Monday, September 30, 2013

Fire destroys Itaewon block

The details are still a bit sketchy, but it appears from this piece that a decent-sized block of shops (and restaurants?) in Itaewon about half a dozen buildings to the west of the iconic Hamilton Hotel has burned to the ground:
Nearly a block of Itaewon near the Hamilton Hotel caught fire earlier this morning at approximately 7:15 a.m. As of 9:00 a.m., the fire appeared to have been extinguished and investigations are currently underway to determine the cause of the fire. There have also been no reports of injuries. Currently, the area between Itaewon station and the entrance to the main strip (Noksapyeong station direction) has been closed off and neither automobiles or buses are being allowed through.
I'm not sure how deep that fire was, but on the side street directly behind there (which runs behind Hamilton Hotel as well) there's a whole slew of bars and eateries that are a key part of the Itaewon rejuvenation (heck, the hipster renaissance of Yongsan altogether). While my first thought is that I praythat no one has gotten injured or killed, I'm also hoping the restaurant row was unscathed. We'll have to check and the English-language dailies for more details tomorrow.

One can't help but look at this picture and wonder about the parking situation in Itaewon's back streets might have affected the firefighters' response. Judging from the pictures, most of them are along the main drag, spraying water across the non-burning structures so that it will fall downward onto the burning buildings. Was this because parking regulation violators had their cars along the side of the streets so that the fire trucks and other emergency vehicles couldn't approach? This is a perennial problem, but one that could be dealt with far more effectively.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

OC Weekly highlights "rare" Korean-American boxer

The OC Weekly has a piece on boxer Daniel Kim (not to be confused with actor Daniel Dae Kim). Being the first Korean-American boxer (in the Southland [i.e., Southern California] at least) is major barrier-breaking:
He also notes that by stepping into the ring, he's stepping outside the cultural norms and social expectations placed on Korean Americans.

"Growing up, I was left with a strong impression that pursuing a future as an athlete was impossible or a waste of time," he observes. "Professionally boxing as a Korean American allows me to challenge these cultural and social sentiments while proudly representing Korean and other Asian Americans in a domain where we are vastly underrepresented and often taken lightly."
Although South Korea has produced its share of boxers, immigrant Korean parents and 1.5-generation parents would prefer their kids to be brain surgeons than brain injured, so boxing is not terribly big in the Kyoto community. But if Daniel Kim starts making it big, who knows?


Monday, September 16, 2013

Hume's Bastard, RIP

I just got word that a long-time, low-key fixture in the K-blogosphere has passed away. Joseph Steinberg, formerly of Pusan and perhaps better known as Hume's Bastard to those at The Marmot's Hole, died this weekend in Texas.

He left occasional comments here at Monster Island (such as at this post on the anniversary of the Rodney King riots), but I also knew him in person, even if only briefly. Back in 2004, I worked with him for a short while on get-out-the-vote campaigns (mostly absentee ballot registration for US citizens) when he was based in Korea's #2 city.

I remember him as a cynical and somewhat argumentative fellow, but he was also honest and sincere. His wife was nice, too.

Requiescat in pace, Mr Steinberg.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Tokyo awarded 2020 Summer Olympics

A lot of Japanese are quite ecstatic, now that Tokyo has been chosen over Madrid and Istanbul to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. It will have been fifty-four years since Japan last hosted the summer games in 1964 (but only twenty-two years since they hosted the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympiad).

Tokyo was considered the "safe choice" to host the games, since Turkey has the civil war going on next door in Syria and Spain is going through considerable economic difficulties. Japan's Prime Minister gave assurances that the still on-going Fukushima nuclear disaster will not pose safety concerns.

In fact, I think that the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami provided a pretext to award Japan the games. I don't mean that in a disparaging or condescending way: The Olympics are often awarded to encourage or reward worthwhile goals (both Japan and South Korea were awarded the games in part to highlight their respective post-war recoveries).

Besides concerns over radiation, one other point going against Japan would have been the old formula of continental rotation, where IOC members tended to eschew awarding the games to a country in the same continent as the previous games; since South Korea is hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, it would be a tougher sell for next-door Japan to get the games two years later. But this trend was bucked when Russia (in Europe) was awarded the games immediately after Britain (also Europe).

I'm quite happy for Japan. This is a shot-in-the-arm needed for a proud but economically, demographically, and geopolitically beleaguered country, and I hope it provides the psychological boost they so want and need. The New York Times had the same idea:
Winning the Games also appeared to affirm Abe’s efforts to restore Japan’s confidence at a time when it has appeared increasingly eclipsed by neighboring China.

“Japan has seemed to be overshadowed by the rise of China and other developing nations,” said Harumi Arima, an independent political analyst. “These Olympics will give Japanese a chance to feel reborn, to feel for themselves that Japan can still be vibrant.”
Congratulations, Tokyoites and Japanese. I look forward to some very cool Games in seven years.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rodman bounces back to Pyongyang to visit

We interrupt the lead-up to the US War in ______™ with news that basketball legend-in-his-own-mind and Kim Jong-un BFF Dennis Rodman has returned to North Korea to meet with The Young General. He emphasized that he was not there to secure the release of Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who reportedly is in a labor camp, not getting Pyongyang Palazzo treatment that former the original Stupogants (Euna Lee and Laura Ling) received.

From AP via Huffington Post:
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman landed Tuesday in North Korea and said he plans to hang out with authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, have a good time and maybe bridge some cultural gaps – but not be a diplomat.

Rodman was greeted at Pyongyang's airport by Son Kwang Ho, vice-chairman of North Korea's Olympic Committee, just days after Pyongyang rejected a visit by a U.S. envoy who had hoped to bring home Kenneth Bae, an American missionary jailed there. The North abruptly called off the official visit because it said the U.S. had ruined the atmosphere for talks by holding a drill over South Korea with nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.

Rodman said the purpose of his visit was to display his friendship for Kim and North Korea and to "show people around the world that we as Americans can actually get along with North Korea."
This news comes about a week after South Korean media sources said Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend had been executed for making porn and distributing Bibles, possibly at the behest of his new wife.

From USA Today:
A jarring report out of North Korea claims that Kim Jong Un's former girlfriend was executed by a firing squad last week.

Chosun Ilbo,an English language newspaper in South Korea, said unnamed sources in China told it that Hyon Song Wol (of "Excellent Horse-Like Lady" fame) was arrested on Aug. 17 along with about a dozen others; Hyon was a singer, and a number of the others were members of the Unhasu Orchestra.

They were accused of making a sex tape and selling it and were shot three days later for violating the country's pornography laws. A source said some allegedly had Bibles in their possession, and all were treated as political dissidents.

The report has not been independently verified by other media outlets. Chosun Ilbo is one of Seoul's main daily newspapers.
While that story got a lot of press, I'm skeptical of its veracity. When the "news" was released, I frankly didn't know what to make of it. It comes from the Chosun Ilbo, a conservative newspaper that reports almost any rumor coming out of North Korea as true. The thing is, defectors who've escaped North Korea (and these are people who deserve our sympathy no matter what they tell their handlers once they reach the South) are incentivized to provide bad stories about what is happening up north, including things like this.

The ex-girlfriend's singing troupe was accused of making porn (a big no-no) and carrying and/or distributing Bibles (another huge no-no), but these two no-nos are rarely ever a go-together. It sounds like a mishmash of defectors' say-anything stories that ultimately points to a mismatch. That's what my gut tells me (but it could be a throw-anything-at-them accusation from North Korean hardliners who

On the other hand, we do know that outrageous things really do happen up there, so this could be true (with the ham-handed reasons for their execution being an example of throw-everything-at-them accusations engineered by North Korean hardliners). So she really might be dead from an executioner's gun, along with all those others in her once-famous singing group, they could all be jailed, or heck, they may be living out their lives somewhere quietly (or even hiding out in China).

I'd still like to hold out hope that the Western-educated and basketball-loving Kim Jong-un really is poised to bring about change and is not allowing (or is at least curtailing) the sociopathic housecleaning of his forebears and handlers.

(Oh, and to tie the first sentence up with the rest of this post, CBS News just had a US Senator saying that dealing with Syria's use of chemical weapons is important to send a message to North Korea. What a perfect bow.)