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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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DE POCO UN TODO. 24 Octubre de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. Españ

Puentes al Mundo - Wed, 2017-10-25 19:42

25:04 minutes (22.95 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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DE POCO UN TODO. 17 Octubre de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. España

Puentes al Mundo - Wed, 2017-10-25 19:06

28:49 minutes (26.38 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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DE POCO UN TODO. 10 Octubre de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. España

Puentes al Mundo - Wed, 2017-10-25 18:30

17:31 minutes (16.04 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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Annihilation without Representation: Do S Korea & Japan have a Veto over Action against N Korea?

Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-10-21 09:09
Annihilation without Representation: Do S Korea & Japan have a Veto?

This is a local re-post of an essay I wrote for The National Interest this month. The TNI editors gave it the very helpful title, “The True Danger of the North Korea Crisis: It Could Cost American Its Allies.” That is exactly right. If the US strikes North Korea without getting the consent of South Korea and Japan, they will exit the alliance. Why stay when your ally jeopardizes potentially millions of your citizens and doesn’t even get your permission? And this would have a huge demonstration effect on other US allies too. Now you know that Trump thinks you’re expendable. Why would you stay?

So to me, that is the big question going forward: Will Trump even bother to call the South Koreans and Japanese before he strikes? He couldn’t be bothered to appoint an ambassador to South Korea, and presidenting is pretty hard. So hey, why bother? Fox and Friends is on…

The full essay is below the jump:

 

 

 

Tough North Korea rhetoric from the US administration continues. Major South Korean media increasingly talk as if US airstrikes are likely, and the expert community seems increasingly resigned to them as well. Despite constant criticism of his incendiary language, US President Donald Trump continues to suggest that major action against North Korea is imminent – most recently by suggesting that we are now in a period of ‘calm before the storm.’

I have argued in these pages that such strikes would be an enormous risk. We do not know what the North’s redlines for retaliation against such a strike are. We do not know if the strikes would so unnerve the North’s elites that war was next, that they would respond with enormous force, possibly including nuclear weapons. An expert study of this scenario suggests appalling casualty numbers. We also do not know what China’s thresholds are for intervention. China is treaty-bound to help North Korea if it is attacked. It may not, but if a US airstrike against North Korea spirals into a major conflict, then the likelihood of Chinese intervention rises.

It is also worth noting that even if the Chinese and North Koreans do not respond to airstrikes, North Korea will almost certainly deploy human shields as soon as the bombs start to fall. And the North has so many targets that the US would like to hit, that any ‘airstrike’ would look a lot more like a major air campaign and not a quick ‘surgical strike,’ as in Syria earlier this year. An air campaign against sites with human shields means a high civilian death toll. The North Koreans will not make this easy for us at all.

White House officials, including most importantly Secretary of Defense James Mattis, continue to suggest that diplomacy is the preferred outcome. And there are options to continue to buy us time against the North Korean nuclear and missile programs: missile defense, sanctions, continuing to cajole China to push North Korea harder, and so on. Nevertheless, the pressure to something dramatic regarding North Korea is rising. If war is inevitable – it is not, but for the sake of the argument – it is better to fight now, before they have more weapons, and before those weapons can more evidently strike the continental United States. Even Kim Young-Sam, South Korea’s president at the time of the 1994 nuclear crisis, has apparently retrospectively regretted his decision not to strike then.

President Kim’s veto of the strike at the time blocked US action. This question is now returning as Trump raises the rhetorical heat on Pyongyang. And this time, it involves Japan too, as it is now in range in range of North Korean missiles, and likely nuclear missiles. Japan has already practiced civil defense drills. But if the US were today, as in 1994, to extend an, albeit unspoken, veto to South Korea, and now Japan too, war is unlikely. They do not want it.

Americans may feel incensed at having to get ‘permission’ from others to act. Trump particularly is unlikely to feel such commitments. And hawks may suggest that because North Korea can range the US, we are threatened too and therefore no longer require allied permission. Nevertheless there are strong national interest reasons, if not moral ones, to once again solicit allied approval.

First, it is South Koreans and Japanese who will bear the brunt of any North Korean retaliation for a US strike. Yes, North Korea can, perhaps, now strike the US homeland, but the North’s ability to devastate the US is significantly lower than its ability to damage South Korea and Japan. If we are going to drag South Korea and Japan, unwantedly, into a war that could result in hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of their casualties, plus irradiated blast zones, refugees, and the possibility of state collapse, we should at least get their permission. It would be staggeringly immoral, an astonishing act of callousness in American history, if US action led to nuclear use against South Korea and/or Japan without their permission. The British referred to this problem in the early Cold War as ‘annihilation without representation’ – the Americans might go to war with the Soviets over the heads of NATO, but the NATO states would be destroyed in the cross-fire.

Second, if this normative argument is unpersuasive, then consider the impact on US national interest if allies around the world saw the US sacrifice, or risk sacrificing, South Korea and Japan without even soliciting their approval. This would end pretensions that US hegemony is liberal or benign. It would destroy allied trust that the US considers their interests too. It would appear as if the US were using allies instrumentally as shields or buffers to absorb enemy fire. That is akin to why the Soviet Union did not leave eastern Europe in the late 1940s – to serve as a buffer against the West and a locus for the next war, rather than inside the USSR itself. This was yet one more reason for the Warsaw Pact states to exit the alliance as soon as they could. It is similarly likely that America’s alliance system would collapse if the US risks major, perhaps nuclear, conflict without allied consent but fought on their soil. Trump’s advisors likely realize this; does the president?


Filed under: Alliances, Japan, Korea (North), Korea (South), Media, The National Interest, Trump

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

@Robert_E_Kelly

 

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Genderfluid in Korea–Anonymous in an Uncertain World

Koreabridge - Fri, 2017-10-20 01:20
Genderfluid in Korea–Anonymous in an Uncertain World Read

 

The post Genderfluid in Korea–Anonymous in an Uncertain World appeared first on the3WM.
Editor’s note: The writer requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. Any responses can be sent to 3wmseoul@gmail.com

A Twitter post on my wall by a past admirer: “Guess this is why you ignored my advances!” A shared link to an article about the confessions of a genderfluid Korean teenager. An influx of tweets into my inbox. Tweets of disgust and hate and disappointment.

I wake up drenched in sweat. The dampness sends chills down my spine.

Then I remember that I don’t even have a Twitter account. Us digital kids and our digital nightmares.

It’s been nearly two years since I came out as genderfluid on this site. For the first few days after my story went up, I got high on the adrenaline from my first real rebellion, though I did request my anonymity. Later, as the views ticked up, I admit having felt a bit paranoid about the possibility of an accidental reveal.

Twenty-two months passed, and my life went on without anyone I know giving a darn. Guess that went better than I expected.

One impeached president and three nuke tests later, I can’t say things have changed for the better. Gay marriage is still illegal. Women’s Rights? LGBTQ awareness? Meh. At this point, I’m just hoping nothing’s deteriorating.

In a more personal sense, however, I suppose some aspects about me have changed — hairstyle, favorite movies, etc. — as it is for any other teen.

Some moments of stupidity, like that time when I, on one particularly depressed evening, tried to come out to my mother over the phone. I rambled on as if I were inebriated, struggling to put together proper sentences to describe how I consider my gender identity. “I… am not so sure… if I consider myself a…”

You would’ve thought I said, “Mama, I killed a man,” from her tone of disapproval. Her barrage of words prevented me from explaining further: You were born in an academic household without many hyper-feminine relatives. I myself don’t wear makeup, nor have I taught you to. I know you like boys, and you need to have very strong attraction towards girls to define yourself  as a transgender. Thus, you’re simply a confused tomboy, and…

Along with that connection to family came a phase of self-doubt about whether the fruit I bit into was of knowledge or deception. Was I really genderfluid or was it merely a series of acquired traditionally-masculine traits? Was I simply struggling to climb the social ladder by proving myself worthy in activities traditionally associated with both genders? Did I fundamentally seek to receive validation from the cutthroat patriarchal family members and to make up for my mother not having any sons?

With such questions in mind, I took time off from my own concerns to tune in to what the others have to say on the topic, observing society’s views while trying to dismiss my own personal experiences and feelings as a member of the LGBTQ community.

“LGBTQ is one of the roots of evil in society. To prevent confusion and inefficiency, they need to be educated in order to turn them back to the natural state,” one classmate claimed during a group discussion in sociology class. A few others said that they were “against” gay people. Thankfully, such strong antipathy is starting to be considered as extreme even in Korea, as I saw the jaws of some students drop incredulously. There were also generous opinions that showed unconditional support, though not from our Korean classroom:

“I can’t believe gay marriage is illegal in Korea,” a German teen said in disbelief when the matter was brought up for discussion among a group of international students participating in a templestay. Her enthusiastic support gave me a bit more hope for the future. “My goodness, are we not all equal beings deserving of the same rights?,” she continued. Oh, my dear friend, if only the future was as bright as you are.

However, I found that most students, especially in Korea, were somewhere in between–having doubt about the repressive old values, yet still afraid to look into themselves. Back in my high school classroom: “Perhaps the ‘girl crush’ that we talk about is an indicator of how most people are on the polar ends of the gender/sexuality spectrum,” another classmate boldly claim. Hearing that, I felt the shame of having generalized my peers as narrow-minded and conservative; my preconceptions might’ve caused my sense of isolation in terms of gender issues. But then, I still didn’t know anyone around me having the same identit…

“To tell you the truth, I don’t consider myself a girl,” a friend declares during a private chat.

Come again?

Life’s funny like that. Just as I was trying to stop focusing solely on my own gender identity, a friend reveals her experiences and the hardships she is going through (or zirs and ze, though the friend doesn’t care for pronouns). And through the confession, I see my own self still not telling anyone in real life, still filled with self-doubt that I’m try to bury under thoughts about anything other than myself.

“How do you see yourself, then?” I ask.

“Ummm… Neutral.”

“And you don’t see yourself at all as a girl?”

“Nope.”

I wanted to ask why not. But the words of my mother, resonated in my head: “Why can’t you see yourself as a tomboy?” Nor could I bring myself to say, “Me neither.” All that came out of my mouth were the words I wanted to hear, if I were to ever reveal the fluidity of my gender to someone I know in real life.

“Okay. It must’ve taken you some guts to tell me. Thanks for sharing. I hope you’re not hard on yourself because of what others define you as.”

Confession time. Even after talking with the friend, I still don’t plan on revealing my own gender to anyone in real life. The chances of my bringing up the topic during a family meal is almost nonexistent now. I have, however, learned to fear not the nightmares that had stemmed from paranoia and self-doubt because, after all the different opinions I’ve encountered, I’m sure some people would be on my side. Most importantly, I did nothing wrong. Yet I am reluctant when it comes to letting others know.

Such is life. Such is my life. No need for pity; I do show myself in every aspect. I try to get my voice heard. I break some traditional gender roles. Still, it will take much more time and stronger motivations to get me to proudly present the fluidity of my gender.

 

I’ve fantasized about my family replying to my “I’m genderfluid,” with benign nonchalance, as if what I said was of no more importance than my preference for strawberry ice cream over chocolate. Now I’m just living on a prayer that there will be a day when being a gender and/or sexual minority wouldn’t overpower other innumerable qualities people see in a human entity.

I also hope for more basic acceptance, not only for the LGBTQ but for all human identity, conditions and characteristics that are currently being misunderstood and blindly criticized. Until then, being the coward I am, the best I can do is to let my agony out through these written pieces and sometimes submit them under the cloak of anonymity.

Seeing many girls around me delve into the intricate world of cosmetics and replace meals with weight loss smoothies (which is an entirely different problem on its own) and, most notably, start dating adoring boys, I feel even more left out than before. While I am content being single for now, I worry about my future. What if the ones I’m attracted to see me as a mere pal than a partner? Would I get friendzoned because I don’t wear cosmetics in a nation where the “all-natural” look wouldn’t take an average-looking person very far? I take fair care of myself, but I do an awful job at coming across as “feminine.” And for many, my desire to wear the pants (though I am willing to share them) in the relationship would be a turn-off.

While finding love is hard for anyone, the potential of perpetual loneliness does scare me. And I’m more concerned that I would start denying or blaming my gender identity for problems in relationships, or the lack thereof.

In terms of other parts of my life, however, I’m fairly content. I can’t say fluidity is a blessing but it certainly isn’t a curse either. Plus, my rational self tells me that whether it be work or romance, it will be up to my own efforts to determine the course of events. With that in mind, I’ll continue my journey forward, uncertain about the effects my fluidity will have on my life and others. 

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The post Genderfluid in Korea–Anonymous in an Uncertain World appeared first on the3WM.

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    Accidental Island

    Koreabridge - Thu, 2017-10-19 02:34
    Accidental Island

    I had gotten on the wrong boat.

    I purchased a ticket to Binjindo—the most famous of the islands of Korea’s Hangryeo Marine National Park–but instead boarded a kind of a multi-island sea bus transporting the venerable inhabitants to the villages dotting a handful of the other islands, where they scratched out a living from farming, the odd bit of tourism, or whatever the sea managed to provide. And as it was the last boat of the day, there would be no getting to Bijindo.

    Instead I took in a deep lungful of the clean, salty air and reminded myself that many of my best travels have been the result of mishaps, happy mistakes that forced me to veer off the path. Surely Bijindo wasn’t the only island worth visiting. The hand of the universe seemed to be nudging me in another direction. Who was I to push back?

    I reminded myself that many of my best travels have been the result of mishaps, happy mistakes that forced me to veer off the path.

    After several stops we arrived at our boat’s final island, Yongchondo, where I was told that I could find some accommodation. I strode off the pier and into the village of Hodu (“walnut”), a cluster of small structures huddled together on an isthmus between two main landmasses. The houses were squat and sturdy—uber-quaint hanok and more homely, modern abodes–clumped together and hunkered down against the relentless island elements. Narrow footpaths acted as the village’s streets, and aside from one van parked at the harbor side, there wasn’t a car in sight,. This probably had to do with the fact that, save a single shore road heading out of the village, there was really nowhere to drive.

    Downtown Hodu

    Soon I found Hodu’s one place of commerce, a house with a hand-drawn sign reading: “Convenience Store. Minbak.” I roused the owner–a woman who sported the tight perm ubiquitous to the Korean ajumma. Even in her late 50’s, she was surely one of the youngest residents of the village. Korean islands, it seemed, were a very geriatric affair.

    The woman led me out the door and escorted me to my minbak (a kind of no-frills homestay). She peppered me with the usual questions as we walked (“Where are you from?” “Are you married?”), and I politely lobbed back my well-rehearsed answers. She was surprised to have a customer in late February. I got the impression that Hodu managed to escape the tourist footprint even at the height of the summer season. In fact, other than my accommodation, I only saw one other minbak in the whole village.

    “Do foreigners ever come here?” I asked.

    “No. Never,” she said, laughing. “You’re the first I’ve seen.”

    Hodu’s other minbak

    After unloading my bag into my minbak, I set off, winding my way through the narrow alleys of Hodu. The little homes were nearly all painted white, though the wind and saltwater air had done their best to strip away the coating, revealing scrapes and splotches of grey concrete underneath. The more prosperous places had tiled roofs of blood red or bright blue, while the simpler huts had to settle for corrugated metal.

    As quaint is it may have appeared, Hodu was still a working village, with implements of marine labor piled and stacked up in any available space. This usually took the form of thick grey ropes, coiled like gnarled worms, or giant, clunky styrofoam floats. In between some of the houses were small plots of cultivated land, home to sprouting green even in late winter. These little fields were fenced in by low walls made up of stacked stones, lending the village a rugged, almost medieval look. For a moment I felt like I could be on the coast of Normandy, New England, or even Greece. It seems that old sea villages share some of the same characteristics world over. They’re often stony and tough, obstinate places standing in defiance of the punishing elements that surround them.

    Like their Japanese neighbors, Koreans have a taste for seaweed of all kinds. February must be prime harvest time for miyeok, the darkish kelp served up in birthday soups across the peninsula, since all around the village the locals were gathering, washing, and drying the stuff on the ground or on racks. It was a miyeok explosion, with the skin of the sea plant hanging from rope lines everywhere, blowing in the ocean wind like ragged clumps of hair. As I made my way to the harbor, I spied an old man hanging up huge strands of the stuff. As I approached, he stopped his work and met my eyes.

    I offered a shallow bow, as well as a formal greeting, but he just cocked his head and stared, taking me in with an inscrutable gaze. It would be a stretch to call these islanders friendly, but they weren’t exactly hostile, either. They just had no idea what to make of me.

    I left the village behind me, strolling up the tiny coast road, whose surface was in disrepair, cracking and crumbling from erosion and disuse. On one side was a wall of rock topped with trees; on the other, the sea.

    As I made my way up the road I came upon an abandoned school in a clearing below. The dirt lot in front of the empty building was littered with piles of rubbish, making for a thoroughly ugly scene. I was suddenly saddened by this school. It had been made useless by time, abandoned by the students themselves, who grew up and sensibly emigrated off the island in pursuit of a modern life. Now there were no young people left. The building had outlived its usefulness and now just sat as a neglected, hollowed-out museum of trash.

    The young people left long ago. Who will be around after the old are gone? Is it possible that much of this country’s rural heart will just be abandoned, left for nature to reclaim?

    I’ve traveled extensively in the Korean countryside, and it is shocking to consider just how aged the rural population really is. Children only appear as visitors, while the local residents are deep elderly–all hunched backs and lined faces. The young people left long ago. Who will be around after the old are gone? Is it possible that much of this country’s rural heart will just be abandoned, left for nature to reclaim?     

    As I approached the island’s second village–a larger settlement lacking the cozy splendor of Hodu–I noticed another, even smaller road, leading up inland to my left. A sign reading “POW Camp” pointed up that way, so I turned off the main track and hiked up the rise, passing through fields of high grass home to a family of bleating black goats. At the top was a clearing with another sign, indicating the physical location of the camp. During the Korean War POW, camps were set up on many of these southern islands, as water makes for the best guarantee against escape. As I scanned the clearing around me, I could make out little remaining infrastructure of the camp itself, other than a half collapsed wall and a round depression in front of me that had served as the foundation of a building of sorts. These ruins looked much older than sixty years old and did little to impress, since there was so little of them to take in. Still, they got my imagination rolling. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been the first foreigner on this island since the last American soldier left in 1953.

    I made my way back to my minbak in Hodu, but this time over the spine of the island. I followed the road, which was now a dirt track, up toward the main peak of the island, into Yongchodo’s deep pine woods. As I pressed on, I heard the sudden snapping of branches to my right, catching a glimpse of a deer bounding off into the underbrush. I had seen deer on a couple of other occasions on the peninsula, but still felt my heart stop.

    Taking in larger wildlife is a rare thing in Korea; any time it happens the moment must be savored. That’s exactly what I did, and it paid off, for just five minutes later I scared up another, this one a buck, and pretty massive by Korean standards. He blazed down the side of the mountain in a frenzied crackle, crushing any brush in his path. By the end of my little ascent I had stumbled across two more – more deer in one hour than I had seen in more than a decade in the country. And the best part was, since climbing up from the second village, I hadn’t come across a single human being. I’m sure they would have just gawked at me anyway.

    The road soon dissolved into a hiking path, which itself disappeared under the cover of the forest. The only thing marking the ascent was a series of orange tape pieces tied to the tree branches and shrubs, stubbornly visible in the dissolving light. I pressed on, sweating hard under my thick winter jacket and fleece, almost running up the mountain in a race with the sinking sun.

    Soon I found myself at the top, where I gasped to catch my breath and took in a partial view through the trees. I bundled up against the piercing winds and looked out to sea, where I noticed a squall some miles out, a black cloud streaking into the churning waves. The storm obscured the sun, whose final rays arced through the fringes of the dark mass in incandescent blasts. Beyond that I could see Tongyeong, with its fat mountain and string of cable cars, and in the other direction, right there across across the water, the twin rises of Bijindo, which would just have to wait until next time.

     

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    Korea This Week: Stinko Gingkos, BIFF Liberation, & Solo CEO's

    Koreabridge - Mon, 2017-10-16 06:50
    Korea This Week: Stinko Gingkos, BIFF Liberation, & Solo CEO's Stinko Gingkos

    Along with the changing foliage and increased incidence of the exclamation “Chueo!” (“[I’m] cold!”) in Korean discourse, one of the telltale signs of fall around the peninsula is a pervasive smell that has often been likened to a melange of rancid butter, vomit, and gym socks.

    The annual olfactory assault is the product of the rotting fruit of gingko trees, which are a common sight in cities around Korea, particularly Seoul, where gingkos comprise some 40% of the trees planted in the city. When the fleshy coat surrounding the seed begins to rot, it produces butyric acid, which is not coincidentally also present in rancid butter, vomit, and body odor (and by extension, gym socks).

    Many local governments combat the smell by sending crews to pick up the nuts, and they encourage citizens to do the same, as the seeds, once they are removed from the coat, roasted, and paired with a cold lager, are actually quite delicious.

    Slate recently ran an interesting piece on how so many cities ended up with so many lovely but gag-inducing trees, and it’s very much worth reading if you find yourself, as I do, cursing city planners every October.

    Gingko berries after laying around for a few days. Be grateful you can’t smell this photograph. Film Festival Finding Its Old Groove

    The Busan International Film Festival kicked off last Friday with it’s usual pomp, low cut dresses, and unofficial world records for camera flashes per second, as stars from the Korean and international movie firmament descended on Busan Cinema Center for the opening film, “Glass Garden”.

    This year’s festival, the 22nd, marked a return to normal after three years of political struggle stemming from the 2014 decision by the festival organizers to screen the film “Diving Bell”, which leveled harsh criticism at President Park Guen-hye’s handling of the Sewol ferry disaster. The decision to screen the film, despite governmental efforts to block it, resulted in the blacklisting of many actors, filmmakers, and writers, the slashing of the BIFF budget, and other forms of official retribution.

    The air of tension surrounding recent festivals seems to have largely lifted this year amid a much-changed political climate that has seen the impeachment of President Park and the jailing of several aides involved in the blacklisting of artists critical of her administration.

    The Busan International Film Festival runs through October 21st. Check out the BIFF website for the program and other information.

    The 20th BIFF opening night at Busan’s Cinema Center. Recent Festivals were marred by tension between BIFF organizers and the government. Everybody Wants to Rule the World

    According to an OECD report on entrepreneurship cited by a recent Joongang Daily article, Korea has the 4th highest number of one-person businesses among the 38 countries surveyed. The article notes that the trend may be partly explained by Baby Boomers who open small shops as a form of retirement plan.

    I also found myself wondering whether it was connected to the more general recent trend of Koreans eschewing the crowd and doing more things – including eating, drinking, and traveling – by themselves.

    Interestingly, the article refers to anyone who runs their own business as a “CEO”, which thus would seem to refer to the head of any operation, from a multinational corporation down to a hot dog truck. This novel extension of the meaning of CEO also jibes with several years of anecdotal evidence gleaned from conversations with university students, a large number of whom have listed “CEO” as their desired occupation.

    With all these CEO’s, I often wondered, who is left to man the shop? Apparently, the answer could very well be: they are.

    Hyundai CEO Chung Mong-koo speaks to a group of Hyundai non-CEOs.

    And how was your week?




     

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    ‘Manwon’ Food Budget a Day

    Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-10-14 16:39
    ‘Manwon’ Food Budget a Day

    Recently a blogger from the Philippines shared her expenses in touring Korea, and her post drew flak for claiming that in her 5-days-and-4-nights of stay here, she spent only 12,000 pesos (around 235 dollars). She was able to purchase a 3,000-peso roundtrip ticket (around 59 dollars) from Jeju Air, paid 3,120 (around 61 dollars) for her 5D4N stay at a guesthouse and survived with a ‘manwon’ budget on food everyday (That’s barely 450 pesos or 9 dollars!).

    The price of the ticket may come as a shock to many of us who know how expensive it can be to travel overseas, but this extremely tight budget is possible for travelers who wait patiently for promo tickets from airlines such as Cebu Pacific, Jeju Air and Philippine Airlines and are lucky to get that most coveted ticket. A couple of years ago, I was able to buy an inexpensive roundtrip ticket in Cebu Pacific, but the cheapest I got was about 6,000 pesos (117 dollars).

    Guesthouses, on the other hand, can be low-priced if the room is shared by a group.

    What stupefied readers the most was the blogger’s budget on food. I feel kinda sorry for all the bashing she got from those who have lived in Korea for years and know how much the food really costs here, but I’m not siding with her either. Personally, I think she should have given more details of her budget or at least tried to explain what the ‘manwon’ lunch and dinner included since she was encouraging Filipino travelers to visit Korea with minimal budget. On the contrary, I think bashing someone for sharing a memorable experience is a bit out of hand.

    Now, is it really possible to survive a day with that ‘manwon’ food budget? As someone who has lived in Korea for years and has eaten almost every Korean food there is (except poshintang or dog soup), I’m telling you it is possible… but only if you don’t eat like a horse!

    If you’re on a ‘manwon’ budget in Korea, what can you eat for lunch and dinner?

    I’m going to name a few:

    Street food ~ PRICE: from 500 to 3,000 won (23 to 137 pesos)

    Everybody knows that street food is cheap anywhere in the world, but here in Korea, there are tons of mouth-watering and satiating street food to try. Some can be healthy, too. Two or three sticks of hot odeng or fish cake, for example, can squelch your hunger for more or less 3,000 won, like what my tourist friend did when he was starving from his walks around Seoul. There’s barbecue and sausage that you can buy for 2,000 – 2,500 won a stick. Pig-blood sausage may sound disgusting, but sunde is a must-try. An order will not cost you more than 3,000 won. Heck, there’s even tteokbokki you can enjoy for 500 won a cup!

    Kimbop (rice rolls) and other bunsik food ~ PRICE: 1,500 – 5,500 won (68 – 250 pesos)

    Inexpensive Korean food like kimbop, ramyon, tteokbokki, twigim, etc. can be bought in bunsik or bunsik jib (snack restaurants). Kimbop may be considered street food, but this is a common snack for Koreans when they go on a picnic or a meal for Koreans who are always on the go. The country is teeming with kimbop restaurants that sell various kinds of rice rolls: tuna, kimchi, cheese, bulgogi, even tonkatsu! Don’t waste your money on cheap kimbop from convenience stores though, because they’re nasty! If you go to a kimbop restaurant, you can have soup and side dish, usually yellow radish, for free. Some kimbop restaurants have kimbop and udon set for 5,000 to 5,500 won.

    The two dishes I’m going to mention next can be found in the same restaurant.

    Pyohejang guk (beef bone stew) ~ PRICE: 7,000 to 8,000 won (319 – 363 pesos)

    This spicy version of nilagang baka, short ribs and vegetable stew in the Philippines, has everything you need in a meal: lots of meat, vegetables and steamed rice which is served separately. You will also get two or three side dishes which is a common thing in Korea when you order a meal.

    sundae guk (blood sausage soup) ~ PRICE: 5,000 – 8,000 won (227 to 363 pesos)

    In the Philippines, we have dinuguan (pork blood stew). In Korea, they have sundae guk (blood sausage soup). The first time my husband ordered sundae guk for me, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but I ended up finishing the whole bowl! When you eat sundae kuk, you won’t even know you’re eating soup with blood sausage in it, unless someone tells you. The blood sausage is prepared so well that you won’t even smell anything out-of-the-ordinary and there’s no rancid aftertaste. Just like pyeohejang guk, sundae guk is served with steamed rice and side dishes. If you like exotic and spicy food, you will enjoy sundae guk.

    Not-so-spicy sundae guk for 5,000 won

    Spicy sundae guk for 7,000 won

    Noodles are quite affordable, too, and they are delicious. Besides, ramyon and jjampong which are popular in the Philippines, you may want to try…

    Jjajangmyeon (black noodles) ~ PRICE: 3,500 to 5,500 won (159 to 250 pesos)

    This noodle is actually Chinese food, but since it is widely popular in Korea, you can find it anywhere. They even have a day called “Black noodles’ Day” for single men and women. Jjajangmyeon is tasty and filling. The sauce has got bits of pork and onion, and it’s topped with thinly-sliced cucumber. This one is served with yellow radish and some onions as side dishes.

    Naengmyon (cold noodles) ~ PRICE: 5,000 to 7,000 won (227 to 319 pesos)

    Another filling dish that is popular in Korea is naengmyeon. It’s basically thin, chewy noodles served with icy soup, sweet chilli pepper paste, a slice of egg and some radish or cucumber. There are two kinds of naengmyeon. If you’re not into spicy noodles, go for mul naengmyeon, the one that is served with icy broth. If you like it spicier, go for bibim naengmyeon, same ingredients but served with no broth.

    This is how you sip your neangmyeon broth. ^^

    (Cheap) Hansik buffet PRICE: 5,000 (227 pesos)

    Yup, you heard me right, buffet for 5,000 won… but this isn’t the kind of buffet that has it all. The food served in these kinds of buffet are Korean food that you can find in a typical Korean home. I’ve been to two cheap hansik buffets, one in my area in Namyangju and the other in Guri. I didn’t fancy the food, but for the price of 5,000 won, what can one expect? The food, however, was enough to sate my hunger. These types of buffet are frequented by workers and students.

    Convenience store doshirak or bento (lunchbox) PRICE: 4,000 to 6,000 won (182 to 272 pesos)

    When my husband stayed at the hospital with me, he survived for three days on bento meals from the covenience store. I have also tried them. These bentos are not that bad. Most convenience stores in Korea have a microwave oven where you can heat up your bento.

    These are just some of the food you can budget your manwon with here in Korea. There are plenty of meals you can actually have for 450 pesos (9 dollars) or less, but you’ll be missing out on all the delectable dishes Korea has to offer if you will tour this country on a very tight budget. My advise, as a former tourist in Korea, is to save enough money to enjoy Korean cuisine. You don’t have to spend much. A 20 to 25 dollar food budget a day will be enough. With that kind of budget, you’ll get to enjoy grilled meat, drinks, authentic traditional Korean food and more.

    From Korea with Love
    Chrissantosra.wordpress.com


     

     

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    코스 3-3 | Course 3-3 from 갈맷길 365: A Year of Movement

    Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-10-14 04:50
    코스 3-3 | Course 3-3 from 갈맷길 365: A Year of Movement

    If you like trekking on rocky coasts, this course is the one for you. It’s a lot of up and down, but incredible views are around every turn and the natural beauty of Busan is abundant. I started at Yongdusan Park 용두산 공원 in the middle of Course 3-2 and did my best to follow all the cultural highlights in the Nampo area 남포동. It wasn’t marked almost at all and I did a half-hearted rectangle around Ggangtong Market 깡통시장 and Jagalchi Seafood Market 자갈치 before crossing the Yeongdo Bridge 영도대교 and entering the small town vibe on the island of horses. Although this is part of Busan, it has a unique history of being used strategically by the Silla kingdom 신라 and later the Japanese for cattle grazing and horse ranching.

    It officially starts under the Namhang Bridge 남항대교, but don’t be confused by the stamp stand being a ways away at the start of the Jeolyeong Coastal Path 절영해안산책로. From Yeongdo Bridge to Namhang Bridge, the path is mostly city port streets and then city parks. The coastal path is a well-maintained walker’s paradise and generally quite busy with families and elderly couples. There is very little in the way of restaurants, cafes, and shops so pack a sandwich and enough water. I had to go off-course and up the steep stairs to forage for a mart. I ended up finding one open and ate some packaged ‘maple’ bread like it was a piece of heaven. Don’t make the same mistake!

    At the end of the Jeolyeong Coastal Path, you have no choice but to hike a set of rainbow stairs and then wonder where to go. Galmaetgil, what galmaetgil? should be the subtitle of this course. I mostly threw out the map and just followed the coastline until the endpoint at Taejongdae 태종대. I’d been here before with a few groups of friends and knew the way well enough. It’s also my favorite kind of path – rocky coastline. It reminds me of my childhood in Maine looking for tiny creatures in tide pools and eating lobster rolls at Two Lights State Park.

    It was unbelievably sunny and hot for an October day and I was pretty much done with trekking by the time I got to Taejongdae, but the path says to go around the park for about 45 minutes so I did. I faithfully got my final stamp at the Taejongdae Lighthouse and felt a moment of pride. There were a lot of families there for the Chuseok holiday and a man even asked me where I got my Galmaetgil Stampbook. I love when Koreans ask me for some information or directions in Korean as if that were the most natural thing. I look like I belong here and that I can give them the information they need. Like most everyone else, I just want to fit in.

    Course 3-3, plus the Nampo bit that I had to complete, turned out to be about 17 kilometers and just over 4 hours. I found parts of it grueling in the hot sun and wish I had worn long sleeves to get more sun protection. Despite my ajumma hat and 2 sunscreen applications, I ended up quite like a Maine lobster.

    Galmaetgil 365
    A year of movement

     

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    Author Panel w/ Breen, Miller, & Bocskay from HQ (Live Stream)

    Koreabridge - Fri, 2017-10-13 00:13

    A discussion of contemporary Korea with authors Michael Breen ("The New Koreans"), Jeffery Miller ("Bureau 39"), and John Bocskay ("Culture Shock! Korea"), moderated by Steve Feldman, and followed by audience Q&A and book signing. 
    Facebook Event Page


    Attend in Person at HQ Gwangan
    If all goes well (and what could go wrong on Friday the 13th:), we will be streaming this live at:  http://koreabridge.net/live
      Tune in there to watch live video and chime in via text chat. 

    Author Panel w/ Breen, Miller, & Bocskay from HQ (Live Stream)
    Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

    Trump, Naturally, is Making this the Weirdest North Korea Crisis Ever

    Koreabridge - Wed, 2017-10-11 18:04
    Trump, Naturally, is Making this the Weirdest North Korea Crisis Ever



    This is a re-post of something I wrote for the Lowy Institute this month. In short, Trump is not only making this rolling semi-crisis more dangerous, but weirder too. US presidents don’t talk like vengeful Old Testament prophets, ratings-seeking reality TV stars, or children taunting their siblings, but I guess they do now. *sigh*

    I spoke at the New Yorker Festival of Ideas last week on North Korea. I said then that if Trump would simply get off Twitter, there would be a noticeable step down in the tension our here. By extension, I mean he should stop ad-libbing scary, off-the-cuff remarks like the ‘calm before the storm.’ I did the best I could to explain these sorts of remarks here, but honestly, I wonder if he really even grasps the scale of his office. Today’s preposterous comment on the US nuclear stockpile suggests he doesn’t.

    My full essay on how Trump is changing this NK crisis from the usual pattern is below the jump.

     

     

    In the ten years I have lived in South Korea, I cannot remember a North Korea crisis like this. Usually these events stem from some obvious North Korean provocation, such as the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010 or the landmine attack of 2015. There then follows a set of steps all but ritualized at this point: a UN Security Council meeting followed by sanctions; a declaration of alliance solidarity so well-trodden I could draft it myself; a demoralizingly head-in-the-sand call from China for ‘calm’ on all sides; outlandish counter-rhetoric from the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) about aggression its ‘sacred’ sovereignty; and South Korean (and Japanese) media frustration on how to hit back. And not to forget that requisite Western media hysteria about imminent war. Then everyone sorta forgets about it for awhile until the North throws another tantrum.

    A lot of this is playing out again this time too. But US President Donald Trump, as is his wont, is upsetting yet another ‘establishment,’ although not obviously for the better. Here are five lessons to date from the weirdest ever North Korean crisis:

    1. When US Presidential Leadership is Poor, it becomes the Defining Variable of North Korean Crises.

     

    No one would have thought to say this a year ago, because usually US presidents have been admirably responsible in dealing with North Korea given how dangerous it is. But Trump, with his own KCNA-style rhetoric, is adding a whole new variable, or rather, activating one we never really thought to consider before. There seem to be at least five explanations floating around on cable and social media for his behavior: 1. He actually means what he is saying. 2. He is trying to divert attention away from domestic challenges like the Mueller investigation of his Russia activities. 3. He is pushing back against John Kelly and his own staff, because he instinctively resents direction. 4. He is is trying to bait North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into a casus belli-worthy provocation. 5. He is just mentally overwhelmed by the office and saying whatever comes tumbling through his head. Whatever your choice, the recklessness of Trump’s nuclear threats is astonishing. It is no longer an exaggeration to say that the biggest variable in this crisis going forward is Trump’s own psychology.

    2. The North Koreans will Match Trump Insult for Insult.

    This should not actually come as a big surprise. If you follow North Korea, you know they are prone to over-the-top commentary. This is the reason the Korea analyst community has encouraged Trump not engage KCNA round-for-round in this war of words. Most knew it would turn into an undignified food fight, and so it has. Trump cannot win. The North will say anything it has too. It is not constrained by typical diplomatic niceties. It referred to US President Barack Obama as a monkey, and previous female South Korean President Park Geun-Hye as a prostitute. It is only a matter of time before KCNA creates a nickname for Trump, starts mocking his hair, or picks up on the common left-wing critique that Trump is mentally ill. This would all be childish and irrelevant, except that psychology, like Trump or Kim’s own anger, paranoia, anxiety, and so on, is increasingly driving this contest.

    3. The Western Media Risks Complicity in a Panicked March to War.

     

    Last month I argue for Lowy that the disjuncture between Western, especially American, media, and South Korean media on North Korea was inexplicably large, with the Westerners far more alarmed than South Koreans. This continues to be the case. Most recently, the North Korean earthquake that turned out to just be an earthquake got far too much speculative attention that it might be yet another nuclear test before it was disproved. I also continue to notice the large gap between Korea experts brought onto the networks and the networks’ own in-house panels of generalist journalists and commentators. The latter are almost always more alarmist and hawkish than the former, who almost uniformly seem to think this crisis need not tip into a conflict. I find Fox, especially “The Five” show, to be the most egregious on this.

    Reaching to established contributors is cheap and convenient, but this is such a serious topic that TV producers should think twice about defaulting to Washington generalists. The run-up to the Iraq War similarly failed to tap the expert community deeply enough, and the crisis this involves nuclear weapons. There are a lot of very good Korea experts out there, and they do not get nearly the airtime they should compared to generalist journalists and pundits.

    4. China is Still the Key

     

    There is growing acceptance that the China track has failed, but it is still the most realistic way achieve some cap on the North’s programs which does not involve the huge risks of air-strikes, or the huge concessions required by talks. Probably the smartest thing Trump has done on North Korea to date is push China hard. Yes, it has not worked out well, but the alternatives are all so poor, I find all the criticism of this track curious. China’s economic leverage is established – critical oil exports, recipient of 92% of North Korean exports, banking access, and so on. That leverage is vastly preferable to the other two options – conflict or talks. Airstrikes have well-established risks and should only be an absolute last, preemptive resort if Northern missiles are actually fueling. Airstrikes could easily ignite a spiraling regional conflict. Talks are similarly a weak vehicle. The North Koreans will demand huge concessions now. They have nuclear weapons and have endured months of Trump’s taunts. They will ask for so much, that the South and the US will almost certainly demur. So if hawkish military alternatives are too risky, and dovish negotiations sure to flim-flammed by the North, what is left? Sanctions, missile defense, and other unilateral actions will buy us time, but they will not cease or cap the programs. Only China has the economic weight to really punish the North. China’s tolerance for NK shenanigans – up to and including a fusion weapons on an ICBM – is much higher than almost anyone expected. But I see little alternative but going back to them yet again.

    5. South Korea is being Sidelined.

     

    This may be inevitable given the character of the US president. Trump cannot help but make events about himself, but his shenanigans are nonetheless pushing South Korea out of the loop. When I discuss this crisis with my students, the questions mostly circle around Trump and his Twitter feed, not their own government. The Korean media even has a term for this – ‘Korea passing.’ This is obviously bad all around. It is South Korea who will bear the brunt of any North Korean retaliation, as well as the massive burden of unification, plus the catastrophic costs of any American nuclear strike against North Korea – because North Korea would almost certainly collapse in the wake of that, and South Korea would then inherit the blast zone(s). South Korean President Moon Jae In may be a dove, but Trump the hawk is dominating the debate. Secretly though, I imagine, a fair number of South Koreans do not really mind. Support for unification has declined over the years, and anxiety over its costs is high. North Korea’s weirdness and backwardness is deeply off-putting for a country that wants to join the modern world. Unfortunately, the South cannot escape the North’s shadow. When it falls apart, the world will look to South Korea to clean up the mess whether its wants that burden or not. If Trump obscures the South’s primary responsibility for the North by seemingly taking over the issue from them, he is only making things worse when the North Korea burden inevitably returns where it belongs.


    Filed under: China, Korea (North), Korea (South), Trump, United States

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

    @Robert_E_Kelly

     

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    Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

    DE POCO UN TODO. 3 Octubre de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. España

    Puentes al Mundo - Thu, 2017-10-05 23:19

    18:24 minutes (16.85 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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    DE POCO UN TODO. 13 Junio de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. España

    Puentes al Mundo - Thu, 2017-10-05 22:39

    25:12 minutes (23.07 MB)

    Programa Magacín de 30 minutos.Con Ismael Alba, Cassandra Fernández, Iván Rubio, María Suárez y Daniel Calleja y la coordinación de Nacho Matías.

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    Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

    Interview With Michael Breen, Author of The New Koreans

    Koreabridge - Thu, 2017-10-05 06:21
    Interview With Michael Breen, Author of The New Koreans Read more at h

     

    Since 1982, Michael Breen has written about the two Koreas, first as a correspondent for The Guardian and The Washington Times, and later as the author of a lengthening shelf of books including The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, and Where Their Future Lies, and Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.

    In his newest book, The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation, which hit bookstores earlier this year, Breen again employs his journalistic eye and avuncular storytelling to bring readers up to date on the trials, triumphs, and transformations of contemporary South Korea.

    Your first book on Korea has been around for almost 20 years. What made you want to write “The New Koreans”?

    I had it in mind when I completed the first book that fifteen or so years later I would writea new one about reunification and how it had changed people’s lives in every way imaginable. I’ll call it The Unified Koreans, I thought.

    I have an agent who is very enthusiastic, and in 2014 she suggested I update the first book again (I’d previously updated it in 2004). Korea was “really hot” in the publishing world, she said, but it’s all fiction or North Korea. There’s a gap with non-fiction on South Korea. I wasn’t that keen, but she said all I needed to do was update the references, which are from the 1980’s and 90’s, and add a new chapter. The publisher gave me three months.

    I sat in front of my screen all day every Saturday – my writing day – and couldn’t get past the first page. Something was really bugging me. Not only had Korea changed so much that it seemed stupid to just “update” something that was written a whole generation ago – or four generations, when you consider that every five years is a new generation here – but also I now looked at Korea in a different way than I did 20 years earlier. After two months of blockage, I realized I had to do a whole new book. So, they gave me another year.

    What is new about the New Koreans?  What makes them so different from the Koreans you wrote about before?

    The Koreans I first knew almost all knew poverty, they knew how to duck and weave in an authoritarian political and cultural environment. Most men, and many women, had been beaten by their parents and older brothers. Even their teachers and superiors had been free with their fists. Many had close family in North Korea. They looked at countries hierarchically and believed they were quite a way down the ladder.

    The position in the democratic South is: Let’s maintain peace and delay unification til the time is right.

    Now they’re middle class, sensitive to their rights, and there’s a generation now that never knew poverty or dictatorship. They have never known life without a family car or a computer. Their teachers don’t beat them anymore. Above all, there is a confidence in their identity as South Koreans that wasn’t there before.

    Then there are all the things that nobody – at least, nobody I ever knew – predicted: that the sons of those unfashionable men would become the world’s biggest consumers of male cosmetics, that Samsung, LG and Hyundai would become global brands and that Daewoo would disappear, that kids would no longer dream of being heroes and heroines of reunification or even of working in a chaebol or being a doctor or a lawyer, and dream instead of being actors, models, singers and chefs.

    Have some of your own analyses and predictions also changed over the years?

    Oh yes. I don’t have a feel for economics so I never really predicted anything there. That was handy because most experts were forever predicting doom and gloom.

    In politics, I suffered from the mistake of projecting my hippie liberal fantasies onto Korea. For example, I figured in the first democratic election in 1987 that Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam would agree on a unified candidate for the sake of democracy. They didn’t.

    My failure was to assume that national interest is more important to people than their own careers. It seldom is. National interest is a kind of theoretical thing compared to real life and big changes – like democracy – may appear like huge moments when you look back on them, but actually, at the time, for most people they’re just another day’s news.

    Kim Dae-jung (left), and Kim Young-sam in 1987.

    I predicted Korea would never have an opposition president – but opposition has won three times in four elections so far. I predicted that Korea would never have a woman president. I predicted Korea would have its own version of Woodstock, whereby the middle class young would dramatically drop the values of hard work or obedience that sustained their parents’ generation.

    There’s probably a bunch of other fine forecasts I’ve forgotten. Fortunately, these things don’t get held against you because, unless there is serious commitment involved – like predicting which stocks will rise or fall or which employee will work out great – no one pays much attention.

    Books in English on Korea these days all seem to be about North Korea. Why is that?

    I’d like to believe that this is because the unimaginable suffering of North Koreans under their peculiarly vicious system has prompted the conscience of mankind. We want to know about the plight of our northern brothers and sisters and do something about it. But I think this is a bonus rather than the real reason.

    I have wondered if it is because the evil twin of the North is more fascinating than the boring good boy of South Korea. The North Korean material is certainly very compelling – a dictatorship with 60-foot statues of its leader, who is both clown and psychopath, a famine in the middle of booming Northeast Asia, a people so controlled they’ve still not heard of The Beatles, nuclear weapons, and all in stark contrast with the successful Koreans from the South.

    In politics, I suffered from the mistake of projecting my hippie liberal fantasies onto Korea. For example, I figured in the first democratic election in 1987 that Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam would agree on a unified candidate for the sake of democracy. They didn’t.

    But I think the real reason is that this little country, as an issue, has reached the desk of the American president. This happened mid-way through the Clinton years. Before that, North Korea was handled lower down the chain of power in Washington, and only Korea experts wrote about it, as experts might write about Burma or Peru.

    Right now, with North Korea presenting itself as Donald Trump’s number-one foreign policy issue, academics, policy types, and journalists who are ambitious to influence the world’s most powerful government clamor to take it on. Those already involved in Korea can flash their knowledge and wisdom to a broad audience.

    The blurb describes South Korea as an “overlooked nation.”  Why is that?

    For a long time, expatriates who live in South Korea have felt that the country was different, dynamic and somehow important – only to find when they went home or traveled, even around Asia, that nobody knew or cared much about it. Perhaps this is true for many countries. I’ve not thought to ask people who’ve lived, as foreigners, in say Ecuador or Malaysia or Algeria if they have this experience. But for expatriates in Korea, this is a puzzling thing.

    I think it comes down to a certain type of culture, especially in business and in the bureaucracy that distorts how Koreans communicate to the outside. I’m reminded of a meeting I once had in a Korean company with a couple of visitors from India. It seemed normal enough to me. But afterwards, one of the Indians, a lady, whispered to me, “Why are they so regimented?”

    I realized then that the fact that most people in the room had said nothing during the entire meeting and bowed and shook hands, limply supporting the arm doing the shaking with the other, and that the most senior person present had done all the talking, but been very formal, itself gave an impression that was very disengaged and unattractive.

    Until recently expatriates in Korea have exhibited a rather shallow habit of criticizing things that happen here and lumping them under the label, ‘Korean.’

    When you look at promotional material, from chaebol or on government websites, it’s as if the writer is ticking a task box and has no sense that he is writing for someone who might actually read it. When the government promotes the Joseon dynasty for western tourists, nobody seems to have asked, “What will they be most interested in?” (The answer would be North Korea, war and the DMZ).

    When you read the information at tourist sites, you wonder why the place seems so lifeless and two-dimensional, as if the only thing that happened there in 600 years was the delivery of 3,292 tiles to be used to build the roofs. What I’m saying is that I think, when it comes to presenting itself to the outside, the bureaucrats override the designers, artists and communicators. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

    You’ve mentioned that you’ve received some comments by English-speaking Koreans questioning your right to write about Korea. Are you sensitive to the charge of cultural appropriation?

    Nobody has said it to my face, but I’ve been told of such reactions and seen one or two online. Like, someone wrote, “Looks like shit to me.” I think this review was on the basis of the cover page information. Fair enough; it’s not what an author wants to hear after a year’s slog, but we all make such judgments every time we go into a shop. I’ve not heard anything about cultural appropriation per se.

    Perhaps if the cover was me in a hanbok, I might have. (I wouldn’t buy it myself, then). It’s more the, “How can he write about Korea when he doesn’t have Korean blood?” type of thing. As far as I know, it’s not coming from Koreans seriously questioning a foreigner’s “right” to write a book about them. Obviously, in a free marketplace, such “rights” do not exist to be given out.

    If there’s a real point it is that someone might immediately not relate to me as their interpreter of Korea. I get that. Reading a book is like taking a journey with someone, the author, who starts off as a stranger. If you don’t like him for her for whatever reason, the journey is unsatisfactory. I won’t say which one, but there’s one book in English on Korea that I really didn’t like – even though it was well written – because the writer was both bitchy about people he met and couldn’t keep his pants on. I just stopped caring for what he thought about Koreans.

    There’s another part of this that occurs to me. Until recently expatriates in Korea have exhibited a rather shallow habit of criticizing things that happen here and lumping them under the label, “Korean.” English-speaking Koreans are not doubt aware of this. They may even participate in it. This habit was very prevalent when I wrote the first book and I consciously wrote in opposition to it, even though I was criticizing things about Korean politics and so on. For this reasons, when I saw that a book entitled The Korean Mind was written by a foreign author, I reacted negatively, because I immediately assumed – rightly or wrongly – that it would be condescending. I guess if I fall victim to the same reaction, I can’t complain.

    How do you see relations with North Korea playing out in the future? Are you still sanguine on the prospect of reunification?

    I predict it will happen. Given my track record, this probably means it won’t.

    Here’s my history of error on this one: Back in 1988, I interpreted the Seoul Olympics as a kind of outward manifestation of the end to the rivalry between the two Koreas. All North Korea’s allies, bar two or three small countries, participated, ending a series of Olympic boycotts. It was, I thought, the moment the world acknowledged the ascendancy of the South. North Korea had lost. You can get on the chopper to Hawaii, Mr. Kim.

    The next year European communism collapsed and in 1990, I predicted reunification – or some big power shift and reconciliation – by 1992. That was after going to North Korea. During that trip, a diplomat in Pyongyang told me in hushed tones, “The lid is ready to blow off this place.”

    Now, 25 years later, I’m wondering if in fact I’d not been wrong all along and that the North Koreans still actually think they can win this thing, and that the use of nuclear weapons against South Korea, once the Americans are out of the way, is part of their strategy. If that is their thinking, the only solution – bar war now – is massive containment and possibly an arms race on the peninsula until the North crumbles.

    Berlin, 1989

    The prospect of this continued impasse gives me another thought. The reason for the standoff between the two Koreas is not that one has nuclear weapons or one has American troops or that we need to build trust and all that. These things are all movable. The problem is more fixed. It is that each Korea claims sovereignty over the other, and, it seems, nobody on their respective side believes they shouldn’t.

    Some people say they don’t really believe this – that it’s just a posture – but that’s not true. Try telling South Koreans, “Okay, give up the posture, then. Drop your claim over North Korea. Change the Constitution to say that its citizens are no longer South Korean.” What this means is, sacrifice unification for peace. I mean, really sacrifice it. Postponing it is not sacrificing. Develop a vision as a separate country and forget North Korea. Right now, nobody will agree to that. In fact, I’m not aware anyone has even mentioned it as a remote option.

    The position in the democratic South is: Let’s maintain peace and delay unification til the time is right. But this posture brings us back to the reality that the vision of unification means the end of the regime on the other side. “The time is right” means when the other side has changed and both now have shared values – preferably, when they are both free-market democracies, like Holland and Belgium.

    That may be how it happens, but if we were to sacrifice unification and if the North were to follow suit, we would reduce the chances of bloodshed on the way. As it is, I expect bloodshed. I just hope it is contained within North Korea when its Park Chung-hee launches his coup.

    Michael Breen will be the featured guest at an Author Panel at HQ Gwangan in Busan on Friday, October 13th. Check event page for details.

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    Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

    KoreaFix: Korea This Week – September 25th – October 1st

    Koreabridge - Mon, 2017-10-02 10:19
    KoreaFix: Korea This Week – September 25th – October 1st No Kids Allowed

    An increasing number of cafes and restaurants around Korea have been closing their doors to young kids in recent years, in response to complaints from customers about the oft-noted laxity of many parents in reigning in their rambunctious young ones. The trend started in Seoul some years ago but has spread to other parts of the country, as noted in this recent Jeju Weekly article.

    A young cafe patron reacts to the suggestion that he “settle down”

    The bans appear to be popular with most customers, but have upset some parents who feel they are being punished for the poor parenting of others. One young mother quoted here suggests that No Kids Zones “should be called more like a no-irresponsible parents zone.” Amen, sister, though it must be admitted that toddlers are much easier to spot at the door.

    While many regular cafe- and restaurant-goers, even those with kids of their own, are glad for the chance of a kid-free hour or two to chat, read, or unwind, I also found myself wondering whether the noticeably declining tolerance for kids has to do with Korea’s declining birth rates turning the whole country into a Fewer-and-Fewer Kids Zone. I don’t know, so for now, I merely speculate over a quiet, meditative Americano.

    Welcome! First Time in Korea?

    A new reality TV show called Welcome! First Time in Korea? has been getting a lot of attention lately around Korea (including among the three teenagers in our house). The show features groups of young foreigners from different countries experiencing different facets of Korea (food, drink, historical sites, etc) for the first time and reflecting on their experiences.

    Though similar shows have appeared in the past, one culture critic cited in the following Korea Herald article points out that shows like Welcome! hint at a new, “laid-back nationalism”, where the focus is less on aggressively promoting Korea to outsiders as it is about revealing to Korean viewers how many of the everyday features of life they take for granted are seen as novel, fun, and exotic when experienced by cultural outsiders.

    Stills from “Welcome! First Time in Korea?” Three young Germans sample Korean barbecue and beer.

    I was especially encouraged by the following quote from the show’s producer, Moon Sang-don, about the genesis of the idea for the show:

    I saw foreigners in a bookstore looking around with huge backpacks on their backs…I wondered, ‘What are these people trying to see here?

    In a country where the domestic tourism industry has long been more about promoting a particular version of Korea to tourists (as opposed to considering what they are actually interested in), questions like this are a step in the right direction.

    Another encouraging sign was that not all of the foreigners’ observations are necessarily flattering, and may undermine some of the common myths that Koreans entertain about Korean culture. Case in point, the recent episode of Welcome in which three young Russian women proclaim soju to be “like water.” Will future episodes feature Indians declaring kimchi to be “not that spicy,” or Canadians proclaiming chopsticks to be “rather easy to use”? Stay tuned…

    Super Chuseok

    This year, a fortunate alignment of holidays, coupled with a touch of government benevolence, has created a 10-day holiday for Chuseok. How it happened: Chuseok, which is reckoned by the lunar calendar, fell on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of October, and thus overlapped with National Foundation Day (which is always Oct. 3), which was then compensated for by adding the “substitute holiday” of Friday July 6th. Hangeul Day (celebrated every October 9th), fell on the following Monday, creating a 7-day holiday, to the sound of much rejoicing. Then, on September 5th, President Moon Jae-in answered the nation’s prayers and announced that Monday October 2nd, the sole remaining workday wedged among a string of red X’s on the calendar, would be declared a one-time holiday, creating an unprecedented 10-day Chuseok holiday.

    Though many Koreans will be spending much of that time the old-fashioned way by observing ancestor memorial rites (called charye) with members of their extended family, many others will be bowing out of these holiday observances in favor of some quiet Me-Time. In a recent survey, six in ten twenty-somethings said they’ll be sitting this year’s family get-togethers out, citing work, study, and a desire to avoid the inevitable when-are-you-getting-married interrogations associated with large family gatherings.

    However you spend the week, have a Happy Super Chuseok!

    Traditional Chuseok meals like this one are increasingly being replaced by cheaper, no-fuss alternatives like fried chicken, Chinese takeout, and convenience store microwaveable meals.
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