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Korea 2017 Year in Review: The Presidential Impeachment was Actually the Biggest Story

Koreabridge - Fri, 2017-12-08 11:00
Korea 2017 Year in Review: The Presidential Impeachment was Actually t

This is a local rep-post of a piece I just wrote for the Lowy Institute. I like these sort of retrospective, end-of-the-year pieces.

Basically I argue that the impeachment of former President Park Geun Hye was the biggest story of the year. Yes, Trump sucks up all the oxygen in the room, but who even knows if he means all his threats? But completing a full impeachment cycle is a pretty rare event in the history of democracy. And the Koreans did it with no violence or civic rupture. That is pretty impressive. But yes, I did then list North Korea and Trump as otherwise the big stories of the year.

The full essay follows the jump:

2017 was a rollercoaster year on the Korean peninsula. The South Koreans impeached their president. The North Koreans tested dozens of rockets, including intercontinental ballistic missiles. The American president threatened war repeatedly, possible nuclear war, against the North. And some random dorky foreigner in Korea got famous, because his cute little kids wandered into the frame while he was on TV. Honestly, why didn’t they fire that guy? It was quite a year.

For all the bluster and threats of war, I would nonetheless rate the impeachment of the South Korean president as the most important event. North Korean war scares are, as disturbing as it is to say it, pretty common, while a completed democratic impeachment is actually quite rare.

1. The Impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye

With several months of distance from the upheaval of the winter protests against Park, the impeachment trial, the new election, and all the attendant drama, it is now pretty clear that Park Geun-Hye’s circle was grossly corrupt, and that she, by extension, did not really deserve to remain in office. There are diehards who are convinced it was a ‘communist’ conspiracy. The South Korean right is disturbingly comfortable with mccarthyite attacks on liberal opponents, and there is an Alex Jones-style conspiracy fringe here. But it is otherwise pretty widely accepted that Park’s confidant, Choi Soon-Sil, grossly abused her access to the president and had far too much influence over Park.

Choi was often compared to Rasputin. Choi’s father had a quasi-religious influence over Park since her youth, and Choi seemed to ‘inherit’ that. Choi in turn abused it, particularly on Park’s ascension to the presidency, enriching both herself and her cronies. It was undeniable sleazy and embarrassing, and as more and more details came out, Park’s approval rating fell to an astonishing 6% at one point. Has any chief executive in a modern democracy ever fallen that low?

There is much debate about whether Park herself knew about all the corruption. But like Ronald Reagan’s ignorance defense during the Iran-Contra affair, this too represents a gross dereliction of duty. President Park was either blithely unaware of what was happening right under her nose among her closest companions and staff, or covered it up, Nixon-style.

Eight months out now from all the controversy, my own sense is the former, while most of the Koreans I know seem to think the former. Park, it strikes me, was more incompetent than dastardly. Her behavior throughout her presidency suggested she was constantly overwhelmed by the scope of her office. On missile defense, North Korea policy, or the sinking of the Sewol ferry, she was adrift, and the rumors from her staff regarding her (low) intelligence were harsh. We will likely never know.

2. North Korean Missile Tests.

North Korea conducted twenty separate missile provocations in 2017, involving dozens of missiles, from short-range Scud-style launches to full-blown ICBMs designed to strike the continental United States. This was the fastest test tempo ever. For all Donald Trump’s pettiness, his ‘rocket man’ nickname for Kim Jong Un is not wrong.

One of these tests overflew Japan, prompting the commencement of civil air defense drills. (Although in a society whose median age is 47, they likely will not work well given the 8 minute warning time the Japanese will have.) Others have sought to demonstrate a capability to strike the United States. November 29’s test seems to have been accepted as that breakthrough.

Much of the debate over the weapons turns on whether the North intends to use them offensively. It is widely accepted that nuclear weapons give North Korea a potent shield against US-led regime-change against Pyongyang. After the Western removals of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and Moammar Kadaffi, that is an understandable goal, however regrettable for us. There is a defense and deterrence logic here which all can grasp.

We may dislike it, but it is in fact quite rational for a state like North Korea to pursue these weapons. It is poor and backward. It is loathed by much of the world as a freakish cold war relic. It is surrounded by enemies, or frenemies like China eager to exploit it instrumentally, but it has no real friends. When international relations theorist Ken Waltz spoke of ‘internal balancing,’ North Korean nuking up against such a tough neighborhood despite its poverty is exactly what he had in mind. Friendless, encircled, dysfunctional, and poor, North Korea is, in Victor Cha’s words, the ‘impossible state.’ In such circumstances, nuclear weapons are in fact an excellent choice. Not only for security, but they can be proliferated for cash and used as gangsterish shake-down instruments as well.

Hawkish fears of North Korean aggression in the vein of the old saw that ‘nuclear weapons make the world safe for World War II’ strike me as over-wrought. Even if North Korea could successfully ‘de-couple’ the US from South Korea, it could likely still not defeat South Korea. The terrible health of that recent defector, who was a relatively privileged border card, is suggestive. And even if the North somehow managed to win, it would struggle enormously to occupy and integrate a modern state of free people twice its size into its ossified framework.

3. Trump’s Fire and Fury

Throughout the year, Trump’s erratic and explosive commentary raised tension in ways not seen before. No previous American president had ever threatened to ‘totally destroy North Korea’ or threw around casual war threats – the ‘armada, ‘fire and fury.’ Trump, in his impatience to distinguish himself from his predecessor, claimed ‘strategic patience’ to be over. All this created a momentum to strike North Korea – enough that South Korean President Moon Jae-In felt it necessary to publicly declare to the National Assembly, just days before Trump’s arrival, that no war could take place against North Korea with the South’s assent.

And curiously, Trump blinked. When he also spoke to the National Assembly, he forsook the best chance he had to lay out a case for war to the South Korean government and public. Instead he fell back on bromides about South Korea’s self-evident moral superiority and the need for ‘maximum pressure.’ In fact, there is little difference between that and strategic patience – alliances, deterrence and defense, missile defense, sanctions, etc. Similarly, after the November 29 ICBM test in which North Korea triumphantly declared it could strike the US, Trump said little more than ‘we’ll take care of it,’ likely because he know realizes that no one believes his bizarre threats anymore and that war in the region would be a catastrophe laid at his feet.

South Korea came through these multiple challenges remarkably well. It completed a full impeachment cycle without violence or civil upheaval. Few democracies have ever done that. It similarly held the line on the North’s bullying despite a new liberal president whom conservatives relentlessly criticize as too dovish. And for all the anxiety about Donald Trump’s warmongering – or it just reality TV star blather? – the US president finally seems to have realized what South Koreans and the analyst community have known for years: There is no obvious solution to North Korea; if there were, it would have been tried long ago; and war is a terrible option. Now if only they could find a way get rid of that hack BBC Dad guy…

Filed under: Korea (North), Korea (South), Lowy Institute, Nuclear Weapons, Trump

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University



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Cya Later, Seoul: Things I’ll Miss About Korea

Koreabridge - Tue, 2017-11-28 04:52
Cya Later, Seoul: Things I’ll Miss About Korea Read more at http://kor  

So Long, Korea!My life here has been incredible, but even in Neverland you’ll find you have your ups and downs.  Last week, to the dismay of many on Facebook, I wrote about the things I hate about living as a foreigner (expat) in Korea.  This week, on a more positive note, I’m sharing just a handful of things (okay, two or three handfuls) I’ll miss about living in Korea.  I had always planned on either staying 1 year or 3 years (for the Olympics).  As someone already commented, 3 years does not a Korea OG make.  This is not a comprehensive list, it’s just the musings of a basic bitch.  It’s much tougher to write sarcastically when talking about things you’ll miss.  So, set your cynicism aside and read on from most obvious to more detailed.  Here are just a few things I’ll miss about life in Korea. Photo by Jakub KapusnakThe Food

There’s a big Korean population in my home city of Toronto.  I had been for AYCE Korean BBQ with friends and for quick bibimbap lunches, but there’s so much more to discover about Korean cuisine.  In Toronto, Korean BBQ just comes with kimchi and rice.  I’m definitely going to miss all the delicious side dishes (반찬) that accompany the meat in Korea.

I had tried Soju back home, but Makgeolli was a game changer.  When we visited Singapore, the bottles which cost KRW 3,500 here were going for $18.  I can’t imagine how pricy it will be back home in Canada!  I’ll miss Hotteok (호떡) on a cold winter day.  I can go for spicy chicken called Dak Galbi (닭갈비) any day of the week (with cheese, of course!)  One of my favourite snacks is a steaming hot King Size Dumpling (왕만두).  You certainly don’t see those on every corner back home.  In fact, most of the street food is pretty boring.  We have food trucks galore, but stalls were limited to hot dogs.  Has anything changed?

 A Massive Subway System

The subway systems in Busan and in Seoul are very convenient.  With 9 subway lines and buses connecting the dots, the Seoul subway system blows Toronto’s measly 3-lines out of the water.  I’m not looking forward to going back to packed streetcars skipping skipping stops due to crowding.

Cheap Taxis

While fares are hiked up at night after the subway closes, a taxi in Korea will still be way cheaper than a fare back home.  It used to cost me $10 to get across downtown.  Now I can get halfway across the city for that amount.  Let’s not get started on rent prices in Toronto.  I’m terrified.

Skincare Everywhere

If Korea has taught me anything, it’s how to take care of my skin.  I used to wash my face with soap before bed and any kind of moisturizer was a faraway thought.  Now I run ThatGirlCartier which focuses on K-Beauty and Dating.  I’ve had the opportunity to try a number of amazing facials, cosmetic procedures, and skincare lines while living in Korea.  I’ve found a personal favourite brand and I’ll have to stock up before leaving.  I’m definitely going to miss the convenience of all the Skincare Shops in any given neighbourhood.  Shout out to the gazillions of cosmetic and plastic surgery clinics in Korea.  How am I going to afford botox now?

Concept Shops/ Stores with More

I’ve already written about the Style Nanda Pink Hotel/ Pink Pool Cafe and Skinfood’s Cafe.  Since there are so many shops in competition, you’ve gotta have a gimmick to stay alive.  For example, Espoir has opened up a Make-Up Pub with customized cosmetics.  Do retailers get this creative back home these days or is it “one night only” done up by PR firms for influencers?  This shop in Hongdae is a permanent fixture!

rawpixel.comWifi Everywhere

There’s wifi on the subway and in practically every restaurant, cafe, gym, and doctor’s office.  While I still use up my 3 gigs of data before the month is up, I could totally get by on wifi alone.

Photographer: Christine RoyNot Tipping

I read a friend’s Facebook status about tipping lately and it got me thinking.  She mentioned that she took herself out for dinner and sat at the bar.  The bartender was neglectful – she had to ask another server for water and yet another for a status update on her meal which had taken an eternity to arrive.  After tax, the meal came to $30.  The people commenting still said they would tip 18%.  I felt a little uncomfortable not tipping when I first came to Korea, but now that I’m used to it the idea of paying an additional 18% for crappy service boggles my mind.

Bing Bong

I used to feel so uncomfortable pressing a button to get my server’s attention, and I still cringe a little yelling out “저기요”.  As a server, I always felt a little awkward disrupting someone’s conversation to take an order, quality check, or wrap things up and deliver the cheque.  With the touch of a button, we can let our server know exactly when we want something.  It’s not exactly a step of service, but it takes the guesswork out of it all.  I’m a fan.


Everything is easy here once you know a little bit of Korean.  The bus system is pretty straightforward and the subways are in multiple languages.  Everything is done online.  You can order food whenever and to wherever, and there are convenience stores situated in every nook and cranny of this city.  If you need or want something it’s not tough to get, and usually all you’ll have to do is lift a finger.

Photographer: Rashid Khreiss

Drinking in the Streets

Convenience store socials are an essential part of the Korean experience.  Sharing soju on a mountain with Korean aunties and uncles happy to see you enjoying views of their country is unparalleled joy.  Going on a Mak-about (a walk-about with Makgeolli) can be sheer bliss.  Fried chicken and beer by the Han River? Simple decadence.  I’ll definitely miss the punk in drublic vibe of Korea.

Photographer: Mark MingleNo Shame in the Selfie Game

I used to feel so embarrassed snapping a selfie.  As a solo traveler (for the most part) it’s tough to get a sly picture of yourself at tourist attractions.  Not in Korea!  I know most people want you to shove that selfie stick where the sun don’t shine, but here you’re welcome to snap a selfie (or a dozen) almost anywhere you please.

Instagrammable everything

While it might not always taste great, Korea is awesome at making adorable edible treats.  Some are better than others, but you can count on at least one moment in your day lighting up your insta-story.

Quirky Corners and Street Art

If you follow me on instagram you’ll know I have a great love for street art.  In Korea, you can find awesome murals and graffiti through Itaewon, Hongdae, Sangsu, Seongsu, and in the alleys of Gangnam.  I know I can find street art lots of places (and we found plenty in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) but I feel like in Korea I noticed street art through brand new eyes.

Incheon International Airport

Getting from the desk to the gate might be a headache, but Korea as the gateway to Asia is something I’ll never take for granted.  I’ve traveled to China, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore and am not done yet.  I’ve fallen in love with people, places, and plenty of plates in Korea and beyond.  Getting to the side of the planet that many times would have been impossible from Canada.

Photographer: Mathew SchwartzThe History of Korea

All over Korea you can visit temples, tea houses, mountains, and palaces.  Any day of the week you can don a hanbok and step into the past.  While Korea and Canada are both relatively “new” countries, Korea is rich in tumultuous history.  There’s plenty to learn about culture and heritage in Korea.  I’ll never be able to learn enough!

 Bright Neon Lights

It’s totally cheesy, but I love walking through areas like Jamsilsaenae (RIP Sincheon) or Hongdae and seeing all the flashing lights day and night.  I love walking home and seeing Seoul N Tower (Namsan Tower) all aglow.  The more I write this the lamer it feels.  Sure, I’m going to miss alot of “stuff” in Korea, but more than that I’ll miss the people and the opportunities.

 Opportunities for Foreigners

As much as there’s systemic racism in this homogeneous society, there’s also a ridiculous amount of opportunity for people who don’t “look Asian”.  Even if you haven’t dedicated yourself to the arts, you can get gigs as an extra here and there on dramas and in movies.  A lot of hagwons just want a singing/ dancing monkey equivalent who will look and sound as different as possible to his or her students.  It’s not always fair, but the odds are ever in our favour if you’ve got a Bachelor’s degree from a certain set of countries.  When I go home will I be relevant in my industry anymore or will I have to start from the bottom…

Expat Expectations

I think there’s an understanding among most of us foreigners in Korea.  It’s not easy to be away from your family and the way people cycle through Korea it can be tough to maintain friendships.  This one is a bit of a double-edged sword, but I find most people here genuinely want to be open about forging new friendships.  If you’re open to adventure or even have even just a smidge of curiosity, you’ll find new pals with common interests.  These are people you may never have met back home, but aren’t you glad you’re giving one another a chance?

Chosen Family

Having close friends from around the globe makes leaving Korea extra tough.  I know that when I go home I’ll have the opposite problems.  Instead of missing a wedding back home, I’ll now be missing weddings and other important events all around the world.  More than any one thing I’ll miss about my life in Korea is the cheesiest answer of all.  I’m going to miss you.  I’m going to miss being able to call you up to go to trivia on…well…any given night of the week.  I’ll miss bumping into you at Fountain when it overflows.  I’ll miss the simple routines like coffee after lunch and a stroll around the park.  I’ll miss being mistaken for that other blonde blogger who loves to eat.  I’ll miss discovering new and exciting things since Seoul is ever-changing.  I’ll miss you.  All of you.  I’ll miss you most of all when I leave Korea.

The post Cya Later, Seoul: Things I’ll Miss About Korea appeared first on The Toronto Seoulcialite.

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Fall Colours of Korea

Koreabridge - Sun, 2017-11-26 05:31
Fall Colours of Korea

If you talk to any Korean over the age of 40, they will no doubt tell you about the “4 seasons of Korea” and look a bit astonished when they realize that places like Canada also have four seasons as well. This concept comes up in a lot of older textbooks and even my Korean language books as well. While it may seem strange, Korea does not disappoint when it comes to the seasons and fall is one of my favourite seasons here and that is why I can see why so many people are proud of them.

The beauty of fall is that there is a vibrant burst of colour before the long grey period of winter. I love the colours of fall, especially at the Buddhist temples around Korea. The trick to capturing great colours is to really make good use of the light. I find that you can stretch the shooting times out a lot more on the clear days. Not to mention that the bright mid-morning light often works best for these shots.

The 3 C’s: Contrast, Colour, and Creativity

I find that beginner photographers often are overwhlemed by the scenes that they see. They end up just “documenting” the scene rather than really diving in and exploring it. That is why I try and stick to the 3 C’s when I go out. This keeps me from just “spraying and praying” when I go out. When you are looking for certain concepts or ideas, you will produce better images in the end. You will find yourself looking for shots rather than hoping that you “something” at the end of the day.


Look for areas of light and dark to really make the scene pop. You can enhance the contrast in Lightroom after, but try and find the contrast on your own to train your eye. This is where harsher light may actually help you. Use the leaves to hold back some of that light and see what the shadows do.


This can be over done at times and I am no stranger to this at all. However, do not let that stop you from seeking out the colours that attract us all to this great time of the year. The best way that I find is to either hit the peak season or combine the 3’s like I mention in this article. Try choosing a single colour to focus on and see where that takes you.


I love seeing what people come up with during this time of year. Do just try and document what you see but try to express your vision. Basically, use your imagination and create images that express something more than “I was here” and you will be off to a great start. Look for new angles or try different apertures to isolate images. Think about what the scene is really saying to you and try to capture an image that show that.

The Bottom Line

Fall is a great time of year and you should try your best to show your version of it. You don’t have to be on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia to capture a remarkable autumn shot. You just have to explore your world as I have done here in Korea. Think about what this season means to you and what tools and techniques you can use to express that vision.

The post Fall Colours of Korea appeared first on The Sajin.


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Solar and human powered trike project stranded in Busan

Koreabridge - Wed, 2017-11-22 15:06
Solar and human powered trike project stranded in Busan

As some may still remember of the Swiss Solar Impulse 2 which flew around the world using only solar power, the Solatrike-Project of another Swiss guy head off about the same time. Since July 2015 the Solatrike of David Brandenberger is on the road from Europe to South Korea. The solar and human powered recumbent Trike passed on this way 17 countries and filled 22’000km so far.

The Swiss traveller was looking for something to transport a load of luggage in a sportive and environmental saving way. He chose a bike because of the slow travelling speed and to get in contact with locals, but his luggage was too heavy to pull it all. That’s why he thought about a motor as an assist and solar panels to charge the battery independent of energy sources. He found the Czech recumbent Trike fabrication AZUB, which did a race with something similar. They provided him with experience and a custom built recumbent Trike and trailer. Knowing only a little of electricity, solar power and bike repair, David Brandenberger head off to his adventure in direction Asia. His skills getting better in these things on the way, but the focus are still on photography and doing sketches.

He spent rainy nights with Uzbek construction workers in a worn out house in Kazakhstan, got interviewed by many reporters in Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece, survived a narrow construction road passing huge trucks in the dust in China or a night in a desert storm holding his tent against the fierce wind inside the Gobi desert. There are a lot of stories he could tell of his tour from the heat in Azerbaijan and the freezing cold in Kyrgyzstan, but the most he likes to tell about the friendliness of the people he encountered along the way. Some provided him with food along the way, invited him for a night to sleep, helped at repairs on the Trike or to find the right direction and others organized to find a company which could build a new trailer in Uzbekistan.

His goal is to travel with his Solatrike as far as he can and as long as it’s possible. If he could cycle around the world he will be more than glad. The half of the length around the Equator he already cycled and he is still in good mood to continue to South East Asia. Unfortunately he is stranded here in Busan for more than one and a half month now, trying in vain to ship his Solatrike to South East Asia. Crossing boarders by land with his bike was never a problem, but shipping it to another Country seems to be impossible. Every Country finds another reason to deny this travel to be continued. David hopes to find a good way out of this situation that he can continuing on his mission to promote solar and other alternative power like Solar Impulse 2 with his Solatrike-Project.





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Jen Sotham Memorial Hootenanny at Ol' 55

Koreabridge - Wed, 2017-11-22 13:18

As many of you know, Jen Sotham, a beloved part of our Busan family, recently passed away after a heroic battle with cancer. We will be celebrating her life and the impact she had on our community this Saturday at 7:30 P.M. at Ol' 55, which will be specially opened for this memorial.

Please join us if you were in any way touched by Jen's generous soul or soaring spirit.

The bar at Ol '55 will not be operational, so please bring any refreshments you wish to consume.

-Chris Tharp

Jen Sotham Memorial Hootenanny at Ol' 55 Read more at http://koreabrid
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Busan Traditional Market Festival

Koreabridge - Tue, 2017-11-21 09:16
Busan Traditional Market Festival

2017 Traditional Market Festival

(2017 ChungmuDong  Saebyeok Haean Golmok Traditional Market Festival)

In Korea, in all cities you can find at least one Traditional Market which is called Shijang시장 in Korean. You can find almost all the things you need in daily life, such as fruits, vegetables, cloths, accessories, etc. They are also a popular attraction for tourists who visit Korea, to see Korean traditional shops, souvenirs and get familiar with the atmosphere of a Korean traditional market. These markets are also so popular for having cheap items as well as variety of things based on your taste. Some of these markets are well known for some special items such as fish market, cloths market, etc.

One of the most famous traditional markets in Korea is Jagalchi market in Busan. The famous fish and seafood market which is located in the Nampo Dong district in Busan. Jagalchi market is very well known among tourists as well as locals and people do daily shopping, eating at the restaurants and also enjoy watching all those creatures taken from the sea!

But out of those who know Jagalchi well, how many know that there are actually many small traditional markets near Jagalchi? Yes, it is quite interesting that there are some hidden small but crowded markets near that area. The Saebyeok Traditional Market (새벽 시장) and Haean Traditional Market (해안 시장) are two of them, which are located in Nampo dong, very close to Jagalchi market.

In these two traditional markets, you can find sea food, as well as fruits, vegetables, plants, even sleepers! But what makes these two markets more important is the festival that is held every year there. Every year a festival called “Traditional Market Festival” is held at Saebyeok Traditional Market (새벽 시장) and Haean Traditional Market (해안 시장). I had the chance to participate this festival this year and cover the news as a reporter of the festival.

The festival this year was held on Friday and Saturday, November 4th and 5th. Some contents of the festival were same on both days and some were different. You could see little shops were selling their products like fish, seafood or even street food, besides some tables with special services such as nurses who offers medical emergency or some others who were doing some traditional treatment. On the other side of the market, there also table for some fun activities such as making postcards and handicrafts or fortune telling! There you could make your own fish with your style or choose a sentence in Korean and the artist woman made you a lovely postcard. All for free!

As an official part of the festival, there was a small stage which celebrated another year of Traditional Market Festival. The festival on Friday started with a marching band performance and followed up by the festival mayor speech, as well as some other staff; followed by the very fun part of the festival which was the performers who sang traditional songs that had the older men and women dancing in the street. Traditional Korean music is something I personally really enjoy. I feel so happy when I see older people enjoying themselves and are so excited to see a performance that they start dancing and clapping. One part of Korean culture that I love is that older people actually have their own style of fun and they start dancing just by hearing their generation’s song being performed.

You could also win a fish! A raw fish to take with you and cook at home. That’s quite interesting! To get that, you just needed to collect 3 stamps from all around the markets.

This is not a big festival in Busan but you really should visit. It is held every year by Busan City at Saebyeok and Haean Traditional Market in Nampo dong. Don’t miss it next year!

2017 Photos Below

Pusanweb Photo Flashback of Chagalchi Festival 2001



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Teachers Teaching Teachers Playlist

EdTechTalk - Sun, 2017-11-19 04:13

While things have gotten a bit quiet on the the EdTechTalk site, Teachers Teaching Teachers continues to have great conversations Wednesday nights at 8pm EST (global times). Below is a playlist of recent episodes.  
Tune in at: http://edtechtalk.com/ttt

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Educational Technology and Education Conferences for January to June 2018, Edition #38

EdTechTalk - Sat, 2017-11-18 11:27

Educational Technology and Education Conferences

for January to June 2018, Edition #38

Prepared by Clayton R. Wright, crwr77 at gmail.com, November 12, 2017

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Saying ‘Hello’ to Korean Food, Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Korea (for the Night)

Koreabridge - Thu, 2017-11-16 01:53
Saying Hello to Korean Food, Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Korea (for the Night)

As a foreigner here in South Korea, I can sometimes feel like I am in a bubble. Sometimes without my participation in the process, sometimes willingly. At work, I am often left out of discussions about matters that might affect me until the last possible moment, or until the actual matter takes place and I am just kind of thrust into it. Often, at night, either Jen or I will ask the other if it’s time to “say goodbye to Korea,” code for closing the curtains on the outside world and cozying up to our insulated world of two inhabitants. That latter example does not necessarily reflect a poor opinion of Korea, but rather an opinion of the world at large and whether or not it’s sometimes therapeutic to escape it and all its associated bullshit; someday, far from today we might play out a similar scene where one of us asks if it’s time to “say goodbye to Middletown, New Jersey” or “Walla Walla, Washington.” But, I am not holding my breath: houses are too damn expensive in Middletown.

Still, we are in South Korea. Jen has occupied the country for going on about seven years while I am at about five years (if you count the first two attempts in 2005 and 2010). There are things about the country and culture we love, things about it we love less, and things about it we love less than that. Just like in Middletown (great parks, too many strip malls, those damn expensive houses).

One of the things we love about Korea pretty consistently is its food. Sure, the basis for most of the recipes are strikingly similar when you actually make them–soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seed, gochugaru (red pepper flakes), gochujang (red pepper paste), repeat for the next dish. And yet, years and years on we still crave them. There remains a comfort to them, to these combinations of flavors, paired with things like kimchi, pork, various vegetables, tofu and more. A plethora of side dishes (banchan) to accompany a hearty bowl of stew and hot, sticky rice is one of my world’s least guilty pleasures.

Kimchi jjigae, with tofu and “moksal” pork. Recipe: http://banchancomic.tumblr.com/post/97910719044/kimchijjigae-is-probably-1-comfort-food-koreans

Perhaps some of the reason for this continued love affair, however, is just how rarely we participate in it at home. A look at a sample menu of the week in our household reveals very little in the form of Korean, excepting that most of the ingredients were purchased in Korea. More often will we cook things of Indian, Thai (sort of) or good old “American (whatever that means)” origins. Jen’s school has a complete (usually pretty decent) Korean lunch buffet every day, while I consume gimbap and sweet, sweet Dwaeji Gukbap pretty regularly when dining out. When we get home and want to “say goodbye to Korea,” we often want to say “hello” to a culinary culture far removed from our current location.

But, sometimes, our curtains might be closed to Korea for the night but our stomachs remain open. With the assistance of great resources like the popular Maangchi YouTube channel and less well-known but also helpful Aeri’s Kitchenthe incredibly fun and entertaining Cook Korean! illustrated Korean cookbook by Robin Ha, as well as great local resources like the woman at Geumnyeonsan Market whom I purchased our kimchi jjigae’s kimchi, a delicious, completely homemade Korean meal was on our tables and going into our bellies in about two hours (if you include things like sweating the zucchini and such).

If this was what we ate all day, every day, for decades on decades, I could see the possibility of having very little thought for it other than sustenance. And, for us, there can often be plenty of time between times we choose to make rather than buy our banchan. But, when the mood hits, there’s nothing better than a steaming hot bowl of kimchi jjigae between my hands as the temperature drops. And when something that seems so exotic and impossible to replicate like banchan is complete and consumed with my own hands and mouth, I feel like a Korean Titan with a full, happy gut.

How often do you make your Korean food? What are some of your favorites? Share and make us hungry in the comments.

A delicious Korean meal, all made at home.


Kimchi jjigae: http://banchancomic.tumblr.com/post/97910719044/kimchijjigae-is-probably-1-comfort-food-koreans

Kongnamul muchim: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWfhIq_MiiU

Spinach banchan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4JgJec4QQI&t=189s

Fried zucchini banchan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voVMhqW5Hj8

JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.

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Remembering Jen

Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-11-11 13:05
Remembering Jen


Jen Sotham was a vibrant part of the Busan community.  She was a vibrant part of any community she encountered.  Jen wrote. Jen sang. Jen danced. Jen filmed.  Jen taught. Jen laughed. Jen spoke from the heart and listened from there as well.  Jen touched so many lives. Jen died this week after a long, amazingly shared battle life with cancer.  Those of us who knew her already knew that she was awesome.  I don't think we realized how much she was going to teach us (and so many others) after she left.

Whether you're someone who got to know her in person or someone who will get to know her through the online and offline legacy she leaves behind, Jen's life is one worth celebrating. So, lift that glass a little higher, sing that song a little louder, and hug that person a little tighter.... To Jen!

- Jeff from:  lucywalkerfilm
Ineffably beautiful to be holding Jen’s hand & head as she peacefully died last night. Awe and privilege and radiance to witness. Too many too intense thoughts for here. Love and prayers to her wonderful family and friends. Even her doctors and nurses so touched by her and devastated. Gratitude and reverence for her peace and acceptance as she made her transition despite its fearsome challenges. Her grace was shocking even as it was tested to the core. Thanks too to @thewinsomebrown and @claudearp for emergency middle of the night spirits and quotings of Joyce and Hopkins. Worlds of wanwood leafmeal. The Dead. We are working on getting Jen’s TED talk from #tedxvenicebeach uploaded asap for those of you asking about that. And mostly and always and of course just love to my friend and inspiration and collaborator Jen Sotham all the way to her last breath and heartbeat and beyond 

We'd like to maintain an archive of Jen's stuff here.  Please comment or email any links or thoughts.

Jen Online

From Jen vs. Cancer

Creative Works

Social Media

Jen at TEDxVenice Beach

Jen @ Wordz Only #2 (Feb. 20, 2010)

Jen Sotham @ Wordz Only#6 (October 22, 2010)

Jen Sotham at The 2012 Acoustic Showdown

"Logistics" - A Romantic Short Film by Jen Sotham

Jen Sotham - "Logistics" Interview

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This Week: Cocktail Fest, Reopened Greenhouse, & More

Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-11-11 02:35
This Week: Cocktail Fest, Reopened Greenhouse, & More

Alright. I’m a shit blogger. But as I mentioned in the last post, I am a really well-informed shit blogger these days, and while I’m trawling through countless articles to look for material for work, I’m constantly saving articles, too, that I have a personal interest in and mean to come back to at some point. That point is usually Sunday, when I should be getting work done to make the week run more smoothly. So I thought, while I’m at it, at least I can make myself useful (is that what this is?) and do a kind of round-up on Fridays/Saturdays in the weird witching hours between finishing one week’s work and starting the next week’s.

And what a week it has been my friends. I’m going to try to bring some order to the chaos, but this will probably be an evolving format for a while (or this will be the only time this kind of post ever happens — life is full of mystery).

In Korea

  • Trump came, blah blah blah. Let’s not talk about that. It’s over now, and there were no major international incidents, so let’s just move on.
  • Now, who could use a nice, stiff drink? The Cheongdam Cocktail Festival started last Thursday and will be going on until the 22nd. You can get up to 60% discounts on drinks and bar food at places like Mixology, Lupin and Alice. These are some of the best cocktails Korea has to offer, but they are pricey, so it’s a good chance to try some of these places out at a fraction of the normal price.
  • Also related, if you’re feeling like you’re living in a somewhat Lynchian world of late, there’s a film festival for that. Seoul Art Cinema will be showing David Lynch’s films from November 15 to November 26.
  • The Joongang Ilbo has published an interesting profile of literary critic and writer Hwang Hyun-san. He explains that growing up on a remote island meant that he learned a dialectical Korean that influenced his interest in words and language.
  • And of course, the new Michelin Seoul guide is out. There’s a lot of drama going on with this guide, but it’s not as unique to Korea as some people seem to think. Chefs have been giving back their stars for a while now, for a variety of reasons, and of course the guide is tied up in politics and nepotism all over the world. Why else would it have taken them this long to even get to Korea?
  • And finally, the Daeonsil Greenhouse has reopened at Changgyeonggung Palace. I didn’t know about the greenhouse until about a year ago, but it’s been closed for renovation for about 15 months. I’ll definitely be stopping in soon to check it out. One of my main goals in life is to be set up enough to have a greenhouse, and probably also someone to take care of the plants in said greenhouse, because despite my sharecropper roots, I kill most things left in my care (that don’t have four legs…. my zoo of pets are fine, don’t worry).

In the World

So there’s the world according to me for this week. Eventually I will quell the rising storm of work assignments and bake something or go somewhere. Until then.

The post This Week: November 6-12 appeared first on Follow the River North.

Follow the River North

Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.

Books & Stuff    Cafés & Shops     Korean Food & Ingredients      Personal     Recipes       Restaurants & Bars

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Top 5 Night Markets in Seoul

Koreabridge - Tue, 2017-11-07 00:00
Top 5 Night Markets in Seoul

One thing you must have heard of Seoul by now is that it’s a city that operates around the clock, even if it’s public transportation doesn’t. Many people take this chance to stay out all night enjoying the various clubbing and drinking opportunities, but every once in awhile, it is also fun to check out a night market in Seoul.

Have you yet visited a Seoul night market? If not, here are a few night markets in Seoul highly recommended by us for you to check out!


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If your shopping buds are still tickling by the time the clock hits 10p.m, head on over to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station, which boasts several tall buildings all there to serve your shopping needs. Floor after floor after floor you’ll find women’s clothes, men’s clothes, shoes, bags, other kinds of accessories, and even food. Be sure to brush up on asking “how much” in Korean. Then load up your wallet with cash and be prepared to haggle your way to cheaper prices! And that’s not even where it ends!

Outside, by Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station’s exit 4 and under the bright yellow tents, you can find different kinds of items ranging from clothes to leathery goods to accessories to satisfy your shopping itch. There are also wholesale options by exit 2 of Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station. Be sure to also take a break between your shopping expeditions to indulge in the tasty food options available!

Tucked away inside the area is also a theme park ride called Disco Pang-Pang, which we bet you’ll love too. Just be sure not to eat right before you ride!



This market is located conveniently in the middle of the city, open both day and night. From 10pm until 5am the next morning, you can browse around its night market, which is one of the most famous ones in Seoul. You can find just about anything your heart desires at this market, including amazing food to wash down with some drinks.

However, take into account that some vendors might operate on their own schedule, instead of the regular 10pm to 5am, and that a lot of shops close on Sundays. Also take into account that not all the shopping opportunities are located outdoors – there are also shopping centers such as the Sungyemun Imported Goods Shopping Centre from where you can find more goods to shop for.



Having been established in 1905, Gwangjang Market is Seoul’s oldest market. As it is located close by to Dongdaemun, you may even check out both of them in the same night!

This market is known for selling hanbok, the traditional Korean clothing, but its best part is perhaps the street level. Here, fabric shops and food stalls come together to offer you the best of both worlds in one fell swoop. If there’s one place where you’ll definitely want to explore all the Korean street food available, it’s right here! The best part is, it’s open all night!


#4 BAMDOKKAEBI NIGHT MARKET (밤도깨비 야시장, bamdokkaebi yasijang)

Although this night market was originally opened in just one location in Yeouido, it has since expanded to four locations around the city. On some Fridays and Saturdays, between March and October, you can find this market at one of its different locations: Yeouido, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Mokdong Stadium and Cheonggye Plaza. And with a different location comes a different atmosphere and experience for the night market.

At Yeouido, you can find a traditional and cultural experience, with not only lots of food on offer, but traditional performances from different corners of the world to be enjoyed as well. You can also find Korean handicrafts for purchase.

In contrast, Dongdaemun Design Plaza’s night market is more modernly vibrant. You’ll find a great mix of food, handmade items, and even fashion and dance shows. The younger crowd especially loves visiting this night market.

If you visit the one at Mokdong Stadium, you’ll find a very sports themed night market. Here locals can buy and sell different kinds of sports equipment, and even get their broken sports items repaired. In addition, you can view showings of extreme sports, all the while munching on healthy and tasty food.

Lastly, Cheonggye Plaza’s market is offered in May, July and September, all of which offer a different season of foods, handicrafts, and performances. It is especially great if you’re going with your family.



While not a traditional night market, as in it is open in the evening rather than at night, checking out Myeongdong is definitely worth the trip. Not only are the two biggest department stores – Lotte and Shinsegae – located right by the area, the streets are filled with clothing stores, ranging from small Korean shops to big international brands such as H&M and Forever21.

And what if you get hungry? No problem! There are several food stalls spread across the streets of Myeongdong to get your tummy full of yummy. In addition to the food vendors, there are also tons of restaurants in the area to soothe your dining needs, even after the shops have already closed for the night.

Next time you’re planning a night out, you just might want to add a night market in Seoul to your plan as well. If you are feeling inspired by all this talk of Korea to test your Korean language skills, you can try our 90 Minute Korean Alphabet Challenge!


What’s your favorite night market in Seoul? Any great food stall or souvenir recommendations? Please share with us in the comments below!


Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto

The post Top 5 Night Markets in Seoul appeared first on 90 Day Korean.

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Korea This Week: Gordon Ramsay Shills for Cass, Zainichi Woes, Sino-Korean Ties Thaw

Koreabridge - Mon, 2017-11-06 06:26
Korea This Week: Ramsay shills for Cass, Zainichi woes, Sino-Korean


Gordon Ramsay Shills for Cass

In a new commercial for Cass beer, pitchman and respected chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay takes a large swallow of beer, grimaces in ostensible pleasure, and proclaims it to be “bloody fresh!” The commercial is hoped to raise the international profile of Cass beer, though, as it enlists a chef renowned for his attention to quality to shill for the Korean equivalent of Budweiser, the ad has also noticeably lowered the foreign beer-drinking public’s estimation of Ramsay’s ability to credibly rate beer.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that local beer enthusiasts found Ramsay’s praise hard to swallow, as many local critics’ one-word reviews of Cass, Hite, and other mass-market Korean brews tend to rhyme with the name of the beer. For the record, I don’t think an ice-cold Cass is terrible; but I do think that in the year 2017 one could easily pluck a better beer from any convenience store cooler, blindfolded, 19 times out of twenty (the one miss being a Cass).

That Ramsay made this commercial during a time when the Korean craft beer scene is exploding makes it more remarkable. Before good craft beers became widely available, going to a high-end meat joint in Korea inevitably meant pairing your Hanwoo or pork belly with a sub-par beer, a sad but unavoidable fact that is somewhat analogous to going to a New York steakhouse and pairing a filet mignon with a Miller High Life. With the appearance of many excellent craft brews in Korea in the past decade or so, limiting the menu to one or two mass-produced lagers has become much harder to justify.

To be fair to Mr. Ramsay, “bloody fresh” actually says very little about the beer itself. All beer is fresh at some point, and this quality in itself doesn’t distinguish it from literally any other beer in the world that was also recently brewed. Perhaps this semantic loophole (along with flipping great wads of cash) was how his conscience allowed him to do this? In addition to being “bloody fresh”, the primary virtue of Cass according to Ramsay is that is rinses the oil from your mouth, which, as die-hard Gordon Ramsay fans will happily note, is not a quality unique to Cass either – the same effect could just as easily be accomplished with water, mouthwash, or paint thinner.

Is that a “well played” for Mr. Ramsay, or has the shark been jumped? You decide.

China-Korea Relations to Thaw?

There was a bit of good news this week on the diplomatic front, as Chinese and South Korean relations show signs of thawing after a year-long chill.  

On Tuesday, the foreign ministries of China and South Korea released statements noting the importance of the bilateral relationship, and resolving to “expeditiously bring exchange and cooperation in all areas back on a normal development track” (from the South Korean Foreign Ministry statement).

The frosty relations between Seoul and Beijing were brought about by Chinese opposition to South Korea’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which South Korea deemed important in defending against North Korean attack, but which China viewed as giving the US early warning advantages and the ability to peer into Chinese airspace. The row resulted in a series of unofficial sanctions from Beijing that had severe effects on several Korean industries, from cosmetics and fashion to tourism to pop culture.

South Korean guides assist a Chinese tourist in Seoul.

The “Korea Bubble” in Japan

I recently came across this excellent short documentary on the challenges and controversy surrounding the Chongryon (aka “Chosen Soren” in Japanese) – the association of 3rd and 4th-generation Koreans living in Japan who maintain links with and allegiance to North Korea. 

The mini-doc discusses the historical background and context of the 150,000-strong group of Zainichi Koreans, and explains how they ended up in Japan, why so many identify with a country they were not born in and, in many cases, have never been to (ie. North Korea), and the problems they face today in light of current tensions between Japan and North Korea. 

The video is part of the Vox Borders series, which “investigates the human stories behind the lines on a map”, and is a much better use of thirteen minutes than, say, drinking a Cass Fresh.

A Zainichi Korean student attends a Korean high school class in Tokyo.

And how was your week?



John Bocskay is the author of Culture Shock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (2017, Marshall Cavendish), available at Amazon.uk, The Book Depository, What the Book, and anywhere fine books are sold.


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Is Trump Baiting Kim Jong Un?

Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-11-04 08:18
Is Trump Baiting Kim Jong Un?



This is a local re-post of something I wrote a few weeks ago for The National Interest. It pivots off of the argument I made last month as well, that this is the weirdest North Korean crisis ever. Not necessarily the most dangerous – the ax-murder incident might still be at the top – but rather the strangest. And you thought Dennis Rodman was the weirdest low the North Korean debate could hit. How wrong you were.

The reason of course is Trump’s mad ad-libbing over these last months, and his downright bizarre commentary in general about east Asia. It’s worth remembering that his frightening comments like ‘fire and fury’ and ‘totally destroy’ were just thrown out off the cuff with no vetting by Trumps’ natsec team. So we’re backing into a war because Trump does not how to take direction from experts. John Kelly tried to ground him and Trump, like some petulant teenager, won’t have it – purposefully ignores his staff recommendations just to spite them. Surreal…

The full essay follows the jump.



This arguably the strangest North Korea crisis ever. The conventional wisdom is that it is the most dangerous yet. But the risks of military action are well-known and enormous, so kinetic options are still rather unlikely. Instead, what strikes me the most about this time around is the interventions of the American president. Not only have President Trump’s comments worsened tension rather than soothed it, they are often made in an off-the-cuff, gleefully belligerent manner. This combination creates the bizarre outcome of a US president mixing the frightening (threats of nuclear war) with the comedic (it is all just Trump being Trump, the boyish bomb-thrower). This peculiar disjuncture of the ultra-serious and the childish is so unnerving and weird that it is firing much of the social media debate about this particular crisis. Once again, as so often with Trump, the whole thing is becoming about him rather than events themselves.

It is genuinely hard to know what to make of this, of just how close we are to serious conflict. Usually the American president plays a calming role regarding North Korea, because it is an extremely dangerous state with a long history of provocation and gangsterism. President Bill Clinton tried to normalize it and pull it into the post-Cold War world (however haltingly) through the Agreed Framework and a visit by the US Secretary of State at the time (Madeline Albright). Barack Obama was famously cool, letting even North Korea’s racism bounce off. (The North Korean Central News Agency [KCNA] referred to him as a monkey.) Even George W. Bush who provocatively placed North Korea on the ‘Axis of Evil’ in 2002 eventually came around to dealing with Pyongyang in the Six Party Talks in his second term. At no point did Trump’s three predecessors speak as explosively as Trump is doing. Indeed, it seems like Trump is talking as KCNA does. Trash talk for trash talk. This has been Secretary of State Tillerson’s defense of the president’s language.

As I have suggested elsewhere, there seem to be five possible explanations for Trump’s unique rhetoric. How this crisis unfolds in the next six months – it seems primed to roll on for awhile yet – will depend on why exactly Trump is talking about North Korea in a way no US president ever has before:

1. Trump Means It, but as a Wheeler-and-Dealer He Really Wants a Deal

This is what the Trump administration would have us believe: All the psychological explanations are wrong. The president simply means what he says. Trump is at the end of his rope. Previous presidents have buck-passed this issue until it landed on his desk, and now he must take action. If this is true, Trump is almost certainly bluffing in search of a deal and hoping his bluff will not be called. If he is actually rational in talking this way, i.e., if he genuinely means it, then he is also rational enough to understand just how great the risk of war is and does not want one. This is Trump as he likes to present himself – the tough negotiator willing to go to the brink to get a good deal.

2. Trump is Baiting the North into a Casus Belli Provocation

This is the most frightening possibility. Here the reason for Trump’s outlandish threats is to bait North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into some kind of extreme provocation which could serve as justification for US military action. If so, then Trump has already decided that conflict is either inevitable or that it is preferable to a worsening future. There is a logic here: North Korea is a dangerous nuclear weapons state today which will be an even more dangerous nuclear weapons state tomorrow, so it is better to fight today than tomorrow. A similar logic is sometimes used to explain Germany’s decision to fight in 1914, for example. Time was on the side of the Russians, and it was better to fight them sooner than later.

3. Trump is Pushing Back on His Own Staff

This is a domestic politics interpretation, popular on cable news with its intense interest in the staffing ups-and-downs of the administration. Trump is simply acting out. He clearly dislikes being told what to do by his staff, especially Chief of Staff John Kelly. He instinctively resents any outside direction and enjoys being a bomb-thrower. This explains why he keeps ad-libbing explosive, unnecessary commentary like ‘fire and fury’ or ‘totally destroy’ North Korea. He is pushing back against Kelly and his own staff who have warned not to speak this way.

4. Trump is Diverting Attention from His Mounting Scandals

This is another cable news-domestic politics explanation, especially popular on the political left. Trump is flirting with a diversionary war. Particularly Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s Russia links is accelerating, with the looming indictment of Paul Manafort. This seems like the most cynical of all hypotheses, but it also has the promise of easy change. If Trump is as innocent as he say he is, there is no need to change the subject to North Korea.

5. Trump is Simply Overwhelmed by the Office and Says Whatever Comes to Mind.

One might call this the Daniel Drezner theory of Trump’s behavior. Drezner, a political scientist who writes at The Washington Post, has repeatedly argued that Trump’s administration is characterized by an amateurishness that cripples it widely. In my experience in Korea, this argument is locally persuasive. Many of my acquaintances here worry that Trump is simply mentally unhinged.

The most alarming of these is #2, that Trump actually believes a war is more or less inevitable. The others suggest that much of the crisis is artificial, ginned up by Trump’s own language for other reasons. The worry is that the more Trump talks, the more he is talking himself, and Kim Jong Un, into a corner, where they feel must act. Even if he is not baiting Kim Jong Un – and it becomes harder and harder to avoid that conclusion with every new tweet – it may happen anyway. We are sliding toward a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Filed under: Korea (North), Nuclear Weapons, The National Interest, Trump

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University



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DE POCO UN TODO. 31 Octubre de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. España

Puentes al Mundo - Fri, 2017-11-03 02:19

24:55 minutes (22.82 MB)

Programa Magacín de 30 minutos. Con Ismael Alba, Cassandra Fernández, Iván Rubio, María Suárez, Álvaro Díaz y Macarena Peri. Coordinación de Nacho Matías.

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Korea This Week: K-drama remake, airport plastic surgery, and a new penis taboo

Koreabridge - Tue, 2017-10-31 06:07
Korea This Week: K-drama remake, airport plastic surgery, and a new pe Coffee, Newspaper, and a Face Lift?

One of the things I love about Korea is how fast you can get certain things done. Repairmen often come the day you call them. Products ordered online cross the country in a day or two. Fried chicken is rushed to your door by a motorbike driver with a loose interpretation of traffic laws.

The list goes on, but a plan by Incheon International airport to open a plastic surgery clinic seems to have pushed the quick service concept a bit too far. The idea was to open the clinic in the transfer area, so that patients could receive treatment without having to pass through immigration and officially enter the country.

The plan has recently encountered some turbulence from Korean medical industry organizations, who have raised the rather excellent question of what would happen in cases where patients were not able to fly soon after their procedures, and it was further hampered by a lack of doctors willing to move in to the space designated for the clinic.

No word yet from prospective patients on whether they would consider doing something like this, but it doesn’t seem likely to fly.

When boarding an airplane, it is also helpful to resemble the person in your passport photo The Good Remake

An American remake of the Korean drama The Good Doctor recently edged The Big Bang Theory as the most-watched Monday drama in the US. The new series, which focuses on a young autistic doctor with Savant Syndrome, has been extended to a full season of episodes.

The Good Doctor is only the second Korean drama given a remake by American producers, and is arguably the first one to show promise. The first K-drama remake, ABC’s Somewhere Between (based on the K-drama “God’s Gift”), failed to garner high ratings, but has yet to be cancelled or renewed for a second season.

Hollywood has long been mining Korean cinema, with mixed results. Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece Old Boy was one notable flop. This 2013 piece in the Guardian notes some of the reasons why they often fall short.

Freddie Highmore plays Dr. Shaun Murphy, a surgeon with autism and Savant Syndrome in The Good DoctorThis Headline is a Grabber

Aaaaand the headline of the week belongs to this article in the Jeju Weekly titled “Touching a Boy’s Penis Was Once Part of the Korean Culture, But Now It Became a Crime”.

The piece refers to the once-common practice of mostly older Korean folks touching a young boy’s penis in an innocent way, perhaps (admittedly very roughly) analogous to the Western practice of tousling a kids’ hair, and how it is now considered to be unacceptable to younger generations, who are more likely to be taught that such contact, even if intended innocently, is always inappropriate.

Several people have run afoul of these new norms, including a guest on the show Running Man, who grabbed actor Choi Min-yong’s frank and beans during a playful wrestling match.

The article also refers to the rapidly disappearing practice of commissioning full-frontal portraits of male babies. Having a baby boy in Korea was for a long time a very big deal; so much so that the parents would shoot the baby’s first portrait with the proof his gender visible, front-and-center. There was one such portrait on display in the window of a photo shop I used to walk by every day in my old neighborhood – a small but pointed reminder that Korea was different from the place I had left.

A completely gratuitous photo of small weiners

And how was your week?



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Defector Stories (KoreaFix Book Review)

Koreabridge - Thu, 2017-10-26 02:20
Defector Stories (KoreaFix Book Review)


Book Review
The Aquariums of Pyongyang (2000), by Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot
Nothing to Envy:  Real Lives in North Korea (2009), by Barbara Demick

There are a lot of North Korean defectors’ accounts floating around these days. It’s become a bit of a cottage industry. There are books, lecture tours, even South Korean TV interview shows featuring North Korean women who (huge surprise) are all quite attractive. It’s both truly unfortunate and totally predictable that some defectors have been accused of embellishing or falsifying their accounts in order to create a more dramatic and hence more lucrative sob story for the TV cameras, publishers, and U.N. subcommittees. Of course, Pyongyang would have you believe that ALL defectors are doing this, so it bothers me when Korean leftists seem a little too quick to seize on defector claims that have been shown to be all or partially bogus.  It reminds me of how conservatives bring up “welfare queen” stories during any discussion of poverty and racism in America. What are you really trying to say, man?

“Aquariums” starts with probably the worst family decision in the history of family decisions.

Of course, any journalist dealing with defectors should exercise proper skepticism and due diligence and try as much as possible to verify stories (which can range from extremely difficult to totally impossible). However, it’s long been clear that these defectors’ tales link up, reference and corroborate each other, creating an undeniable picture of fear, starvation, brutality, and repression. Two such books are The Aquariums of Pyongyang and Nothing to Envy, which remain as arguably the two best defector books that you can read.

Aquariums starts with probably the worst family decision in the history of family decisions. Kang, whose family story makes up the entirety of the book, was actually born in Japan and part of a prosperous zainichiKorean family. The grandmother became a devoted communist, and convinced the grandfather to move the whole family back to North Korea, believing that it was their patriotic duty. To be fair, the regime misled at best, and completely lied at worst, regarding how these Korean-Japanese would be treated and how much of their wealth they would be allowed to keep, which turned out to be approximately zero. The harshness of everyday life, the lack of freedom, and what soon became brutal discrimination due to their Japanese background crushed the spirits of the grandparents, who realized before long that they had brought their family to total ruination.

Much of the book is an account of life inside the Yodok concentration camp, where the whole family was sent due to the ideological crimes of the grandfather. Vivid depictions of torture, public executions, disease and starvation abound. Eventually, after the grandfather’s death, the family was released, and Kang was eventually able to escape to China and come to South Korea, free to tell one of the first detailed accounts of life inside the notorious prison camps of the North.

Nothing to Envy is different from Aquariums in that it follows the lives of six separate defectors, who all tell their stories mostly in their own voices, with occasional commentary from the author Barbara Demick, a former L.A. Times reporter. These six were not members of Pyongyang’s elite, but all former residents of the smaller city of Chongjin, a place Demick decided to focus on for this project as she felt these defectors’ lives would be more representative of the average North Korean.

While the stories about the repression and misery that forced them to flee are certainly compelling, what stands out are the quiet moments of beauty, human connection and compassion. One vivid scene involves Mi-ran and Jun-sang, a young couple who find that the pitch blackness of the electricity-less North Korean night perfect for rendezvous beyond the watchful eyes of parents as well as the authorities. Moments like this call to mind flowers springing up between the cracks in the pavement of empty parking lots for abandoned strip malls—hope amidst the bleakness.

As far as bleakness, nothing tops the story of Dr. Jong, a female doctor who finally flees at the height of the mid 90s famine after watching scores of people starve to death and facing starvation herself (when, it bears reminding, that the government was spending millions, if not billions, of dollars and their nascent nuclear weapons program). Reaching China, one of her first encounters with people on the other side of the Yalu comes when she comes upon a house with a dog chained up in the yard. Staring into the dog’s food bowl, she sees scraps of meat—and realizes the shattering truth that a dog in China is fed better than a doctor in North Korea.


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