one picture, he said. That, too, he reiterated.

I quickly had to decide whether I should use the Nikon or the iPhone. The latter had the advantage of instantaneous editing and, with the ambient wifi (I really need to trademark that phrase), I could send it out right away (Blogger has a function where you can send posts via an email to a specially created Blogger address) so I went with that.

I asked the senior police officer and his young juniors if they'd like to be in the picture. They declined and parted like the Red Sea. I got my lonesome picture of the lonesome girl, with a banner to An Chunggŭn in the background.

Though they didn't ask, I showed them the picture and went on my way (I was late for a meeting at a 1970s-ish tabang with a friend who works with the mayor).

Before I blogged the little incident, though, I started to wonder if this was prudent. I emailed The Marmot, Zen Kimchi, and a couple others and asked if they knew anything about a no-photos regulation. They said they didn't, mentioned it's in a public area and there should be no reason it can't be photographed, and said I should go ahead and blog about it (if the cautious Marmot says go ahead, I figure there's nothing to worry about; I hope I don't end up in some Michael Breen-esque legal matter... I'm too pretty for prison).

So this was all on my mind when I read the news, a few days later, that someone Korean asshat decided, in protest of the Japanese right-wing asshat, to drive his truck into the Japanese embassy.

Could it be that the "terror" threat they were worried about was a domestic one? And did the police momentarily mistake me for an asshat?

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Surreality television

It was a stupid and offensive idea when it was first introduced. It is a stupid and offensive idea now in its current form. No, I will not post pictures or links or whatever. It is offensive and stupid and I want to go on record as saying so while providing the most minimal possible amount of traffic toward it.

It's not just that it will likely make a whole bunch of people get smeared with really obnoxious stereotypes, but also that most "reality shows" have devolved into lowest common denominator bull$hit that infects the culture at large because it models wild and crazy behavior while sucking the oxygen out of what could be a quality medium of televised information, drama, and comedy.

Do not watch, please. It only encourages the bastards.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Korea: smoothie operators

[source]

The Wall Street Journal thinks that smoothies and Paris Baguette may be the next ripples in the ubiquitous Korean Wave.
A South Korean cultural wave is sweeping the world, with interest surging in areas ranging from the country’s pop music to cosmetics to television dramas. Now, smoothies could be next.

At least that is what Standard Chartered’s private-equity unit is banking on with a $45.5 million joint investment with Korea’s National Pension Service for a 48% stake in Smoothies Korea.

The Korean fruit-blended beverage maker is trying to position itself as a healthful Starbucks-like competitor in the world of smoothies. Its 100 company-owned and franchised stores tap into the country’s café craze while offering a healthy alternative to coffee and shunning sugar as a sweetener, said Charles Huh, managing director of Standard Chartered Private Equity’s Korean arm.

The plan is to replicate the café approach in the U.S., where grab-and-go is currently the norm, he said.

As part of its new strategy, Smoothies Korea will buy out the American company behind the Korean franchises, New Orleans-based Smoothie King, which began in 1987 and has 529 stories in the U.S. Its owners have agreed to sell.

The Korean company also intends to open stores in China and Singapore, both new markets.

Smoothies Korea hopes to follow the success of other Korean food and beverage brands that have gone overseas, such as Paris Baguette, a bakery and coffee chain with branches in the U.S., China and Singapore, and Red Mango, a frozen yogurt and smoothie chain with a presence in the U.S., Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
I wonder if Smoothies Korea will entice Americans with ad campaigns like the full backside nude butts in the pre-Yuna Kim "be white" advertising campaign for Smoothie King (am I the only one who remembers that?).

And did someone say Red Mango? Tee hee.

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Park Geunhye launches presidential bid

Political analysts say Park Geunhye still needs
to work on her presidential Nazi salute.

Ah, Korea, where even those on the right are in the left:
The conservatives are in an unlikely race to claim "economic democracy" as the centerpiece of their campaign platform, trying to woo the less ideological and fiscally pragmatic urban voters who will be eyeing the candidates' visions for social equity.

Park pledged to bring greater fairness to the business environment and said that while she will continue to eliminate pointless regulations, big corporations will be called upon to do more for the greater social good.

"I will create a government that decisively implements the law so that corporations that have big influence can do all they can to meet their social responsibility," Park said.
I just hope a President Park doesn't follow in her predecessor's footsteps and try to sell off the other airports, Namsan Park, the Han River, etc., etc.

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Would Kim Jong-un becoming tabloid fodder signal a change in North Korea's global image?

Speculation like "Who's the hottie with ...?" is something we might expect of royal watchers or the tabloid press, but here it is, addressing the "mysterious" and "elegant" young woman seen with The Prodigious Progeny on at least two occasions, including a concert.

From the Associated Press, via Fox News ("we distort, you comply," tee hee):
A mysterious young woman appearing at the side of North Korea's new leader is the subject of speculation she could be Kim Jong Un's younger sister or even wife, but Pyongyang has released no details.

North Korean state TV on Sunday showed an elegant, somber young woman in a black jacket and skirt bowing with Kim at a ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the death of his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

She is believed to be the same woman shown Saturday seated next to Kim at a concert. North Korean state broadcaster KRT showed her walking into the concert hall behind Kim, and they clapped together at the end of Friday's performance.

The North's Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday ran a photo of Kim and the woman on its website without identifying her. Her appearances with Kim were front-page news in South Korean media.
A few thoughts. First, I don't think that's his sister, but it could be and if it is, then more power to him because by all accounts (i.e., all both of them) she is smart and sharp and she might help him navigate the ship of state past all the dinosaurs and into the territory of modernity (warning: that sentence contained mixed metaphors).

Second, if it's not his sister, then I have to admire the way in which KJU and/or his handlers are reshaping the North's image in the global media (and let's hope it is accompanied by real change). It would be quite a trip if the Norks have in mind a royal wedding to rival that of Kate Middleton and what's-his-face.

Final thought: It's good to be the Kim.

UPDATE 2:
Via ROK Drop, we get news that the woman may be a once-popular vocalist named Hyon Song-wol, who disappeared from public view around the time Kim Jong-un was supposedly being groomed to take over. She is reportedly married with a kid. But would that stop a despot? Frankly, I think this only adds to the new tabloidesque nature of the regime (in a good way), and I'm more than happy to know that the dictator in control of the artillery a few dozens of miles away might be getting laid regularly.

UPDATE 1:
The reference to Kate Middleton reminded me of something I'd written in my KJI/KJU caption contests in late 2010 (see here and here) that now seems eerily prescient:


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Monday, July 9, 2012

Pixelated fire in the sky

The Marmot's "fire in the sky" post at his way cool travelog has inspired me to dig up an old video clip I took in 2007 of the most amazing technicolor sky I'd ever seen and see if I can make a pleasant (though a tad pixelated) post out of it. Go here, please.

This was taken from my 24th floor office at the time in Samgakchi with Namsan and the Hyatt Hotel in the background. That's right, I was facing east because this was sunrise.

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Recommendations?

I'm in Seoul until the end of the month, minus a side trip or two out of town. I have planned a long list of what's the same and what's different since I was last "home" (literally), which was three years ago (by far the longest I've been away from Korea since I was a teenager), but I'll do that another time.

In the meantime, I wouldn't mind some recommendations for places to eat, sip beverages, dance, read, or see cool stuff. So far I've been trying to fill my belly with food that is either impossible to find or prohibitively expensive in Honolulu and/or Orange County.

This has included decent samgyŏpsal (though, ironically, I wasn't a fan before), shrimp fried rice with jajang sauce (새우볶음밥) at a nice place not far from Yongsan-gu Ward Office, octopus pibimbap near the Dong-a Ilbo Building, etc. Nothing earth-shattering so far, and I'm on the lookout for some cheap shabu-shabu.

I may start poaching the restaurant suggestions at The Marmot's travelog, though probably not the mŏngmŏngtang.

Absent Yelp in Korea, any suggestions, recommendations, or inspirations? Online or off.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mickey Mouse et al visit a real-world Fantasyland

I hope these were just stolen costumes and not actual cast members kidnapped from Orange County, Tokyo, or Orlando and forced to dance for The Prodigious Progeny (i.e., Kim Jong-un).

At any rate, Mickey Mouse appeared in a country whose governance and economic characteristics bear his name. From the Boston Herald:
Performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from "Snow White," ”Dumbo," ”Beauty and the Beast" and other Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV.

The inclusion of characters popular in the West — particularly from the United States, North Korea’s wartime enemy — is a notable change in direction for performances in Pyongyang. Actors and actresses also showed off new wardrobes, including strapless gowns and little black dresses.

In recent years, performances such as the "Arirang" mass games featured performers dressed as panda bears in homage to North Korean ally China.

This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance, though Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pajamas imported from China often feature Disney characters, and stories such as "Dumbo" have been translated into Korean for North Korean schoolchildren. However, it is unusual to make such images a central part of a North Korean performance and to publicize it on state TV.
Frankly, Minnie Mouse doesn't do a thing for me. I'd rather see more about the strapless gowns.

Whatever's going on up there (including the likelihood that these were not licensed appearances), it's telling that this kind of thing appears to be happening more and more in the DPRK. Perhaps the Swiss-educated KJU really does aim to bring more western exposure to the North.

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Will 4-D cinema from South Korea save American movie theaters?

This article in the Los Angeles Times is highlighting the "4-D moviegoing experience," which shakes, rattles, sways, and sprays moviegoers so as to add an extra sensory element or two — and perhaps a bit of motion sickness — to an evening at the cinema:
As the giant spaceship crashes into the mysterious planet, the seats inside the movie theater heave back and forth and rumble like an earthquake.

"Back ticklers" in the seats thump as an astronaut dodges fireballs and rolls on the ground. A strobe light flashes and huge fans expel gusts of air reeking of smoke and gunpowder.

"Back ticklers" in the seats thump as an astronaut dodges fireballs and rolls on the ground. A strobe light flashes and huge fans expel gusts of air reeking of smoke and gunpowder.

In the latest bid to attract moviegoers back to multiplexes, where 3-D -- featured in hits such as "The Avengers" and"Men in Black 3"-- is already the norm, technology and entertainment companies are pushing a new system known as 4-D.

At the leading edge of the technology is South Korean conglomerate CJ Group, which operates Asia's largest theater chain and has set up a laboratory near Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood to demonstrate and market its 4DX system.

The 4-D experience is wowing fans in South Korea, Thailand and Mexico, where CJ Group has 29 specialty theaters that regularly screen big Hollywood titles such as"Avatar,""Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and"Prometheus," which featured the crashing spaceship.

Now CJ Group is close to finalizing a deal with a nationwide U.S. chain to create nearly 200 4-D theaters in the next five years, with the first to open this year in Los Angeles, New York and several other major cities.

CJ Group executives say its 4-D venues already draw sellout crowds from Seoul to Mexico City, and they predict that U.S. audiences are ready to shell out an extra $8 for the new movie experience. They say 4-D technology will help reverse the longtime decline in cinema attendance in the U.S.
I have yet to watch a movie in such a theater, but I may try to catch Batman or The Avengers or something while I'm in Seoul, if they're still available. I just hope it's better and smoother than the nascent 4-D technology of the Taejŏn Expo back in 1990-something, which seemed Disney-derivative and a little jerky.

In 2012, this scene means the guy is watching a 4-D movie.
In 1982, it would have just meant there were a bunch of smokers in the theater. 

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Kim Jong-un’s girth isn’t the only thing growing on North Korea

It is quite notable that the DPRK, perhaps with some guidance from Benevolent Big Brother China, scored in 2011 its first economic increase in three years. 

I'll write more on this later, after I take in the glory that is the newly refurbished Dunkin' Donuts in Irate Won. 



This succinct email was sent from my iPhone. 

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sure, let's call Obamacare a tax:
It's a "freerider tax"

Yep, it's a tax. It's a "freerider tax."Say it with me. Say it often. Spread that phrase until its a household term.

It's a penalty for those who won't get insurance despite the ability to pay for it or, for those with lower incomes, to get it subsidized or free after 2014.

Critics of Obamacare don't like to acknowledge this but the fact is that the uninsured do get lots of medical care, on average. In fact, about two-thirds that of the insured, and it is the insured, the hospitals, and the government that pays for much of that (though not all). And it's not just in terms of unpaid hospital bills that the rest of us suffer: with so many bankruptcies in the United States the result of medical issues, we as consumers are carrying those who are uninsured (as well as those whose insurance coverage falls short when catastrophe hits).

Basically, the two ways to fix this are (1) deny all care — including emergency care — to all people until they pay or show proof of insurance or (2) penalize/tax people who aggregately cost the system lots of money but who don't cover all of their own costs.

Unfortunately, the first method will lead to widespread death and injury, not only to the uninsured, but also to the insured who are delayed when they seek care until they can "show me your papers!"

So of course it's a tax. It's a freerider tax. That's why the Heritage Foundation and Mitt Romney saw it as a form of personal responsibility.

I'm all for allowing people to avoid paying the tax and uninsured at the same time, if instead they put up a bond of, say, $100,000, that will be used for their medical care, just in case. But let's stop kidding ourselves that these people are not costing the rest of us loads and loads of money.

Even if they all looked like this, freeriders wouldn't be worth
the hundreds of billions of dollars they cost the rest of us.
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