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Updated: 2 hours 11 min ago

Teach

13 hours 11 min ago
Teach

I saw ants wandering the crevasses of the sidewalk on this warm afternoon and realized that my journey here has come full circle. The trees that had lost their leaves, shivered and bloomed have again regained their strength to grow. In the day’s heat, my memories skip around from my first steps into Homeplus through blurry midnight taxi rides. But what I remember most are the students that I teach – the quirky, cute, struggling, hard-working and spirited bunch that I brightly say “Hi!” to every day, between every class. They have made up a large part of my life here, and although Korea has given me so much, these kids have undoubtedly given me the most.

I didn’t always think I’d be cut out to teach. When I first considered teaching (rather, tutoring) I was a college sophomore whose primary concern was earning extra money. I came across the position to be an English tutor through a bit of a conversation that I caught as I waited for the bus. I slapped together an application that same night, using an essay that I wrote as a high school junior. A quick interview later, I was handed a manual and a schedule; I got the job. The confidence I had in my own writing got me through the door easily, but I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of sitting across from my peers with their hands at their temples, staring blankly at the paper in front of them. In those 90 minutes, I wasn’t working for my own sake, but for theirs. In the first few sessions I tutored, as I unwrinkled papers crushed by their frustration, I knew that I wasn’t going to waste any time convincing them of my abilities; I needed to convince them of theirs. Smoothing out the page, I would draw a breath, smile, and say, “Let’s look at the first sentence.”

I had to become a tutor.

That being said, I spent the first week of my job floundering a bit. I threw my students worksheets, corrected their papers excessively, and fumbled with the content of the pieces they had to read. But continuous experience helped, and through the dedication I had to getting my students to pass, I learned by leading. After a few short weeks, tutoring hardly felt like a job anymore. I bounced ideas off students, asked them thought-provoking questions, and helped them structure some truly great pieces of writing. They surprised me so much that sometimes I wondered why they were even doing poorly in the first place.

After devoting the rest of college to tutoring every free chance I got, earning money didn’t bring me through the door. What I truly came to love was meeting someone so caught up in their own self-defeat that they didn’t see their own potential, and I would be the one to show them it. When my students brought their grades up from not passing (NP) to a B+, they thanked me again and again. To this, I would pick up their papers and remind them that I didn’t write it, they did. For 90 minutes once a week, all I did was stir their minds until they found what they were looking for. That’s all tutoring was, and four years and countless students later, my task never got more difficult than that.

For tutoring or teaching, you have to begin with your own confidence to get through, and sometimes you even have to trick yourself. When I started teaching in Korea, I told myself that I had all the experience I needed being a tutor, and my assured sense of self did the rest of the work. In truth, I had never stood in front of a class to teach for 45 minutes at a time. Furthermore, even as recent as junior year of college, when I gave presentations I could feel my heartbeat through my voice. But I didn’t linger on these things. The kids didn’t get some blubbering nervous fool when I stood in front of my first class; they deserved a great teacher, and I was resolved to be that.  I stood at the front of the class and I was confident, clear-voiced and a little quirky. I made mistakes but I made light of them. The kids were engaged for the whole lesson, enjoying it. I surprised myself so much that afterwards I wondered how I got magical teaching powers so suddenly. How did it happen?

The truth is that I acted the part until I became it.

At this stage, I feel like my transformation into a teacher is complete. One of the important things I’ve learned is how to let loose and make a fool of myself. I pantomime, dance around, praise emphatically and give every class 110% until I’m so spent that I barely have the energy to do much else other than pass out. I relish any opportunity to laugh along with my students during a lesson. I find myself referring to my students as “my kids” when I tell anyone about them, and I find myself telling all those lame, corny teacher jokes. I didn’t think I’d fall into this job so well, but even through the challenges I find myself coming back, smiling, ready to begin the next lesson.

(From our comics lesson. I swear I didn’t teach them this…)

As all things go, however, time and again I’ve met a fair amount of bumps in the road. On some days the challenges test how much I can endure. A few of my second grade classes this semester get unruly regularly, and it’s hard to get them to concentrate. Some sleep in the corner, some throw pencilcases around. I surely sympathize with the feeling, stuck in a class that you don’t understand, allowing your attention to wane. But for the few kids that are at the front, answering every question, I know that despite the mayhem I have to do right by them. So I use my “New York” and my smile fades into a hard look that epitomizes Jack Nicholson’s “You talkin’ to me?!”, because nothing is scarier than getting a teacher that smiles all the time to clench her jaw, suppressing latent rage. It’s worked well so far. :)

But, as you are well aware, channeling Jack Nicholson four times a week is quite physically and psychologically taxing, so last Friday I was prepared to do a gazelle leap out of school and into the weekend. While I was shutting off my computer, a few of my former students showed up in the teacher’s office. They had graduated middle school last semester were now attending high school. I was so purely happy to see them that I started talking to them way faster than they could understand (or any human being could). One of my former students told me he had gotten into a foreign language high school where he is studying English. As the rest of the group said their goodbyes and left, he hung back to look me in the eyes and say, “Thank you, Natasha Teacher.” Nearly died from the feels.

Thinking back to my days as a tutor, the gratitude that people have shown me makes me believe that maybe, other than notes in the margins and grammar advice, I gave them a bit more: I gave each of them my unshakable faith that they would succeed, and they did. Some of my favorite teachers over the years had done the same for me. It’s a quiet gift of inner strength that I am humbled to give.

When I used to sit cross-legged in the closet of a tutor’s lounge at my college, catching a breather between shifts, I would scoff at a sign above the door: “Saving the World…One Sentence at a Time.”

Thousands of miles away, years later, I get it.

These few months of teaching have made my world a little more beautiful.


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The 52nd annual Jinhae Gunhangje Festival

Thu, 2014-04-17 05:30
The 52nd annual Jinhae Gunhangje Festival

In early April, I went to the 52nd annual Jinhae Gunhangje Festival (진해군항제) also known as the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. I don’t mind crowds and always have a good time at festivals in Korea, but surprisingly, I’ve never been to this festival before. It was great!

The city boasts that they have the most cherry blossom trees in the world. There are apparently 360,000 trees blossoming at once, if you’re curious.

Friends were discouraging me from going to the festival. Before I went to Jinhae, people were telling me that it would be too crowded (“everyone will be in your pictures” and “it’ll be so difficult to get there and back”), that the flowers had blossomed too early, and that it would rain. I still went, and I’m happy I did.

There were a ton of people there, but again, I don’t mind crowds. Probably less people there than usual, because it did rain for a short period of time. We just sought refuge from the rain in a tent, drinking makgeolli. Not a big deal.

The view of the trees around the stream was beautiful, and I also really enjoyed the view of the city from Jinhae Tower. The city was very easy to walk. I’ve been told foreigners can rent city bikes there for 1,000₩ with your ARC.

We opted to stand on the one hour bus ride between Jinhae and Busan both ways, so we only had to wait 15 minutes to leave. Bus rides between Jinhae and Busan (Sasang Bus Terminal) are totally reasonable at 5,100₩. We opted to stand, but we actually sat on the steps of the bus (not too uncomfortable) and then on our way back, we sat on the floor of the back of bus (much more uncomfortable). But, meh, we had a good time. 




















 

About the girl

Hi, I'm Stacy. I am from Portland, Oregon, USA, and am currently living and teaching ESL in Cheonan, South Korea. Busy getting into lots of adventures, challenging myself, and loving people. Something more than an ethereal will-o-wisp.

Thank you so much for visiting and reading.

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How Koreans Celebrate Their 70th Birthday

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:02
How Koreans Celebrate Their 70th Birthday

Last Sunday, my husband’s third uncle celebrated his 70th birthday known as 고희 (gohui) or 칠순 (chilsun) in Korea. Korean seniors have three special birthdays to celebrate: 환갑 (hwanggap or the 60th birthday), 고희/칠순 (gohui/chilsun or the 70th birthday) and 팔순 (palsun or the 80th birthday). Traditionally, the 60th birthday was the one celebrated lavishly, since in the olden days, few people lived to be 60, but now that the average life expectancy in Korea has risen due to medical advancement and better quality of life, some Koreans don’t celebrate the 60th birthday anymore. Instead, the celebration is done on their 70th (or 80th) birthday.

When my 시아버지 (father-in-law) turned 60, we prepared a simple get-together in the house. There was no ceremony, just dinner and drinking. He wanted to go on a trip abroad with the family, but my sister-in-law just gave birth to her second child, so the plan didn’t push through. We will probably have the trip on his 70th birthday.  

While most Koreans have a big party in a banquet hall wherein many guests are invited, some just want to spend time with their family by traveling overseas with them. 

Normally, 60th, 70th and 80th birthday festivities follow ceremonial activities. Family members, as well as the birthday celebrator, wear hanbok on these occasions.  The celebrator is called to sit at the bountiful banquet table where piles of ceremonial food are beautifully arranged. These food include beef, pork, chicken, fish, fresh fruit, rice cake and traditional pastries that are heaped together in 30 to 60 centimeter-tall round stacks, and are placed in two to three colorful rows. The ceremonial food at the party we attended on Sunday wasn’t this elaborate, but there were fruit, rice cake, traditional cookies and a big cake on the banquet table that looked like a wedding cake. Cake was not served on 칠순 in the olden days, but today, it is a common birthday gift here in Korea. Wine was the most usual gift back then. The eldest son would bring wine for the ceremony, and he was the first one to present his parent with the wine and ceremonial meals. The celebrator’s children would all bow to him and offer him wine or other presents.

On my husband’s uncle’s 7oth birthday, it was the eldest son who was called to initiate the ceremony. There was no giving of wine, but the first son bowed to his father and gave him a message. The other siblings were not asked to bowand deliver a message, but they joined the guests in the toast. No one wore hanbok that day. I guess it wasn’t a verytraditional ceremony.

In another 칠순 party my husband and I went to, the children and the grandchildren of the celebrator wore the same color of hanbok. They bowed to the celebrator at the same time, and all the children gave their father short messages and offered him songs. There was a time when guests recited poems for the celebrator, but these days, performers are hired to entertain guests with traditional music, or sometimes the celebrator’s children prepare song and dance numbers. A long time ago, the celebrator’s children would dress as infants or kids to make their parent feel younger, but my husband told me that nobody is doing that now. Thank goodness, I can’t imagine my husband wearing a diaper or carrying a pacifier on his parents’ milestone birthdays! =)

 

From Korea with Love
Chrissantosra.wordpress.com


 

 

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Dear Korea #119 - Under Where?

Tue, 2014-04-15 15:01
Dear Korea #119 - Under Where?

 

Erp, looks like I’m a day late. It’s sad how long it usually takes me to recover from a particularly weird week. Here’s hoping I can do better next week! I am the worst (or best?) procrastinator in the world.

Yes, this is another comic about miniskirts. Now that the weather’s getting warmer, it’s hard to walk a block without seeing them.

The conversation in the panel was one I actually had with a friend who enjoys wearing miniskirts. After talking to a number of other people, the general consensus seems to be that wearing short shorts automatically makes miniskirts safe, so to speak. I honestly can’t say anything, as I don’t own any skirts. I’m still trying to figure out dresses.

Dem legs..

Jen Lee's Dear Korea

This is Jen Lee. She likes to draw.
She also likes green tea.

Got any questions, comments, or maybe even some delicious cookies you want to send through the internet? Feel free to contact us at dearkoreacomic at gmail dot com.

You can also leave comments on the comic’s Facebook Page!

 

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Ulsan Whale Festival 2013

Tue, 2014-04-15 08:08
Ulsan Whale Festival 2013    I've never actually seen a whale in the waters around Ulsan, but I'm told they are there, just off of Jangsaeng-Pohang Port there's a migratory route they take that allowed them to become potential dinner for those who could catch or afford them. Having a festival in honour of them seems a little sadistic...but I guess it's more for the tradition than anything else.

Personally I like whale meat too, what little I have had has been quite delicious and not at all like I imagined (for a sea creature). If you have issues with eating whale meat let me break it down for you:

You are a vegaratian/vegan: That's cool.
You are otherwise a meat eater: Piss off. (See also, meat eaters who have a problem with dog meat.)

Of course the Ulsan Whale Festival is not all about feasting on flesh. There are the typical Korean festival stalls that promote other festivals and regions in South Korea like a big fat hippy love-in and random bits of art, sculptures and floats including reenactments of early whale fishing by historians. There are probably lanterns and fireworks in the evening too.

There is also a boat race that last year some friends trained hard for and participated in. Strangely, (but most likely for safety reasons) the Korean and foreigner boat race competitions were kept separate last year (a fact that did not stop mixing within the teams themselves of course). This year all foreigners have been excluded from the boat race part of this festival, so I hear...

Whatever the reasons, banning people from taking part (if it is true, I'm struggling to find anything beyond the words of mouths) on the the basis of nationality is fucking stupid. From what I saw last year there were people acting like pricks and others being perfectly civil in equal number during both competitions.

I'll reserve more swearing for an official statement...but if you are one of my mates from last year here's a few pics below:
  On a sad note, last year's boat race was delayed due to reports of someone doing a bridge jump the night before. No body was recovered...
 How to get there: Ulsan Whale Festival takes place around May every year. Check here or here for more details that are "comming soon". I can English too... Depending on which side of town you are coming from (east or west) the 300 and 700 buses will take you there on the day. Aim for Taehwa Rotary, City Hall or anywhere in the middle of Taehwa river. Soundtrack: Mastodon - Blood & Thunder "WHITE, WHALE, HOLY, GRAIL!"




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Universal Salvation Pavilion – Boje-ru (보제루)

Tue, 2014-04-15 04:38
Universal Salvation Pavilion – Boje-ru (보제루)

The Boje-ru Pavilion in the background behind the Cheonwangmun at Donghwasa Temple in Daegu.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The next entry in the series of postings on rarely seen things you might encounter at a Korean temple or hermitage is the Boje-ru Pavilion.

The Universal Salavation Pavilion, or the Boje-ru Pavilion (보제루) is the fifth, and final, gate in the set of gates that potentially can be found at a larger sized temple. It’s positioned after the Bulimun Gate, and it usually hides the main temple courtyard that’s situated behind its rather long length.

So what does a Boje-ru Pavilion look like? Why is it located where it is at a temple? And what is the meaning behind it?

 The massive Boje-ru Pavilion at Geumsansa Temple in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do.

In Korean, the word “Boje” means universal salvation. This refers to the casting of a net across the Samgye, which is desire, the realm of form, and the formless realm. This net is cast to rescue all sentient beings. The final character in the name, “ru,” is a Chinese character that means a raised pavilion or building of two or more stories.

 A fine example of the pavilion at Naesosa Temple in Buan, Jeollabuk-do.

 A look under the pavilion at Naesosa Temple with paper wishes hanging from the ceiling.

First, the Boje-ru is a pavilion, unlike the other four structures that potentially welcome you to the temple grounds. It is made up of two stories. The first story serves as a passageway, and final entrance, to the main temple courtyard. Instead of supportive beams, there can be two storage areas to the right and left of the stairway that leads up to the main temple courtyard. On the second floor, there rests an open pavilion. The exterior walls are typically very colourful with winged-shaped roofs.

 The large-sized Boje-ru that welcomes you to Pagyesa Temple in Daegu.

 The corridor and stairs that lead up to Pagyesa Temple.

Some of the meaning behind this temple building rests on the first floor of its design. In older Boje-ru designs, the ceiling can be quite low. This is deliberately done so that visitors to a temple or hermitage have to stoop. This is done as a gesture of humility, as they pass through the pavilion. On the second floor of this structure is where monastic lectures and non-ceremonial dharma assemblies (beophoe) are conducted simply because they are too large to be done inside the main hall. Also, in some smaller sized temples, Buddhist musical instruments can be housed in the second floor pavilion. And some Boje-ru were used as protection against armed forces like the Japanese after the Imjin War (1592-98). A great example of this can be found at Okcheonsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. Specifically, it was used for military training and guarding the temple buildings from invaders.

Great examples of the Boje-ru, or the Universal Salvation Pavilion, can be found at Donghwasa Temple, Geumsansa Temple, Dasolsa Temple, Pagyesa Temple, Naesosa Temple, and Buseoksa Temple.

 The militarized Boje-ru at Okcheonsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

 And a look inside the second floor open pavilion at Okcheonsa Temple.

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Bujeon Market

Sun, 2014-04-13 06:46
Bujeon Market

This weekend, after visiting my Father-in-law in the hospital, we decided to take a look around Bujeon Market before jumping on the train home. This is a busy market full of fresh seafood and vegetables. While Jagalchi gets all the tourists, this market certainly should not be overlooked for those wanting to see a more traditional style market. Here at Bujeon Market, you won’t find your normal packaged/processed food items. What you will find are fresh fish from the region including the smelly “hongeo” or spoiled skate.

The market is rather easy to get to either by subway and getting out at Bujeon station on the orange line or by train taking the mugunhwa and getting out at Bujeon station. From the train station all you have to do is just walk across the street and you are there. Walking about mid-way down you will find the central lane that most of the other alleys seem to branch off of.

At any rate, this market and the surrounding area is a great place to not only photograph but shop as well. Tons of fresh produce can be bought for a very good price. My wife and I walked away with a good hail of fresh onions, peppers, sweet potatoes and mushrooms all for half the price that you could buy them at the big box stores.

The idea behind this shoot was to get a more candid feel for the market. I was using my Tokina 16-28 wide-angle set at about f2.8 for allow me to shoot on the run. Most of the shots were taken as I was walking by and only pausing to press the shutter. I was trying to be sneaky here as I wanted to catch people just doing there thing. I could have raise my camera up a bit but after checking a few shots, I like how they were turing out and continued to make my way through the market.

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bujeon market-18 
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Philippines: Too Dangerous for Koreans?

Fri, 2014-04-11 19:59
Philippines: Too Dangerous for Koreans?

The news of the death of a Korean student in the Philippines hit the headlines this week and sparks worry about the safety of Koreans living in the country. The 21-year old student, who had been living in Manila with her brother for several years, was abducted last month. She was last seen riding a taxi in Pasay City on March 3. On April 8 (Tuesday), her remains were found in her captor’s hideout. The police was able to arrest one of the suspected kidnappers. The taxi driver is also a suspect.

According to The Chosun Ilbo, the Korean community in the Philippines “is blaming local police for mishandling the investigation, and accusing the Korean Foreign Ministry for standing idly by”. Some Korean netizens are already “generalizing” the Philippines as being dangerous. One of the writers of The Korea Times has branded the Philippines as adeath trap for Koreans as if every Korean going to the country has a sniper aimed at him.

Korea Joongang Daily reports:

Since 2009, there have been 40 Koreans killed in the Philippines as Koreans have poured into the country to start businesses, study English and play golf. Between 2009 and 2013, 44 percent of some 160 murder cases of Korean nationals abroad occurred in the Philippines, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Two months ago, when my husband and I were in the Philippines, a 65 year-old Korean tourist was shot dead in my hometown (Angeles City). Last week, a 45-year-old Korean businessman was gunned down in a restaurant in Angeles City while he was having dinner with his family.

Last year, 13 Koreans were killed in the Philippines and four this year.

In an article from The Korea Times, Professor Kim Dong-yeob of Busan University of Foreign Studies said it is more likely that Koreans are behind the crimes.

…the majority of cases involving Korean victims are contract killings. Many Koreans flying to the Philippines have a reason to flee Korea. Many are gang members escaping law enforcement. What they end up doing is paying people to swindle money from Koreans. businessmen, students and tourists.

A photo of Cho Yang-eun’s detention taken from Philstar

The Korea Times gave Cho Yang-eun, leader of a mafia called Yangeunyi  and one of South Korea’s most wanted fugitive, as an example of criminals who have fled to the Philippines to escape capture. He was caught in Pampanga in November 2013. This reminds me of the news about Koreans kidnapping fellow Koreans in the Philippines a few years ago.

It saddens me that despite the possibility of Koreans masterminding the crimes in the Korean community, fingers are all pointed at Filipinos.

A certain Prof. Park made this statement in The Korea Times: 

You can own a gun in the Philippines. Also, it is a Catholic country, meaning people probably feel freer than those visiting Malaysia or Indonesia which are Muslim countries. And take Thailand, for example. They have better protection for foreign tourists.

I think it’s unfair to assume that everybody can own a gun in the Philippines, (that’s why crimes are rampant) and what does being a Catholic country have to do with crimes?

While we Filipinos understand Koreans’ concern for the safety of their fellow Koreans living in the Philippines, we hope that our people will not be blamed for every crime that involves tourists in our country, and that the Philippines will not be thought of as a “death trap” for foreigners. The Philippines is not the only place in the world where crimes happen. Many Filipinos were angered and disheartened by the news of this poor Korean student’s demise. Many Filipinos seek justice, too. I assure you, despite the country’s frailty and corruption, the Philippines is still a country surrounded by a lot of good people who value the life of others.

From Korea with Love
Chrissantosra.wordpress.com


 

 

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Korean Teenagers and Well-Being

Thu, 2014-04-10 01:19
Korean Teenagers and Well-Being
Over the past two years or so I have written frequently about what a stressful and depressing life Korean teenagers are having in Korea, so it was to my surprise that South Korea came third recently in a study of well-being in teenagers from different countries.

In the linked article above, I do think the title is a little deceptive, in that although well-being and happiness are linked, they are not the same.  I would argue strongly that South Korea is not an example of a country with especially happy teenagers, and I'm sure many would be on my side.  Korea's notorious suicide statistics and a recent poll finding that about half of all teenagers have contemplated suicide, would also seem to contradict the notion that South Korean teenagers are the third happiest in the world.

It is interesting to see how the study was compiled and how it favoured Korea in the parameters it measured:

"To create the index, the researchers looked at 40 indicators to assess "citizen participation, economic opportunity, education, health, information and communications technology (ICT), and safety and security" among the world's youth (defined as people 12 to 24)."
Listed in among the factors quoted are some of the really fantastic things about Korea. There is no doubt that in some departments Korea has done many things right, especially the last three; health (in young people), ICT, and safety and security.  General organisation and efficiency in Korea is also something I find much better than in many countries, particularly my own.  Life for teenagers in Korea is certainly convenient, well-organised, and relatively free from dangerous temptations and situations.

However, the problem with fairly narrow studies like this is the lack of attention to detail and the message it may send out.  Education is a perfect example; while I am sure Korea scored highly for education (it regularly tops world league tables), Korean education of the young is something that significantly contributes to unhappiness.  One can't help but also notice that if you keep students cooped-up in a classroom all day (and on many occasions, all-night), of course they'll be safer.  Just like house cats have less danger and tend to live longer than those that are given free reign to go outside and come and go as they please.  But what kind of cat would you rather be?

Economic opportunities is another thing to be careful in making assumptions about happiness, because while Koreans do have opportunities and in my experience finding a job is much easier (for Koreans and non-Koreans) than in my own country (Korea has the lowest unemployment rate in the OECD), work life in Korea is stressful.  Koreans work some of the longest hours, taking away time with family and friends and time for relaxation. Hierarchies at work also cause troubles, giving their bosses too much control of their lives.  Young people are always at the bottom of these hierarchies, often leading to the worst of working conditions, and the lowest levels of respect and job satisfaction.

But even if it was crystal clear that South Korea was doing a better job than most other countries with regard to the well-being of its youth, does this mean it is doing good enough?

What has always fascinated me about Korea is that its problems are so obvious, and what's more Koreans are so aware of the problems they have in their society, they just seem powerless or unwilling to change them.  It is not a question of Johny foreigner coming over here and noticing the problems they can't see, in my experience very few Koreans are ignorant of the issues they have in society.

In a heartbeat South Korean society could make things so much better for young people if they simply took some of the weight off their shoulders.  The obsessive compulsive nature of education in Korea is the major culprit of unhappiness.




Even small steps would make a great difference; students could still study long hours for example, just give them less homework and encourage more sleep.  As I said in last week's post, why are Korean high school students sleeping only 4 or 5 hours a night? Surely, a healthy amount of sleep would improve their performance and make them happier at the same time.

The study on well-being actually does show some huge positives for the way Korean society has been organised.  Korea is so close to being a place that is really great to live.  There are many ways in which Korea trumps other places in the world to live, but fails in ways that are so unnecessary it becomes frustrating to be a part of it all.

In my own personal opinion, there are a few key issues that would really make Korea a wonderful place to live if they could change their ways slightly:

1. A less rigid adherence to respect culture hierarchies.
2. A greater respect for worker's rights (and individual rights generally).
3. Less concern with petty status games and jealousy.
4. Being less OCD when it comes to education.
5. Being less nationalistic.
6. Enforcing laws (e.g. traffic laws).

Korea has always struck me as a nation of extremes in these regards; it would only take a little adjustment of each of these factors and one might see Korea rising to the top of more positive tables and statistics, like those concerned with well-being, and lifting off the bottom of the less desirable measures of societies, like suicides.



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Music for Mutts 3 - Live Music Benefit - KSU

Tue, 2014-04-08 11:09

MUSIC. MUSIC. MUSIC.

 

That’s right, Busan. It’s that time of year when talented musicians from all over Korea come together for a night of pure awesome, all in support of the dogs. And this time we’re setting up shop in a different part of town for a whole new vibe and hopefully even bigger party! KSU, here we come!

 

This year’s benefactor will be a hard-up dog, Asan Shelter resident, Sandy (golden retriever/lab mix), and her NINE puppies. Yes, I said *NINE* puppies. It’s not easy being a large breed dog in Korea, but it gets even harder when you’re the young mother of NINE. What a rockstar! To find out more about Sandy, check out her profile on the Animal Rescue Korea website: http://www.animalrescuekorea.org/dog/1857

 

Any money that we raise that goes above and beyond the needs of Sandy and her pack of youngins will be put towards other animals in need, right here in Korea. And you'll be kept up to date on it ALL via the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/669033299820359/ 

 

**********NO COVER***********

Suggested Donation: 5,000 Won

 

This event will have NO COVER but a suggested donation at the door of 5,000 won or more. So dig deep, it’s a great cause. 100% of what you give will go towards our cause and, as said above, we’ll provide updates after the event so you all know what’s going on!

 

HQ Bar:

7:00PM: CURRY FOR CANINES! (5,000 won curries!)

10ish: Acid Ben

 

OL55: Music starts at 10ish.

NoNaMe / 노나메 (Asan)

D.H.M.P.

The Strangers

 

Vinyl Underground: Music starts at 10ish.

The Elsewheres (Ulsan)

Waffles and the Poutine’s Big Rap Love Explosion

Robscenity 

Enter Busandman

 

Eva’s Ticket: Music starts at 10:30ish.

Free Range Coffee Weasels

The Won Shots

Release the Robots

  Simple Banner.png Music for Mutts 3 - Live Music Benefit - KSU
Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Before there was K-drama…

Mon, 2014-04-07 08:58
Before there was K-drama…

Before K-dramas (Korean dramas) became popular in the Philippines, Mexican telenovelas reigned supreme. I remember being glued to the idiot box with the rest of my family when it was time for “Marimar“, sometimes not minding dinner at all. Even my uncles got so hooked into watching Mexican telenovelas that all they could talk about was the beautiful Thalia, the queen of Mexicanovelas in the Philippines.

We had barely gotten over the Mexinovela wave when Chinese/Taiwanese soap operas were introduced to Filipino televiewers. It wasn’t as if we had not seen Chinese soaps before. Chinese action dramas have been appearing on different TV networks in my country since I was a little girl, maybe before I was even born, but not many Filipinos watched them. You know those Chinese dramas where the actors, garbed in traditional costumes, do kungfu and fly a lot during the fighting scenes? I guess they didn’t strike our fancy, because their stories are far from reality. Besides, they weren’t dubbed in Filipino. There were subtitles, though, but who likes to read subtitles when you are watching soap operas?

In 2002, IBC 13 aired the very first dubbed Asianovela (Asian-produced telenovela), “Amazing Twins”. The setting is also Ancient China, but the characters are more realistic than those from old Chinese soap operas. I watched it, because there is more love story in it than action. ^^ It wasn’t as famous as “Marimar” or other Mexicanovelas that Filipinos got addicted to, but it was appreciated by some Filipino viewers.

In 2003, the phenomenal Taiwanese series “Meteor Garden”, which is based on the Japaneseshojo manga “Hana Yori Dango”, debutted on ABS-CBN. Who would forget “Meteor Garden”? It was such a big thing in the Philippines that other TV networks in the country began airing dubbed chinovelas (Chinese telenovelas), most of which were Taiwanese-produced romantic-comedy series. Still, no other Chinovelas could match the fame of “Meteor Garden”. Filipinos, young and old, knew about Shan Cai and the F4 . You could hear “Meteor Garden’s” introplaying on the radio almost anywhere you go and people singing “Oh baby, baby, my baby, baby…”

CD’s and casette tapes of “Meteor Garden’s” soundtrack and songs recorded by the F4 band sold like hotcakes. Many Filipino fans were trying to master the art of singing Taiwanese songs sung by the F4, though they barely understood the lyrics. I was a “Meteor Garden” fan, too. I must have bought all the CD’s and casette tapes of MG. I even got the minus-one, so I could sing “Ni Yao De Ai”. ^^

My bedroom was filled with F4 posters. There was a huge “Meteor Garden” towel hanging on the wall. It was actually my sister’s, who was also a fan. We didn’t want to get Dao Ming Si face wet, so we never used that towel. ㅋㅋㅋ

I’m sure that my sister and I weren’t the only Filipinas who went gaga over Dao Ming Si and his gang. The gorgeous guys of F4 suddenly became most Filipinas’ ideal men. (I wanted to marry Dao Ming Si or have him cloned!) It wasn’t only the women who got into the F4 fever, but the men as well. Many young Filipino males imitated the F4′s hairstyles, even Dao Ming Si’s hideous “pineapple” hairstyle which we thought was cool back then. The cast of MG were invited to the Philippines. They even had a concert that was tightly guarded by 500 policemen! Too bad I couldn’t watch it. T.T

Now that I recall my MG days, I become nostalgic. My Mom told me that the series is being shown again in the Philippines. I really want to watch it!!!

There is a Korean version of MG, “Boys over Flowers”, that was televised in my country. They started showing it when I was busy preparing for my wedding. I’ve seen some of the episodes, but I didn’t bother to finish the whole series. I think there’s too much 애교 (aegyo) in it that I totally dislike. Anyway, the Koreanized “Hana Yori Dango” was also a hit in the Philippines, not as much as MG, though.

From Korea with Love
Chrissantosra.wordpress.com


 

 

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State of Mind

Mon, 2014-04-07 05:59
State of Mind

When I was in college I tutored English, and one of the pieces I worked with through the years was Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Power of Context.” In the piece, he talks about the effects of one’s surroundings on the psyche, even going so far as to suggest that it can make a killer out of an ordinary citizen. The presence of graffiti, garbage, and “broken windows,” he claims, can subconsciously enforce the idea that in run-down neighborhoods crime is omnipresent and, therefore, accepted. He contrasts the crime rate in slums to that of wealthy suburbs, and attempts to explain the disparity through reducing the impulse to commit crime to a visual stimulus that pulls the trigger (one’s “tipping point”). Although he makes an interesting argument, I always reminded my students to think for themselves and consider how large his claim really was. It seemed to be an amusing explanation, but not without its pitfalls. Personally, I didn’t believe it at all.

Almost three years later, on my way home last Saturday night, I started believing.

The night was unusually cold, but everyone had grown tired of waiting for the weather to warm up. The weekend before was rainy, yet there was no shortage of women in short skirts and strappy shoes, powering through. I was out to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and started the night at around 9pm. On the subway into downtown, a nice old ahjumma insisted that I take a seat next to her. This is when I regret that I know so much Korean, because after she asks me where I’m from and tells me about her daughter, which I’m guessing was just a skill check, she seriously asks me, “Is there Jesus in America?”

….huh?

She tells me in the most animated Korean the tale of 예수님 (Korean Jesus), pantomiming blood dripping down his face and reenacting the glory of his resurrection. It was a long 20 minutes.

So…straight to the bar I went. Two gin and tonics later it was midnight and the crowd was just starting to creep out of the shadows. Almost spontaneously, a throng of foreigners lined the main stretch of Daegu’s bars, pouring in and out of Thursday Party, trapped in the stairwell between MF and Who’s Bob. I successfully managed to deliver my well-wishes and clink a few glasses with some friends, so I was fully prepared to call it a night as the clock struck 3. In the midst of my struggle to un-stick my shoes from the filth of Urban’s dancefloor, a drunk Korean girl grabs a random American guy by the collar and lifts/shakes him until the unbalanced pair careens to the ground, knocking barstools and tipping drinks on the way down. People stare, the moment ceases. It was akin to seeing Nicholas Cage act with more than one expression – it just doesn’t happen.

You see, foreigners inhabit very different spaces from Koreans downtown. Usually, bars like MF and Thursday Party are replete with military dudes, English teachers, and other foreign University students. In clubs like AU and Monkey, however, the crowd is strictly Korean. The split can be divided almost geographically, one side of the intersection belonging to Koreans, the other stretch marking the beaten path of the foreigners. Of course, there is some mingling of the two in places like Thursday Party, but no matter where you go, the foreigners have their packs and so do the Koreans.

After months of living here, this has been the first time that I have actually seen a Korean fight with a foreigner. I have always known Koreans to be peaceful and adverse to confrontations with foreigners, but this tough chick was turning the club into the Twilight Zone. Hearing a glass smash in one of the far reaches of Urban’s maw, I got my jacket and wasted no time waiting for the fallout.

I judged the whole thing as an anomaly and continued on, walking through the stretch and passing Thursday Party on my way to the taxis. I had grown accustomed to going out alone and relying on the fact that I know a lot of people, but this night I feared that things were getting out of hand. Not even the biting cold could quell the rage that was permeating the air. I was walking behind another large foreigner group when a 30-something year old man procured from his fleece jacket an entire bottle of liquor, complete with the pouring spout from the bar he stole it from. I hung back, as the equally large woman he was with (his wife?) verbally smacked the shit out of him. Under my breath I mumbled ”Timber…” as the blubbering titan staggered for what seemed to be a certain cement kiss. To his misfortune, he met the hands of his burly wife, who ripped the bottle from his hands and flung it into the street. Its shatter sent a crystalline CRACK through the heavens. My breath caught, I came to a dead stop; I was terrified.

I turned around, and in the next intersection a foreigner was stopping a car with his arms in front of him, laughing and cursing, terrorizing the Koreans within. His friend was carrying an enormous green plastic bottle–

Is that two liters of SOJU…. ?!

The night was getting absurd. Taking momentary refuge in a kebab place, the same guy that had been bowled over by the Korean chick walks in, bloody knuckled, laughing maniacally. He snatches up some random person’s leftovers looking utterly satisfied eating someone else’s garbage, pumps his chest and walks back out. At this point I send a feeble prayer to Korean Jesus to shepherd me out of this strange, strange hell.

Broken glass crunching underfoot, spent bottles of liquor and condom wrappers, dark splashes of vomit on pavement, throaty man-screams of “‘MURICA!”  - This is the stage that we act on. And we all play the parts, don’t we?

I walk past GoGo’s, a place famous for its bagged mixed drinks, and I recall the night that a foreigner thought it was funny to jump into random Korean people’s cars. I remember a time when someone brought an enormous bag of cheese puffs over their shoulder and released a cheddar avalanche into the street. Shortly after, a haggard Korean man had to come and sweep it up. It was heartbreaking and embarrassing.

Foreigners are making Korea suffer. It is an unfortunate reality that many times I wish I could change. Last Saturday, surrounded by other foreigners on that short walk to the taxis made me more nervous than I’ve ever been. Somewhere down the line I got a little too comfortable with Korea’s lack of crime. I guess everyone else got comfortable, too. With no one to answer to, there are no rules.  There is just alcohol-soaked mayhem.

At 5am Sunday dawns and I open my apartment door. I think of nothing but sleep in the hopes that I can pass it all off as a bad dream.


Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

The Song and the Fury

Sun, 2014-04-06 03:38
The Song and the Fury

The Rooting Songs of Korean Baseball by Ralph Karst

It’s springtime here in South Korea, and that means cherry blossoms, people taking pictures of cherry blossoms, cherry blossom festivals, and traffic jams of people trying to get to cherry blossom festivals. And oh yeah—baseball! The 2014 Korean Baseball Organization season is underway, with nine teams smacking leather, swinging lumber, bringing the high heat, and eating sundae-guk-bap in the dugout. I’ve been a KBO fan in general and a Lotte Giants fan specifically for a while now. It remains one of best spring / summer entertainment bargains around, beside sitting outside a Family Mart, drinking beer, and girl people-watching.  Ten bucks or less will get you into the ballpark for three hours of generally pretty good and sometimes charmingly inept play.

Besides the actual competition, you get a full-on “cultural experience.” Cheerleaders! Dried squid! Polite discussions with umpires! And singing, God, the singing! Korean ball games can sometimes resemble giant outdoor norae-bangs, with fans singing, almost non-stop, their team’s multiple fights songs. Lotte Giants’ “Busan Galmaegi” is definitely the best of the bunch. It’s an old Busan song (galmaegi = seagull), a slow ballad with typically tragic lyrics and a melody that builds upwards and then beautifully cascades down. It’s spine-tingling when 30,000 are belting it out, usually after a big home run.

In addition to team fight songs, each hitter has a specific 응원가 (“eung-won-ga”), or rooting song, usually chosen by the hitter himself. The lyrics of the original song are altered to include the player’s name, with 안타! (“an-ta!” roughly, “get a hit!”) at the end. The crowd will sing it every time the batter comes up, and sometimes continue for the whole at-bat. I’m of two minds about this. Yes, it’s fun and unique, and creates a carnival-type atmosphere, similar to European or South American football matches. It’s very different from the mellowness that pervades ball games in the U.S. At MLB games, fans generally burst into song only in the 7th inning stretch, for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (“Sweet Caroline” if you’re a Red Sox fan asshole). The drawback to the constant singing is that it robs some of the drama from big moments. There’s no sense of situation—fans are singing the same damn songs and chants no matter if it’s a tie game in the 9th inning, or a 8-0 blowout. Also, these days most teams will, um, augment the singing with ear-splitting loud music over the slick sound system. This is different from Japan, where the fans still sing, but are accompanied by at most a few drummers and bugle players sitting together in the outfield. Well, if you’re looking for a purist experience, the KBO ain’t the place to look. But whatever the drawbacks, a KBO game is a terrific place to spend a sultry summer afternoon or evening, eat some squid, get a nice beer-buzz on, ogle perv on enjoy the cheerleaders, sing a few (or a lot of) songs, and watch some Korean dudes try to knock the ball outta the yahd.

So—here is my totally biased list of the best and worst eung-won-ga in the KBO for 2014. (With links to the songs provided, if I could find them.)

THE BEST

10.   Jeong Hyeon-suk (HANWHA):  “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”

I had no idea what this song was, but the sound clip on youtube is awesome—a rollicking, accordion-filled Cajun/polka jam. I employed the razor-sharp research skills of my former student Hyoung-june Kwon, now a freshman at Stanford. He found out it’s based on a song called “Ai Se Eu Te Pego“ by Brazilian pop singer Michel Telo. Jeong should have a live accordion player squeezing this tune out every time he bats. Maybe he can get Crying Nut’s accordion player Kim In-su.

9.   Shin Jong-gil (KIA):  “Pretty Woman”

A total classic, either the original Roy Orbison version or the early Van Halen cover. Wait—what do I see?  Four smoking-hot Korean baseball cheerleaders . . . they’re walking back to me. Mercy.

8.   Chu Seung-woo (Hanwha):  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (punk cover)

Several bands have given “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” the punk treatment over the years: most notably The Ramones (yeah!) and Blink-182 (*cough*). Chu Seung-woo may have derived his inspiration from the great 2003 Korean indie sci-fi mind-fuck film “Save the Green Planet,” which featured a punk “SOTR” in the opening credits, played by the American punk-cover band “Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.” Or maybe Chu was just a Blink-182 fan, but I’d like to believe the former.  And, yes:  “Me First and the Gimme Gimmes” is the greatest band name of all time.

7.   Park Byeong-ho (NEXEN):  “When the Saints Go Marching In”

Can’t go wrong with “When the Saints Go Marching In,” an old gospel hymn that Louis Armstrong turned into one of the foundational jazz tunes of the 20th century. March on, Park Byeong-ho, march on.

6.   Jang Gi-young (NEXEN):  “American Idiot”

Would be better if one of the Americans playing in Korea used this song. Or even better—Korean fans singing the actual Green Day song whenever an American pitches or bats for the opposing team.  One negative of the stadium singing tradition in Korea is that everything is kept polite and positive. Nobody ever sings anything that rips on the opponent with style and wit, or just plain nastiness. This is a staple of European football, like when Wayne Rooney was going through a painful separation from his wife Coleen and son Kai, a game at Everton featured the fans singing Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” with the words “No Woman, No Kai!” Korea baseball needs more hilarious loutishness like that. Which leads me to . . .

5.   No Jung ho (NC):  “One Two Fuck You”

I really don’t know this song, or how the fans actually sing it. I just saw the title listed on the NC Dinos’ website. That was enough for me.

4.  Kang Min-ho  (LOTTE):  “넌내게반했어”(Neon Nae-gae Banhae-seo) / “River of Babylon” Lotte’s star catcher gets two separate rooting songs. When he comes up, it’s the Korean indie rock anthem by No Brain. Yes, you heard that right—indie rock!  In Korea! It does exist! Too bad Kang undermines his indie authenticity by doing soju ads with K-pop sex kitten Lee Hyo-ri. Oh well. I’ll bet even Ian Mackaye would do Coors Lite ads if it meant he got to pal around with Lee Hyo-ri for a few days. Anyway – in the middle of the at-bat, the fans switch to the lovely, lilting hymnal “River of Babylon.”

3.  Lim Hoon (SK):  “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th  symphony

O my brothers, it was as if some great bird had flown into the stadium. And I felt all the malenky little hairs on my plott standing endwise, and the shivers crawling up like slow, malenky lizards, and then down again. Because I knew what they sang. It was a bit from the Glorious Ninth by Ludwig Van. And he even wears No. 9!  Whenever Lim comes up, he gets to hear a centuries-old choral tribute to joy, love, celebration, forgiveness, and brotherhood. So he’s got that going for him. Which is nice. It’s a shame fans can’t sing the original words of Friedrich Schiller’s 1785 poem, which Beethoven adopted for the final movement of his final symphony. Here’s one of the verses:

Joy is bubbling in the glasses

Through the grapes’ golden blood.

Cannibals drink gentleness,

And despair drinks courage—

Brothers, fly from your seats,

When the full rummer is going around.

Let the foam gush up to heaven—

This glass to the good spirit.

Not much to do with baseball, but a hell of a lot to do with getting drunk—which actually does have a lot to do with attending a baseball game, when you think about it. One of the greatest thing about attending a ball game in South Korea? Bring in as much beer as you want! Seriously!  Bring in a goddamn COOLER full of beer! No problem! And if you don’t bring your own, beer in the stadium is basically the same price as at a convenience store. Every time Lim comes up, it should be a stadium-wide one shot! one shot! one shot!

2.   Choi Hee-seop  (KIA):  “Smoke on the Water”

Groan if you must, but trust me, this one works really well. Those three massive power chords mesh perfectly with any Korean’s three-syllable name. Plus, fans do this kind of cool spin-motion with one arm over their heads, imitating an umpire’s home run signal. I know the main riff is the ultimate beginning guitar player’s cliché. But the whole song, beginning to end? Still fuckin’ rocks. Also—bonus points to Choi Hee-seop for changing to this song from his previous choice, “YMCA.”

1.  Jeong Su-bin  (DOOSAN):  “Surfin’ USA”

The perfect summer song from the perfect summer band for the perfect summer sport.  You win, Mr. Jeong.

THE WORST

10.   Jo Yoon-joon (LG):  “Just the Way You Are”

This is the Bruno Mars song, not the Billy Joel song. It’s so saccharine that it makes Billy Joel’s classic soft-rock cheese-bomb seem as vicious as “Under My Thumb.” That’s an accomplishment.

9.   Lee Sang-hoon (Samsung):  “Let it Go”

Really daring choice, Mr. Lee. The hit song from the movie from a few months ago that has  made a BILLION DOLLARS world-wide. A song that can still be heard every day in Korea, blasting out of convenience stores, cell phone shops, and coffee shops. There is no hiding place.

8.   Lee Dae-soo (Hanwha) / Lee Jeong-sik (Samsung):  “Karma Chameleon”

I have always liked this song. Actually, I think Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and “Karma Chameleon”are two of the greatest pop songs of the 1980s. But really, can you psych yourself up for a big at-bat thinking of Boy George? Maybe it could work if you were a virulent homophobe, and the song put you in the mood for some ultra-violent gay-bashing, which you could then channel into swinging the bat. Let’s hope this isn’t the intention of either Mr. Lee.  (I doubt it–the Boy George look is pretty de rigueur for male K-pop idols these days.)

 

7.   You Han-joon (NEXEN):  “Bingo was his Name-o”

You remember this song from when you were a kid? “There was a farmer, had a dog—and his name was BINGO!” Then you’d sing out the letters:  “B-I-N-G-O!  B-I-N-G-O! B-I-N-G-O!  And BINGO was his name-o!” Then you’d repeat it, except when you got to the letters, you’d clap instead of saying the “B.” The next time you’d clap on the “B” and the “I”.  And so on, until you clap ALL the letters. Whoa! Even as a 5 year old, I thought it was corny and stupid. And corny and stupid it remains.

6.   Heo Do Hwan (NEXEN):  “Fly Me to the Moon”

A fine old jazz / pop standard, but if you like to go to jazz clubs in Korea, as I do, you will hear a LOT of shitty-to-mediocre versions of “Fly Me to the Moon.”  So hearing this song always makes me think of sitting in Apgujeong’s swanky jazz club Once in a Blue Moon with a hot date, paying 20,000 won covers, buying several rounds of 15,000 won cocktails, listening to crap jazz (that nobody else in the club is listening to, judging by the din of conversation), and not getting any play at the end of the night.  I hope you strike out, Heo Do-hwan, just like I did.

5.   Jeong Joon-woo (LOTTE):  “Happy Together”

Some of you will disagree. How can I possibly hate on The Turtles’ beloved 1967 sing-along?  “I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you, for all my liiiiiiife!” Not really a bad song at all.  But this one’s personal. The song brings up memories of having to watch endless Public Television fund drives while growing up. My father ONLY watched America’s PBS, and if he was watching, we couldn’t change channels, even during the pledge breaks. Anyway, during the fund drives, PBS would always trot out the hoary old 60′s acts to get the aging boomers to whip out their American Express Cards to cover another year of Great Performances, the McNeil/Lehrer Report, and Masterpiece Theater. Cue:  Peter, Paul and Mary! Cue:  The Woodstock movie!  (At least that one had The Who and Jimi Hendrix.) Cue:  The Turtles.  Jesus!  Balding relics playing before the wine-and-brie set, the audience sitting dinner-theater style! When they finally get to“Happy Together”—which surely must be a tie with Don McLean’s “American Pie” for the song whose original performers are most sick of playing—and they sing the part where they substitute “ba ba ba” for the words of the chorus, the lead singer yells to the audience, “Let me hear you sing the ‘ba ba’s!” And he stops singing so he can hear the crowd sing, and, like, hardly anybody does. I still have nightmares.

4.   Jeong Seong-hoon (LG):  “It’s a Small World”

Yes, indeed it IS a small world! Just think: far-off East Asian countries like Japan and Korea can embrace the quintessential American game of baseball and enjoy the sport’s pastoral rhythms and individual / group interplay and . . . fuck it, NO.  This is an awful, awful, awful song.

3.   Cho In-seong (LG):  Dancing Queen

Would you like to be called a “queen” every time you come up to bat? I didn’t think so.

2.   Kim Dong-ju  (DOOSAN):  “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

What, was “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” taken?

1.   Ryan Garko  (SAMSUNG):  “Footloose”

Actually, Garko, an American, isn’t in the KBO this year—he’s now coaching at Stanford.  But still—he wins loses. Footloose!!! And yes, they would substitute his name in there, so it goes, “Ko! Gar-ko! Na-na-na-na-Gar-ko!” The only way this would have been redeemable is if every time he hit a home run, he rounded the bases while imitating Kevin Bacon dancing through that abandoned grain mill, or wherever it was.  I don’t care if pitchers got so mad Garko got beaned in his next 80 at bats, it would have been worth it. Let them dance! Let them dance!    Thanks, Mr. Garko for adding a bit of inspired silliness to the already wacky world of Korean baseball.


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Are N Korean outbursts in the Yellow Sea ‘Communication’?

Sun, 2014-04-06 02:39
Are N Korean outbursts in the Yellow Sea ‘Communication’?

Is this what’s going on in these regular Yellow Sea clashes?

Last week, I wrote an essay for Lowy on why these North Korean outbursts in the Yellow Sea take place so regular – most recently this week. Lowy editor Sam Roggeven suggested the above scene from 13 Days, a film about the Cuban Missile Crisis, as an example my argument. That’s a nice catch I hadn’t thought of. It would be awfully nice if we had better information from North Korea by which by to make these judgments. For my similar, earlier thinking on North Korea crisis behavior, see this on the 2013 spring war crisis.

Here’s that essay:

“Yesterday North Korea conducted artillery exercises in the Yellow Sea (West Sea). Approximately one hundred rounds feel across the border, prompting the South to counter-fire and scramble F-15s to the area. (Here is a useful write-up of the incident.) South Korean residents of local islands were evacuated. No casualties were reported, and the incident seems to have ended.

While unnerving, there is little reason to believe these sorts of incidents will spiral out of control. They are surprisingly regular, and South Koreans have tuned them out to a certain extent. (I live in South Korea and, while I used to respond with alarm, I have now slipped into the apathy I see around me.) I did not even know about it until a foreign journalist asked me if this would lead to a serious conflict. It will not, and the real ‘kremlinological’ question is what, if anything, North Korea is trying to signal with these shootings. I see three possibilities, although it should be admitted that we have little evidence from North Korean decision-making by which to verify the following speculations:

 

 

1. North Korean incidents are often tied to some event they dislike.

Missile tests, nuclear tests, Yellow Sea incidents, arrests of tourists, and so on often seem to occur as a response to a discrete event. Usually these are related to the Americans. So when President Obama meet with President Park last week, missiles were tested. When George Bush placed North Korea on the ‘axis of evil,’ the Northern nuclear program went into overdrive. When the South Korean navy outperformed its Northern counterpart in a 2009 Yellow Sea clash, the North struck back the following year by sinking a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan. More generally, when South Korea and the US conduct annual training exercises, the North almost always pulls some stunt in response to US ‘imperialism’ and so on.

This is a dangerous way to express geopolitical displeasure, but North Korea is so badly isolated that mini-aggressions like these may serve a curious purpose. North Korea lacks a serious diplomatic corps. It lacks formal diplomatic recognition with many important states, particularly its major proximate adversaries – South Korea, the US, and Japan. This may then be a way for the North to ‘talk’ with the outside world. And while this seems quite risky, in the context of the world’s most militarized state governed by a cornered, paranoid elite (see the next point), there is a (disturbing) logic to it.

2. The North Korean military is acting out to justify itself and its gargantuan budget.

The regularity of incidents in which the North Korean military plays a role suggests that the Korean People’s Army (KPA) may nudge such clashes along. It is widely speculated that both the state administration and the party find the military’s role in North Korea too large. South Korean and American intelligence reckon Northern defense spending to eat up a staggering 25-35% of GDP. Under Kim Jong-Il, the military’s status was upgraded in the constitution under the ‘military-first’ policy (son-gun). Many analysts think this was to prevent a coup. Kim Jong-Il, the successor to regime founder Kim Il-Sung, did not have his father’s party and military connections and deep loyalty. Son-gun was to buy off the brass and keep the Kim family in power. But the opportunity costs was high. The military’s predation on the economy has accelerated North Korea’s economic decline and sprawling corruption, and it hardly seems like a coincidence that the terrible famine of the late 1990s which killed perhaps 10% of the population also occurred at the high point of son-gun. In such a context, it would be not surprising if the KPA pushes through incidents and tests like this in order to stir up tension. Such tension justifies unaffordable defense outlays, particularly in a ‘new order’ period as yet another Kim successor (Jong-Un) is settling in.

3. Incidents keep up tension with outside world for regime justification.

A final structural cause for these out-lashings may be the regime’s ideological need for tension. North Korea is a barracks state. Always heavily militarized, son-gun put this into over-drive. North Korea is an army served by and dominant over a population rather than vice versa. All this regimentation requires some explanation. No other state is governed like this. Even cold war-era east bloc diplomats found North Korea bizarre and disturbing.

The previous ideological structure, Marxism, is long gone now. By the logic of communism’s collapse and Germany’s reunification – as the most obvious analogue of Korea’s national division – North Korea should no longer even exist. It is poorer, less healthy, less developed, ideologically defeated, and so on.

But unification would be hugely risky for Northern elites. While west Germany treated eastern elites with some magnanimity, that is not expected in the Korean case. Northern elites have been far harsher to their population than the east Berlin ever was. This is one reason South Korea retains the death penalty. The Kim elite will almost certainly face capital punishment when North Korea finally collapses.

So if communism is over and unification to risky, then a new ideology of tension is needed. The US defense commitment to South Korea fills in perfectly. The US is the imperialist dominating South Korea – the ‘Yankee Colony’ – and a regular diet of clashes and conflict needs to be readily served up. The regular cycle of provocation and alarms keeps North Korea in the permanent crisis state necessary to explain why, to a population aware that the Cold War is over and that South Korea is far more prosperous, that the privations and strictures will not end.

All these explanations look for wider regime explanations rather than tit-for-tat possibilities. The alternative, implicit in press narratives that these incidents may spiral into conflict, is that local KPA commanders enjoy a lot of local autonomy and actually regularly run the risk of sparking a major conflict. I find that highly unlikely, but of course we just do not know for sure.

Yesterday North Korea conducted artillery exercises in the Yellow Sea (West Sea). Approximately one hundred rounds feel across the border, prompting the South to counter-fire and scramble F-15s to the area. (Here is a useful write-up of the incident.) South Korean residents of local islands were evacuated. No casualties were reported, and the incident seems to have ended.

While unnerving, there is little reason to believe these sorts of incidents will spiral out of control. They are surprisingly regular, and South Koreans have tuned them out to a certain extent. (I live in South Korea and, while I used to respond with alarm, I have now slipped into the apathy I see around me.) I did not even know about it until a foreign journalist asked me if this would lead to a serious conflict. It will not, and the real ‘kremlinological’ question is what, if anything, North Korea is trying to signal with these shootings. I see three possibilities, although it should be admitted that we have little evidence from North Korean decision-making by which to verify the following speculations:

1. North Korean incidents are often tied to some event they dislike.

Missile tests, nuclear tests, Yellow Sea incidents, arrests of tourists, and so on often seem to occur as a response to a discrete event. Usually these are related to the Americans. So when President Obama meet with President Park last week, missiles were tested. When George Bush placed North Korea on the ‘axis of evil,’ the Northern nuclear program went into overdrive. When the South Korean navy outperformed its Northern counterpart in a 2009 Yellow Sea clash, the North struck back the following year by sinking a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan. More generally, when South Korea and the US conduct annual training exercises, the North almost always pulls some stunt in response to US ‘imperialism’ and so on.

This is a dangerous way to express geopolitical displeasure, but North Korea is so badly isolated that mini-aggressions like these may serve a curious purpose. North Korea lacks a serious diplomatic corps. It lacks formal diplomatic recognition with many important states, particularly its major proximate adversaries – South Korea, the US, and Japan. This may then be a way for the North to ‘talk’ with the outside world. And while this seems quite risky, in the context of the world’s most militarized state governed by a cornered, paranoid elite (see the next point), there is a (disturbing) logic to it.

2. The North Korean military is acting out to justify itself and its gargantuan budget.

The regularity of incidents in which the North Korean military plays a role suggests that the Korean People’s Army (KPA) may nudge such clashes along. It is widely speculated that both the state administration and the party find the military’s role in North Korea too large. South Korean and American intelligence reckon Northern defense spending to eat up a staggering 25-35% of GDP. Under Kim Jong-Il, the military’s status was upgraded in the constitution under the ‘military-first’ policy (son-gun). Many analysts think this was to prevent a coup. Kim Jong-Il, the successor to regime founder Kim Il-Sung, did not have his father’s party and military connections and deep loyalty. Son-gun was to buy off the brass and keep the Kim family in power. But the opportunity costs was high. The military’s predation on the economy has accelerated North Korea’s economic decline and sprawling corruption, and it hardly seems like a coincidence that the terrible famine of the late 1990s which killed perhaps 10% of the population also occurred at the high point of son-gun. In such a context, it would be not surprising if the KPA pushes through incidents and tests like this in order to stir up tension. Such tension justifies unaffordable defense outlays, particularly in a ‘new order’ period as yet another Kim successor (Jong-Un) is settling in.

3. Incidents keep up tension with outside world for regime justification.

A final structural cause for these out-lashings may be the regime’s ideological need for tension. North Korea is a barracks state. Always heavily militarized, son-gun put this into over-drive. North Korea is an army served by and dominant over a population rather than vice versa. All this regimentation requires some explanation. No other state is governed like this. Even cold war-era east bloc diplomats found North Korea bizarre and disturbing.

The previous ideological structure, Marxism, is long gone now. By the logic of communism’s collapse and Germany’s reunification – as the most obvious analogue of Korea’s national division – North Korea should no longer even exist. It is poorer, less healthy, less developed, ideologically defeated, and so on.

But unification would be hugely risky for Northern elites. While west Germany treated eastern elites with some magnanimity, that is not expected in the Korean case. Northern elites have been far harsher to their population than the east Berlin ever was. This is one reason South Korea retains the death penalty. The Kim elite will almost certainly face capital punishment when North Korea finally collapses.

So if communism is over and unification to risky, then a new ideology of tension is needed. The US defense commitment to South Korea fills in perfectly. The US is the imperialist dominating South Korea – the ‘Yankee Colony’ – and a regular diet of clashes and conflict needs to be readily served up. The regular cycle of provocation and alarms keeps North Korea in the permanent crisis state necessary to explain why, to a population aware that the Cold War is over and that South Korea is far more prosperous, that the privations and strictures will not end.

All these explanations look for wider regime explanations rather than tit-for-tat possibilities. The alternative, implicit in press narratives that these incidents may spiral into conflict, is that local KPA commanders enjoy a lot of local autonomy and actually regularly run the risk of sparking a major conflict. I find that highly unlikely, but of course we just do not know for sure.


Filed under: International Relations Theory, Korea (North)

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
robertkelly260@hotmail.com

 

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One Nation, Under the Chaebol

Thu, 2014-04-03 08:45
One Nation, Under the Chaebol

ONE NATION, UNDER THE CHAEBOL

by Third Bass

Aweek ago a friend passed on an intriguing post from the Global Voices website about a new piece of proposed legislation seeking to strike back at Korean consumers taking their business overseas. It appears that,  in order to skirt the significant markups on consumer electronics, younger consumers are increasingly utilizing overseas internet retailers such as Amazon, and this is creating quite a bit of consternation among the denizens of Korea Inc. For those that reside in the ROK, the atmospheric prices―relative to those in the U.S. at least―of computers, smartphones, speakers, autos, clothing, etc., is hardly shocking news. However, those unacquainted with shopping in Korea may be puzzled to learn that even Samsung, LG and Hyundai products sell at prices often two to three times greater than those charged in the U.S. market. In fact, one disgruntled Korean consumer cited in the story points to a Korean brand TV selling for roughly $5,900 in Korea and $1,550 in the U.S. This difference is stark. 

The article rings the alarm of the rather chilling prospect of the Korean government creating ‘blacklists’ of consumers who have the temerity to utilize legal means to save thousands of dollars on their purchases; for me this issue gets to the heart of the good and the bad of Korea’s recent economic history and the public’s Janus-faced relationship with the chaebol (Korea’s giant corporate conglomerates). One the one hand, firms like Samsung are the embodiment of Korea’s status as an advanced, global economic power and thus a source of national pride. On the other, they represent the deep seated cronyism of the Korea political economy and an increasingly calcifying class structure. The chaebol, and their outsized influence on Korean society, are rooted in Korea’s development model, which saw the state commandeer society’s economic assets and direct them towards funding the growth and expansion of these economic behemoths. I should note that as someone who has studied development economics for years and is currently writing a dissertation largely focused on Korean development, I would like to offer a big tip of the hat to Korea for accomplishing an elusive goal that literally hundreds of nations have set out to achieve (and almost none succeeding): rapidly moving up the value added chain and going from a producer of trinkets and t-shirts to one of luxury cars and smartphones in a just a few decades.

In my opinion, the most important thing the Korean government did was to keep the control over productive assets largely in Korean hands, often purchasing technology licenses or forcing foreign investors into joint ventures with Korean firms, rather than letting large multinationals come in and run amok in the domestic marketplace. This allowed the state to bolster firms seeking to move into producing higher value goods. Second, the Korean government should be lauded for tactfully fighting off U.S. political pressure for rapid liberalization. These pressures began to mount in the mid-80s and were often backed-up with threats by U.S. trade envoys of severe reprisals. Perhaps the Korean government’s approach to handling U.S. economic demands is best described as ‘bend but don’t break’. Total capitulation to U.S. entreaties could have gutted Korea’s nascent auto and electronics industries, which are now major global competitors.

That said; this largely successful development model has yielded a host of legacies that linger to this day and create problems for the Korean state at both the domestic and international level. Domestically, the state-chaebol nexus which forms the backbone of Korea Inc. has spawned mega-firms that consistently trample over laws and regulations with little or no accountability. Korea expert Samuel Kim has described the chaebol as a “Frankensteinian deus ex machina,” in that these creations of the state are such significant sources of GDP, that any efforts to rein them in are tempered by concerns over potential damage to the economy. Further, the chaebol (as in the Global Voices story) are increasingly the focal point of societal consternation about the growing inequality in Korea, exacerbating the growing  feeling that the deck is stacked against the average citizen.This strikes at the core of the chaebol’s duel existence in Korean life. They are simultaneously national champions, the purveyors of Korea’s image as an economic powerhouse across the globe and the symbols of an unequal and unfair society where the roads to social advancement are becoming narrower and narrower. The frailty of small and medium sized businesses―by far the largest source of middle class employment―and their lack of access to affordable credit are further consequences of Korea’s chaebol-centered development model. To be sure, a great deal of the societal hand-wringing over the chaebol’s role in Korean society is rooted in a battle over political history. While the above analysis primarily focused on economics and the chaebol, interpretations of Korea’s recent political history, namely the military dictatorships of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan (1961-1988), form another primary cleavage among the Korean public. Was Park a strong leader who ushered Korea into the club of wealthy economies with his vision and determination, or was he a repressive dictator who murdered and imprisoned those who dared opposed him?

Anyone who has spent some time residing in Korea is aware of the deep national pride that courses deeply through most of its citizens, and how often they are willing to regale you with historical anecdotes, facts, and figures meant to impress Korea’s greatness upon you. Given my particular scholastic proclivities, I’ve always found it remarkable how often Koreans eschew touting their quite momentous economic rise, in favor of extolling Korea’s four seasons, or the turtle ship, or ancient Silla Dynasty, or the legend of King Sejong, etc. To my mind, its recent history – including the transformation an from abjectly impoverished nation into a prosperous society featuring global powerhouses like Samsung and Hyundai – is nothing short of miraculous.  However, upon deeper thought, when one considers the painful history and current angst bubbling beneath the surface of the chaebol’s successes, maybe the focus on the events of long-ago reflect a universal human tendency to see their distant history as a simpler, purer, and far less complicated time.

 

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Hoods: Danggam Style

Wed, 2014-04-02 09:08
Hoods: Danggam Style

Korea’s cities can be obnoxiously monotonous at times. And thanks to the country’s fixation with capitalism, everywhere on the southern half of the peninsular looks pretty much the same.

Hoods intends to show that Korea’s real urban beauty is hidden where the veneer of modernity, is at its thinnest.

This is Danggam-dong

Danggam-dong is a large and somewhat insignificant neighbourhood of Busan, not too far from the hectic ugliness of Seomyeon.

Apart from the gazillions of apartments, seafood restaurants, public schools, some hideous roads, coffee shops, Paris Baguettes, soju tents, supermarkets, a couple of temples, loads of English language academies, and various other hagwons*, there’s really nothing of importance there.

Though it is an easy place to start hiking up Baekyangsan.

The gritty, hillside neighbourhood has twice been my home: First in 2009, and again in 2011. The reason I lived there was, of course, to educate 5 to 14-year-old Korean kids in the intricacies of English at a couple of small private academies.

My second time in Danggam was particularly fucking strenuous thanks to the job. The kids didn’t much want to learn, and I didn’t much want to teach them. At least once a week the kids sent me into a fit of unholy rage. Basically, I was an utterly inept teacher. Oh, and my manager was batshit crazy… but she’s a whole other story entirely.

Anyway, the flay she’d given me was spacious, clean and right next door to a supermarket, which, as a fat lazy bastard, I rather quite appreciated. My job might have been insufferable, but at least I only worked 5 hours a day, and I liked my new home.

So, one Monday afternoon six-months into the job as I shuffled head-down into school, my manager pulled me into her office, and casually dropped the news that I had to move out of my flat… By the end of the week.

Who lives in a house like this?

I can’t remember the reasons she gave now, but suffice it to say there was enough bullshit there to fill the office. I should have refused. I should have moaned for all my might. Instead I was much too British about it all and didn’t put up much of a fuss.

Early that Friday morning, I dragged myself out of bed, packed up, and waited for my manager to show up. Of course, she, and the imbecile blue-van man she’d hired were late. It turned out that he didn’t have the right gear to transport my stuff, and I ended up carrying most of it!

My new place was further down the mountain, and right in and amongst a small favela-like neighbourhood. From the shitty paint job,  scattered litter, and general state of dilapidation, I knew I was in for a massive downgrade.

Upstairs, my new flat was half the size of the last place and incredibly rustic. There were cockroaches all over the apartment. The walls were so thin that I could honestly hear my elderly neighbour scratch himself. Plus he was basically deaf and watched TV on top volume all day everyday until whatever channel was on stopped broadcasting – usually at 1am.

I did grow rather fond of the place. I took me a while to get used to the cockroaches, the cold showers, the weak-as-piss air conditioning, the paper-thin walls, the unspeakable bathroom and the dirty washing machine water that emptied in there, and the deaf neighbour (We became friendlier and traded shots of alcohol every now and then).

I was bitter that all of my friends had decent apartments, and here I was teaching in a developed country, at an expensive school, but living in North Korean conditions.

The objects in this photograph are smaller than they appear… thanks to the ultra wide angle lens

When my one-year contract at the school was up and the manager asked me to stay an extra week before the new teacher started, I burst into a derisive laugh and told her where to stick it… Well actually, I barely managed to stitch together a lie about a training week in Seoul my new school wanted me to do.

That bastard with the blue Bongo van woke me up everyday at the barbaric hour of 10am!

Goodbye shitty house, I shan’t miss you!

*Hagwon = a private school

By the way, if you’re in Korea and think your apartment is shit, some friends of mine run a relocation business and can help you out with that.

The post Hoods: Danggam Style appeared first on Monkeyboy Goes.


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The Colossal Buddha

Tue, 2014-04-01 13:13
The Colossal Buddha

One of the coolest things that I have seen in a long time happened when I was driving to my new job at Busan University of Foreign Studies. As I was driving along I saw a colossal Buddha statue on the horizon. It was huge! As I drove along I realized that this was infact a temple of some sort and was worth investigating.

As the blossoms have bloomed in the area and the weather is warming up, I thought that it was time to check out this mysterious gigantic Buddha statue. The temple is a newer temple meaning that it is not like Beomosa, further down the road or anything. Hongbubsa is a beautifully landscaped temple with a huge golden Buddha on top. The best part about this temple is that you can go right up to it and actually get inside of it.

As Buddha’s birthday comes upon us soon, the temple has already started decorating for the celebration. This is for sure on my list for place to shoot during that time.  It is unusual to see such a large Buddha statue in Korea as this is something that you’d typically see in some place like Thailand. At any rate, I can’t wait to get back out there during the blue hour when the lanterns are all lit up.

If you would like to join me on this photo outing, drop a comment below and I will put together a photowalk once I get more details and numbers. Hongbubsa is located just off the #7 HWY on your way into Busan from Yongsan. It is just before Beomosa and well if you miss it you are probably blind or in the complete wrong area.


 

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Korea's Contempt for Sleep

Sat, 2014-03-29 22:32
Korea's Contempt for Sleep
Recent research suggests that a lack of quality sleep can kill brain cells, and this comes on the back of a great deal of research suggesting a range of health-related problems due to not getting enough shut-eye.

As a person who is almost obsessively into exercise, I have always been aware of the value of sleep in rejuvenating the body, but I had always just assumed that everyone else did also.  I think most people in England know how important sleep is and try to do their best to make sure they get enough, although many ultimately fail for different reasons.  In Korea, however, I am regularly surprised just how little sleep people are getting and how most simply don't see this as a big deal.

The story starts with my high school students - who I always feel sorry for.  These guys are at high school from 8am until 10.30pm and this is bad enough, but I asked them one time about what they do when they finish school and some of the replies were quite shocking.  Some - indeed many - go for more schooling at a private academy (Hagwon) and many have homework on top of this.  I questioned them about when they go to bed and most said about 1 or 2am.  They then usually woke up at about 6 - 7am on school days.  This gave an average of about 4 to 5 hours sleep a night for most students, 6 hours being a luxury.

I would go as far to say that maintaining such a sleep pattern in growing adolescent boys is impossible, or at least unhealthy, and it may actually be detrimental to their studies (it must be, surely).  Sure enough, high school students can be a sleepy lot at school, which makes them sleep in classes and lose concentration. They also talk about the subject constantly:

Teacher: What do you wish?
Student:  I wish I could sleep all day.

Teacher: What did you do at the weekend?
Student:  Sleep.

Teacher:  What do you enjoy?
Student:  Sleep.

Teacher:  When are you happy?
Student:  When I'm sleeping.

Teacher:  What did you do in your vacation?
Student:  Sleep (and study).

Teacher:  What's your ambition in life?
Student:  To sleep for 24 hours in a day.

I could go on and on, I'm sure my students mention sleep in almost every class.

The physical health risks of lack of sleep are well documented, but there is also a significant risk to mental health.  A recent poll in South Korea suggests that half of Korean teenagers contemplate suicide.  The combination of societal pressure for success, long hours of study and lack of sleep seems to be taking its toll on young people.

It is not just young people, though, a general contempt for sleep seems to pervade throughout Korean culture, synonymous with the hard-work attitude Koreans feel has elevated their economy and wealth in such a short period of time.

I teach a couple in their fifties conversational English in the evening after school. They have an annoying habit of calling me 30 minutes before their scheduled class sometimes and cancelling. Sometimes I rush through my day, fitting in workouts in the early morning so I can teach them in the evening (sometimes I am even on the way to their place when they cancel).  I told the wife of the couple they need to cancel earlier because I am very busy, but this seems to have made little difference.  Anyway, this led us on to chatting about how busy they were, the wife especially.  She seemed to own at least a couple of businesses and said she was always in meetings and at work, or at least working at home.  I asked her what time she went to sleep at night and she said at about midnight; not too bad, I thought.  But when I asked her what time she woke up, she replied, "at 2 or 3 am".  I couldn't quite believe her, she doesn't even look that tired most of the time; 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night after working all day?!

Now, she could be lying of course, but I don't know why she would and even in the unlikely event that she was, one would have to wonder why she would proudly say that she only had 2 or 3 hours sleep a night.

This seems to be the case with basically everyone I meet here, I think I am yet to find a person who sleeps 7 hours a night or over and there is a strange tone of pride in their voice when they tell me how little they sleep. Are people really working this hard and sleeping this little?

Recently, Korea hit the headlines for more negative reasons in articles that claimed South Koreans had the lowest productivity at work in the OECD.  This article suggests many very good reasons for this, but lack of sleep doesn't really get a mention. However, very much prevalent in the summation of the situation is that appearing to work hard is more important than actually doing so.  Is that what people are doing when I ask them about their sleep patterns?  Are they just giving me the impression that they live hard, busy lives?  My own feeling is that there could be a combination of both true hard-work and lack of rest and some porky pies to make them look even more diligent.

It is true that, at certain periods in your life, you may need to sacrifice quality sleep temporarily in order to get important things done, but there appears to be something more permanent about Korea's attitude towards sleeping.  It is taking, "You snooze, you lose" to extraordinary new levels and apparently many are proud of it and parents, businesses, schools, and society demand it too.  Could Koreans benefit from more sleep? Surely, their lives would be much happier and more productive if they took a little more time for some quality rest at night.


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3 Hypotheses for Korea’s ‘Japanobia’

Sat, 2014-03-29 08:11
3 Hypotheses for Korea’s ‘Japanobia’

 

This, I hope, is my last piece on Japan-Korea relations for awhile. I think everyone is getting burned out by this topic. And I am sick of the hate-mail. But at least Obama got Abe and Park into the same room last week. Park look pretty furious, but at least the meeting was progress.

 

This essay goes into what purpose or function Korea’s resentment of Japan fulfills. Koreans get a little upset when I phrase it this way, but the extreme nature of Korean resentment of Japan tells me there is more going on than just memory and the war. That picture, from here, is a good illustration of just how instrumentalized ‘anti-Japan-ism’ has become for South Korean political identity.

This essay was originally written for the Diplomat this month. As always, when I write on this topic, I just don’t read the comments there anymore, because the hostility is so over-the-top. So if you’re here to tell me I am traitor to your favored cause, don’t worry. I know already. Thanks. Save your vitriol and try to stick to the social science research question I sketch in this essay. The essay follows the jump:

 

 

“Japan-Korea tension has reached a peak in the last year. South Korea’s president, Park Geun-Hye, refuses to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, even after a year in office. Park has meet with Premier Xi Jinping of China, but not the Japanese leadership – even though Korea and Japan are both US allies, and despite China’s controversial expansion of its air defense identification zone at both Korea and Japan’s expense. When US Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel went to Japan in the fall last year to strengthen the alliance as a part of the US pivot to Asia, it was widely read in the Korean media as a snub of Korea. In a pique of outrage, Park jetted off to Southeast Asia to pursue a separate, counter-Japanese diplomatic track in Asia. This was roundly cheered in Korea.

Abe, for his part, has visited the always-controversial Yasukuni Shrine and said nothing on recently reiterated Japanese textbook claims to the Korean-controlled Liancourt Rocks. He has repeatedly allowed the creepiest right-wing elements of his electoral coalition to overwhelm good sense in public without rebuke. The most recent disturbing, atrocity-denying outburst has come from NHK television. (It is long overdue for Abe to make a high-level statement against this stuff.)

China, the major geopolitical beneficiary of such tension, has happily stoked it by constructing a memorial to Ahn Jung-Geun at the request of President Park. Ahn assassinated Hirobumi Ito, an early prime minister of Japan and governor-general of occupied Korea at the time of his death (1909). The memorial was built on the location of the shooting, which is today in China. Inevitably, Ahn is denounced as a ‘terrorist’ by the Japanese and celebrated as a ‘freedom fighter’ by Koreans. Korean-Japanese competition has even arrived in US domestic politics, where intense Korean ethnic lobbying in the state of Virginia produced legislation that Virginian textbooks should use the name ‘East Sea’ instead of the more widely used ‘Sea of Japan’ to denote the body of water between Korea and Japan.

All of this significantly complicates the US pivot to Asia, the US confrontation with North Korea, and America’s slow-boiling competition with China in the western Pacific. Korean tension with Japan is a major stumbling block to a more coherent American posture in East Asia. It is arguably the single most important reason for the lack of an Asian NATO. South Korea particularly simply will not accept alignment with Japan, forcing the United States to maintain parallel bilateral alliances with each, rather an efficiency-improving single multilateral structure. Indeed, were it not for the US alliance, if Korea, Japan, and China were acting alone, I would guess that Korea would align against Japan in a Sino-Japanese conflict. Korean dislike for Japan is that intense. By way of example, read this (Kor), where the sweater of a guest on a Korean TV show, which looked vaguely like the Japanese imperial flag, forced the guest to apologize to offended viewers, or this, where a major Korean paper actually suggests Japanese samurai might invade the Liancourt Rocks.

The question then is why the Korean disdain for Japan is so high that even sweaters are offensive and fantastical samurai invasions go unremarked. I have said many times before (here, here) that Korea’s grievances with Japan are very legitimate: Japan sexually enslaved Korean women into war-time brothels; it attempted to erase Korea as a cultural entity by coercing the use of Japanese, even to the point of re-naming people (there are still Koreans alive who went through this); Japan has not really come clean about the empire and the war – a point made not just by Korea, but in China and the US as well.

But Koreans do not stop there; they go over-the-top with things like the ‘Sea of Japan’ re-naming campaign with no obvious point other than to provoke Japan, unfounded claims that Japan wants to invade Korea again, equating bad Japanese behavior in Korea with the far-worse Holocaust, or that Liancourt is worth going to war over – even though a Korean use of force against Japan would almost certainly eventuate a US departure from South Korea and dramatically reduce Korean security. Other victims of earlier Japanese imperialism do not talk like this, and I think a lot of well-meaning Japanese, who do recognize what Japan did in Korea, are genuinely baffled by all the vitriol.

I see three possible explanations, and for any graduate students in east Asian studies, sociology or political science, this is a great research question. Again, the issue is not why does Korea dislike Japan. Japan’s imperial behavior and continued ambivalence all but insures that. The real question is why Korean animosity is so off-the-charts. Here are three hypotheses:

1. Koreans have always been sharply anti-Japanese since the war; we just did not see that until democratization twenty-five years ago made expression of public opinion easier and less manipulated by the government.

Japanese colleagues often note to me that Korea did not start talking this way until the last few decades – the implication being that tension with Japan is the politicization of something no one cared about earlier. That may not be so, because of what social scientists call ‘hidden preferences’ – under dictatorships, there are strong incentives to keep your true feelings to yourself. Opposition to regime preferences might land you in jail or worse. Korea was such a dictatorship until the late 1980s. So moves by earlier Korean leaders to deal with Japan may not have been approved of by a population which, however, was unable to impact policy. For example, there were mass protests against the Japan-Korea normalization treaty of 1965. Were Korea a democracy at the time, the treaty would likely have collapsed like an intelligence sharing pact did a two years ago. If this hypothesis is right, Koreans really do feel threatened by Japan and reconciliation is far away.

2. The late 1980s/early 1990s rise of intense anti-Japanese feeling coincides with the passing of the first generation of RoK political and business elites.

There is a sharp ongoing historical debate about just how much the RoK’s first generation collaborated with the Japanese occupation. The founders of the chaebol are often particularly suspected, but it is no stretch to suggest that only collaborators would have had the education, political connections, wealth, skills, and so on to enter the post-war elite. This idea would suggest that as these guys died out and were replaced by a second, untainted post-colonial generation, that the new generation wanted to dig into the past the way earlier elites did not. Vitriol today on Japan may reflect embarrassment at Korean collaboration yesterday during the occupation.

3. When the RoK democratized, it needed some kind of legitimating story (unnecessary under authoritarianism).

Because of corrupted institutions, ‘deep state’ elitism at the top, and a debilitating legitimacy competition with the DPRK that confuses South Koreans’ loyalties, the RoK has struggled to connect with its own citizenry. The RoK can not be the anti-DRPK it should be, because not enough South Koreans share a strict ‘enemy image’ of North Korea. Instead the RoK has fallen back on ‘Japanophobia,’ being the anti-Japan, to legitimate itself, because all Koreans, north and south, can agree that Japan was bad.

All three of these are probably somewhat correct, but I would tilt toward number 3. All add important psychological elements that help explain Korean hyperbole on Japan beyond otherwise reasonable concerns about history. Hostility toward Japan is not just a political posture, but a part of South Korean political identity. Americans particularly should stop pretending that this is something that we can resolve with our typical, the-hegemon-is-here-to-save-the-day interventionism. We can’t.”


Filed under: Japan, Korea (South), Political Science

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
robertkelly260@hotmail.com

 

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Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

The overstimulated generation

Fri, 2014-03-28 04:37
The overstimulated generation

I find that the children, in the industrialized countries, and more specifically South Korea, have become overstimulated.

There are 2 things that drive this situation.  Reduction of hours of sleep and Increase in hours of study/training.  Increase in Media exposure.

As a school owner, I am part of the problem, and therefore potentially, also a part of the solution.

How do we notice these overstimulations?  What are, from my point, telltale signs of these issues?  It basically comes down to attention issues.  As most of my readers are teachers, I am sure most of your energy is focused on getting the kids to simply do what was asked of them.  How many times do we deal with kids getting side-tracked, falling asleep in class, irregardless on how much energy the teachers themselves exert to get kids to focus on their tasks.  Sometimes I see their brains going completely blank, right in front of my eyes, their brains stopped functioning and are crying out for rest.

I have steered my curriculum away from vocabulary and grammar memorization, and pushed into writing and speaking actions, because it allows for children to find expression to the many ideas floating inside their heads, and giving respite to the constant hammering of facts inside their heads.  To focus on the creative energy within the children, that seems close to infinite, rather than the forcing of the brain to memorize specifics about few things they will rarely or never use.  This is a personal opinion, not guided by any scientific research, but based on practical experience in the field.  To stick to the practical.

It might be that the current stress we force onto our kids will create a new selection mechanism to separate the capable from the incapable, because that is what education today does.  It separates children from the capable and the incapable, the fast and the slow, the dull and the creative.  Rather than admitting that everyone is capable and incapable, fast and slow, dull and creative.  Educations systems today are used to filter those who abide by what people specialized in Education find important ( I would like to refer to my post last week Testing), but is that really something we want to do?  Is memorization an important part of being human?  Is detailed flawless work the aim to go for?  Is it important to write beautifully in cursive, as it was when I was younger?  I say it is not.

What is important is the liberation of the mind to maximize the comprehension of reality.  Humans are flawed, the brain is lazy due to the energy requirements to think, we are assumptive creatures, we see relations where there aren’t any since that is what will increase the likelihood of survival in the wilderness (fear!).  I want my students to become fearless and free from these bonds, to express their point of view clearly and with no reserve.  THIS IS NOT THE CURRENT EDUCATION ENVIRONMENT.  The current environment still focuses all their energy to make children fearful for their future rather than hopeful.  They enforce traditional thinking instead of creative thinking, simply because mistakes are considered bad, even in the classroom.  Absolutely ridiculous.

We can reduce the stress of the overstimulated students by finding a better balance between different requirements within education.  Yes, training your brain to do complex arithmetic without using tools IS useful, just not everyday.  Teaching drama to allow children to find a way to express their thoughts is equally important.  But in an environment where tests are believed to be the decisive factor in your value to society, the first one is applaud, since it can be measured, but the second is denied, due to the huge variance it displays from person to person.  It is VARIANCE that we need.  We need to allow people to create variance and potentially STUMBLE upon a new idea, something that could actually be useful for mankind as a whole.  This is where chance flourishes, not in tests, but in people finding their way to express their unique point of view.

Testing uses well defined tools to find out very precise concepts of what we believe should be.  Assessments would allow for a broader appreciation of the individual,and yes, they are also not without fault, but they will allow for children to maximize THEIR individual potential rather than the potential OTHERS want them to achieve.  True Freedom.

Done.

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