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This post is a local re-post of an article I wrote for The Diplomat earlier this month on the the Korean presidential scandal.
Honestly, the whole thing is so bizarre that I am at a loss for words. And the more information comes out, the weird it becomes. The only analogy I can think of for the extraordinary influence Choi Soon-Sil had over Park Geun Hye is Rasputin. I know that seems pretty extreme, but the more you read about it, the more that’s what it sounds like. Choi may have influenced areas as wide as Park’s North Korea policy and her wardrobe. There are even rumors that Choi’s gigilo was on the gravy train too. Yes, really; it’s that weird.
Anyway, Park’s presidency is now over, even if she manages to hang onto the office. She will get nothing ever again from the legislature. She will retain some authority of foreign and defense policy, but even that will be hemmed in. If she does anything controversial, she’ll be hammered for it. So good thing THAAD went through before this all exploded.
Can’t say I have a lot of sympathy for PGH. She ruled as an aloof aristocrat, and she treated the Korean media terribly. I think that’s why there is so little sympathy out there. If she had remembered she was a democratic president instead of a monarch, she might have had a reservoir of public good will to draw on. Alas, a lot Koreans think this is her come-uppance.
My full treatment of the scandal comes after the jump.
Park Geun Hye, the president of South Korea, has lately been engulfed by a scandal that may bring down her administration. Choi Soon Sil, a long-time friend and mentor of the president, allegedly used her relationship with Park to extort money from South Korea’s largest corporations (chaebol). Corruption scandals, abuse of power, kickbacks, embezzlement, and so on, are, unfortunately, established problems in South Korea, as they are in many democracies. ‘Choi-gate,’ as it has inevitably become named, attracts so much attention, however, because of the sheer oddity of Choi’s relationship to the president.
A Korean Rasputin?
Choi’s relationship with Park goes back to the 1970s, when Choi’s father befriended Park’s family in the wake of Park’s mother’s assassination. Choi the elder claimed he could speak to Park’s mother’s spirit, and he seems to have lead some kind of shamanistic cult leader. It is unclear how much Park was taken in by all this, but a US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks noted long-standing rumors that the Choi family had ‘complete control over Park’s body and soul.’ The Chois’ influence on Park has repeatedly been likened to Rasputin’s influence over Russian Czar Nicholas II. Choi the younger was given all sorts of curious access to the Blue House (the South Korean equivalent of the White House) including oversight of the presidential wardrobe, staffing decisions (having Choi’s personal trainer hired, e.g.), and editorial input on Park’s speeches.
It is unclear at the moment if that relationship involved criminal activity. Park Geun Hye, like any politician, is entitled to personal friendships, and democratic office-holders have long sought the counsel of old friends who do not necessarily have rich topical expertise but whom are nonetheless deeply trusted. On assuming the American presidency, Harry Truman is rumored to have said ‘I need some Missouri around me,’ by which he meant long-time friends from his home state whom he trusted more than the experts around him from the Roosevelt administration. Nevertheless, the sheer oddness, utter lack of credentials, and wide influence Choi had is bizarre and disturbing; as one AFP journalist put it: “Why so much fury over Choi in Korea? Imagine if your head of state had a Gypsy palm reader as a key aide and let her handle cabinet formation/policy.”
Korean Presidential Scandals
Park’s defenders note that South Korean presidents regularly get in trouble for corruption and cronyism. Indeed, this is true. Every South Korean president since democratization has been investigated after he left office; some have gone to jail, and one even killed himself over the allegations. More generally, South Korea’s Transparency International score for corruption is a mediocre 56 out of 100 possible points. Corruption is so widespread that South Korea recently enacted an extremely tough anti-graft law. It is also true that Korean presidents routinely suffer crashing approval ratings.
In this sense Park is in good (bad) company. Just over the previous three presidencies:
Lee Myung Bak (POTROK, 2008-13) got entangled in a corruption scandal involving his family and political associates, mostly involving bribery. Lee, like Park, was forced to make a public apology. Lee was also questioned regarding stock manipulation, and his signature Four Rivers project was dogged by allegations that it was far too elaborate and olympian to reasonably succeed and really about kickbacks to cronies in the construction industry.
Roh Moo Hyun (POTROK, 2003-2008) was also pulled into a family corruption scandal involving bribery. He too felt compelled to apologize and committed suicide over the issue.
Kim Dae Jung (POTROK, 1998-2003), we now know, effectively bribed Kim Jong Il to participate in the ‘Sunshine’ process with a cash payment of $500 million. He too got sucked into a family bribery scandal.
What makes Park’s trouble unique in this otherwise depressing history of pay-to-play is the oddity of her scandal. This is not a typical or ‘understandable’ scandal. Scandals over money, political power, sex, or helping friends and family are comprehensible, if still deplorable, because we all suffer from those weaknesses. What sets Park’s troubles apart is that she went to such great lengths to help someone whom most of us would immediately have tagged as a grifter and a charlatan. When Richard Nixon paid off Howard Hunt during Watergate, both were sharp characters looking for a serious pay-off over a major issue. It was illegal but deadly serious.
By contrast, Park looks like a dilettante. What she ever saw in an obvious con-artist like Choi; what serious benefit Park ever got from the relationship; and why she allowed Choi to manipulate her so easily for so long baffles the entire country. Park comes out of this looking, not like a nixonian schemer, but a lightweight mark conned by a snake oil salesman. How does one ascend to the presidency of a major country while simultaneously being a marionette to some weirdo Rasputin character? South Koreans strike me as more mystified and unnerved, rather than dismayed, at their president. As one K-blogger put it, what is so strange is how utterly irrational Park’s downfall is compared to other Korean presidents’ ‘normal’ corruption.
The Future of Corruption in Korea
Park Geun Hye’s case is so bizarre that I doubt it will have lasting impact on the corruption debate here. Her presidency is probably fatally wounded, but Choi-gate does not touch on the sources of more normal corruption in Korea:
– A deeply rooted gift-giving culture: The giving of gifts is an important social bonding mechanism in Korea, which, when transferred to professional environments, can appear like bribery. Successive governments have struggled with this; it would be a shame if the healthy instinct of communitarian generosity inherent in gift-giving were criminalized. Nevertheless, the government is now taking a hardline with the new anti-graft law.
– A large, intrusive state: The South Korean developmentalist state is very active in the economy. It routinely directs resources toward favored sectors and companies (‘picking winners’), opening ample space for business and political elites to interact regarding money. The opportunities for graft are as obvious as they are extensive. These are the sorts of relationships that have repeatedly done in Korean political and chaebol elites. Until the state steps back from the economy, such scandals will continue.
The good news however is that corruption in South Korea is often uncovered and subject to scrutiny. Prosecutors pursue it, and the public gets incensed. All this sunlight should eventually improve the situation as future grifters and cheaters must reckon with the likelihood that they will be caught and punished. South Korea, for all its corruption, is not like Russia or many other states far down on the Transparency International index. Corruption is routinely revealed, and even top officials are punished for it. Cleaning out the dirt may ugly, but it is happening. It is not swept under the rug, as in so many other places.
As for Park, my own sense is that this is a friendship run badly amok. Park’s parents were both assassinated; she is estranged from her siblings; she never married; and she has few personal friends and a distant demeanor. It sounds a lot like she was lonely and lost sight of proper boundaries. Choi’s influence was likely inappropriate and unethical, but it is not obviously criminal. Barring some bombshell revelation, I doubt Park Geun Hye will step down.
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
Greetings, travelers! I’m a member of Trazy Crew, back with a review, this time about my experience on my fall foliage trip to Naejangsan National Park!
Since South Korea is well known for the beautiful fall colors, I wanted to venture out. So last week, I signed up for our own tour package which was the ‘Korea Fall Foliage Small Group Tour‘.What/Where is Naejangsan National Park?
In case this is your first time hearing about the park, Naejangsan is a famous mountain located in Jeolla-do Province, which is not too far from Jeong-eup City.
It’s one of the best destinations for viewing a gorgeous color palette of autumn leaves (mainly maple leaves) and breathing in the fresh air in South Korea. Plus, there are also waterfalls and temples to explore.
Naejang means ‘many secrets’, implying that there are many beautiful things to discover in the park. Though fall is definitely the park’s peak season, it’s also gorgeous during the spring when azaleas and cherry blossoms bloom, summer when the mountain turns greener and in winter when the rock cliffs are blanketed in snow.The Best Way to Get to Naejangsan National Park
By Train: You can take the KTX from Yongsan Station to get to Jeong-eup Station, then take a local bus to get there. This method can be quite confusing for first-time travelers and the train ticket price may be a little bit expensive as it costs around 40,000 KRW (around 39 USD). And fall is a high season in Korea, which means the train tickets may run out real fast.
By car: It takes around 4 hours from Seoul, but during weekends or peak season, it may take even more. Also, during the peak season, access to the mountain can become quite difficult, especially if you arrive late. The parking lots fill up before noon and the roads get packed. It’s best to arrive early in the morning and leisurely explore.For those who merely need a transport and do not want to go through the hassle, signing up for a tour package can be a great option as it provides a round-trip transportation and an admission fee.
Trazy’s fall foliage tour package also provides a round-trip transportation, which was a van along with a friendly tour staff member who spoke English. The admission fee is also included. I was picked up at Hongik University Station at 6:00am, but departure locations also include Myeongdong Station and Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station.
*Note that for a larger group of people, a bus may be used instead of a van. On the day of the tour, my tour group consisted of 6 people including myself.
By any means, if you would like to get there by yourself, click here for directions!
There was one rest stop halfway where we could use the bathroom and buy some food. We arrived at the park at around 10:30am ready to explore!The Top 4 Hiking Trails We Recommend!
In Naejangsan National Park, there is a total of 10 hiking courses in the park. But here are the top 4 hiking trails and courses you should try.
1. Seoraebong Course – The most visited course that starts from the Hiking Information Center and passes through Seoraebong Peak (624m) and Bulchulbong Peak (622m) before ending at the Information Center again. It’s not too challenging, but there is a steep steel staircase that can be a little tiring to climb. 2. Nature Observation Course – Also an easy one composed of mainly gravel roads and dirt that’s great for families, children or the elderly. The entire course can be completed in about an hour and 20 minutes. 3. Baekyangsa Walking Trail – For those who want more of a challenge and really want to get in some exercise, these two trails are recommended. This trail contains several steep slopes and has lots of steps.
We took one of the easier courses that involved barely any steep inclines or difficulty. From the parking lot, we took a free shuttle bus to the ticket area, which took less than 5 mins. By walking, it would take around 15~20 mins.There the tour staff member bought us tickets for the second shuttle to the entrance of the National Park. All courses start and finish from this entrance where the ticket booths are.
The bus fee is part of the tour so we didn’t need to pay but it is normally 1,000 KRW. The first shuttle was big, but this one was smaller and more cramped but it didn’t matter since the journey was short. We passed lots of hikers and tourists despite it only being 11am. On the way, you can find this sign in the picture below. If you are the left was the cable car, which people could ride at an additional cost. 0.5 km to the right was Naejangsa Temple, which was where we were headed and further ahead was Byeongnyeonam Temple.The walk to the temple takes around 5 minutes, and is so enthralling and beautiful that you’ll be stopping for photos constantly! There were also many restaurants and vendors selling vegetables, herbs, teas, kimchi, meat, makgeolli (rice-based alcohol) and acorn jelly as well as various trinkets.3 Attractions You Should Not Miss!1. Naejangsa Temple
After a leisurely 5 minute walk from the entrance of the park, we arrived at Naejangsa Temple.The temples had people praying inside them and outside pretty much every spot was a photo zone. The trees and floor were coated with leaves and there was a pond with statues spurting out water.Korean temples also have wells called ‘Yaksuto.’ These wells pour out water that is fresh and drinkable, which you can do with the plastic cups provided. The highlight was hands down a singing performance by one of the monks. He was singing a pop song with a voice that you would expect to hear from someone like Pavarotti or Bocelli. He was amazing.Recommended photo spots:
*Illjumun Gate: It is symbolic because it is the entrance to the Buddhist temple and is apparently good for taking group photos. *The lanterns: These were located in front of the temple. I LOVE the colors and found that they made the perfect background for a photo as they swayed gently in the wind. *The pagoda: It houses the purported remains of the Buddha and makes for the perfect photo with the backdrop of the foliage and blue sky.
*Resting area: This area was where a lot of people were sitting down to take a rest. There were stairs leading up to the top where many photos were being taken too. The photographer would stand there and point their camera down so that the foliage would be captured with the subject in the middle.2. Uhwajeong Pavilion
The leisurely downhill walk from the temple back to the parking lot was about an hour and 40 minutes down a long path called ‘Five Colors Danpoong (Korean for autumn leaves) Path’.
As we walked down, we saw Uhwajeong Pavilion.
The name is derived from the legend that the pavilion once grew wings and ascended into the heavens. Various flowers, trees and foliage surrounding the pavilion created a view that looked almost fake. The water was also so clear that I could see fish swimming!
The one that stands today was built this year to replace the original one (pictured above) erected in 1965, which was criticized for failing to harmonize with its surroundings.Recommended photo spots:
*Stone path: I noticed many people taking photos on the stone path leading to the pavilion. They would stand in a line and pop their heads out in alternative directions while flailing their arms, which made for a cute photo.
*From a distance: I also found that taking a photo from further away made the pavilion look like something out of a postcard. This was thanks to the foliage and trees appearing in the surroundings as well as the ray of sunlight!3. Sinsun Waterfall
Located further down from where Uhwajeong Pavilion is, Sinsun Waterfall is a historical river bank where Japanese and Korean soldiers fought. Since the river is old, natural stones were stacked in efforts to reconstruct it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to see the water flowing out on the day of the tour, but when it does, it just looks amazing!Recommended Photo Spot:
*Sinsun Waterfall and Uhwajeong Pavilion: Because Uhwajeong Pavilion is visible behind the waterfall, it makes for the perfect photo as you can see it in its miniature form in the background behind the cascading waterfall!Trazy’s Survival Tips – Know Before You Go!
*Wear comfortable shoes! I wore a pair of combat boots that were relatively comfortable, but sneakers would be better. Wear hiking shoes if you plan on trekking along the more challenging courses.*Skip the cable car or be prepared to waste a good two or three hours waiting. It’s much better to explore the paths by walking in that time.
*Stick to bibimbap if you’re not into foods that have strong seasonings or taste. The tour staff told us one of the tourists ordered a bean paste soup, but it turned out to have such a strong taste that was like ‘cheonggukjang’, a fermented soybean paste that has a pungent scent).
*Avoid weekends. If you head to the park on a Friday, there may be an increased amount of traffic when you head back in the evening. This is normal, though.Review on ‘Korea Fall Foliage Small Group Tour’
Overall, I had a really great time at the park. I was dreading it at first since I am by no means an outdoorsy person, but it wasn’t bad at all! The trail was nice and easy to walk along and the weather was amazing. I captured so many amazing photos and got some exercise too.
I do kind of wish that I had visited earlier since the foliage is in full bloom during early November. Plus it had rained heavily the day before, making lots of leaves fall to the ground.
So, if you are thinking of joining the tour next year, check the weather forecast regularly and book your trip during the month of October.
At any rate, the Fall Foliage Small Group Tour was excellent since I was driven to and from the park by the tour staff. Since the tour is not guided, we were also free to explore the area on our own and be back at the parking lot at a designated time.
For those of you who have never been to Naejangsan National Park or other national parks across South Korea during fall, check out Trazy’s fall foliage tournext year and book in advance if you want to save your seats during the peak season!
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Long time no see! It’s been a busy few months and some insane life changes have been happening on my side. To offer a clue, I currently live alone and I might be moving to Seoul in the near future. Big stuff, right? Anyways, despite all that’s been going on, it’s been impossible to go for more than a few hours before having political stuff shoved in my face. I assume it’s been the same for anyone else who uses social media. I do apologize to all the non-Americans who have had to deal with everything that’s been coming from our current election.
As much as American politics has taken over the news, it should be noted that some crazy stuff has been going down in South Korea as well. Sure, there’s usually a new scandal or tragedy that shakes things up on this side of the world, but for those who don’t know, things have been on another level. If you’re curious and have absolutely no idea what I’m hinting at, I highly recommend doing some research on President Park Geun-Hye and all the recent news that has been coming out about her. I live in Gwangju, which is already known for not trusting the government, so you can only imagine the stuff that’s been said down here.
No matter what ends up happening or how things go down, I think we can all agree that 2016 is not a great year for a lot of people. That being said, I hope we can all continue to grow and do better while not hurting too many people in the process.
Enjoy the rest of your week!
This is Jen Lee. She likes to draw.
She also likes green tea.
- Jen Lee and Dear Korea @ Gwangju Blog
- Expat comic artists aim to draw fans at Comic World @ The Korea Herald
- 'Dear Korea' now in Busan Haps
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.
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Poetry Plus returns for the second of its two 2016 shows on November 5th, at 7:30 p.m. at the Vinyl Underground in the Kyungsung University area. THE EVENT BEGINS ON TIME. At the last event in April, people started showing up quite early in order to secure the best seating and enviable standing spots. As always, in order to get the most fun out of Poetry Plus, it’s best to come early and stay late!
What is Poetry Plus? Poetry Plus is the longest running expatriate performance event in Busan, & perhaps in all of South Korea. The event grew out of a small community of teachers & fired up on November 11, 2000. Now, Poetry Plus has grown into a fully produced show which brings together a variety of art forms into a single night of fun twice a year.
For Poetry Plus+44, we are happy to introduce eighteen new contributors to the Poetry Plus forum to go along with fifteen veteran ones from a smattering of previous events. Kelvin Brassbridge II, from Busan’s the HAHA HOLE, and Busan’s multi-talented Rob Chrisman will be the hosts and ring leaders in the legendary cavern club.
When you come to the event, think of it as a night at the theater. Settle in and be part of what's next. Slice of Life Pizza will be offering their pizza slices for sale at the event! Be ready to witness spoken word, short stories, poetry, stand up comedy, music, theater, improvisational performance, & mixed-genre mash ups.
Furthermore, a slideshow of photographs, illustrations, drawings, & paintings will continually play on the monitors & projection screen throughout the night. So, audience members get the opportunity to take in a gallery exhibit as well as stage performances.
Also, there will be a Poetry Plus Concert Jam Session led by The Laura Palmer Band.
To get there: In Kyungsung (subway stop 212). Go up exit 3 and keep walking straight. Starbucks is on your right. Turn right at the first street and walk 2.5 blocks. On your right, a sign with the Warhol banana, head down the stairs and glide right in.
7:30pm: Ikigai: Conor Doron, Courtney Renfroe, Sharlien Schwarz, Gordon Robert Bazsali, Jr.: "Songs with Guitar, Banjo, Ukulele, Cello, Trumpet"
*Kelvin Brassbridge II & Rob Chrisman: “Opening Ceremonies”
*Shannon Sawicki: “Short Story: Ecstatic”
*PJ Metz: “Spoken Word: My Desk Has No Windows”
*cinthesizer: “Theater: Voices Lost"
*Bob Perchan: “Two Poems: Mythic Instict”
*Anthony Velasquez, story, & Mike Dixon, guitar: “The Split”
*Kristian Hart: “Performance: The Primate Condition”
*Ryan Estrada & Hyun Sook Kim: “Performance: Guest Visit”
*Kenneth May, words, Conor Doron, Banjo, Gordon Robert Bazsali Jr.,trumpet, Courtney Renfroe, Cello: “Gondola. Wishbone”
*cinthesizer: “Theater: ...and..."
*Robert Coates: “Solo Guitar”
Intermission: Surprise Guest.
*John Bocskay: “Short Story: Come Again”
*Kristian Hart: “Performance: BABOONS"
*Stephan Simon: “Testimony”
*cinthesizer: “Theater: Found”
*Stephen Edward Hampson: “Stand up Comedy: No Longer in the Middle”
*Kristian Hart: “Performance: BABOONS AND ME”
*Danny & the Good Guys: Daniel Panozzo, guitar & voice, Donghyuk Heo, floor drum, Paul Soren, melodeon, Mike Ventola, bass: "River Run”
*Rob Chrisman & Kelvin Brassbridge II: “Closing Ceremony”
Poetry Plus Jam Session: The Laura Palmer Band: Mike Ventola, guitar, Paul Soren, guitar, Marike Kotze, voice, and other musical maestros!!
Ben Weller: “Busan: 2010-2015” (Event Photo)
Mike Dixon:”Lost in Cambodia”
Peter DeMarco: “Mirror Mirror”
Michael Woods: “Impressions”
Michaela Amanda Strelec: “Inktober Trails: Traveling Tales”
Niall J. Ruddy: “Stuff & Things”
Richarquis de Sade: “Wanderings”
Courtney Askins Wong: “Sharp Ink”
Jarod Timmerman: “Hawaii Pntngs”
Poetry Plus Staff
Organizer & Instigator: Kenneth May
Visual Art Coordinator: Antony Jackson
Sound Master: Robert Coates
Technical Assistant: Ade Yusuf
Valuable Hands: Ronnie Wilson
Venue Cooperatives: DongHa Kim & Happy Won
Videographer: Cheyenne Lynn
*Poetry Plus is a listening event with periodic crowd participation.
*Please be respectful of the artists and other audience members.
*Slice of Life Pizza will be offering a variety of pizza slices for sale at the event.
*Poetry Plus+45 will be back in the spring of 2017.
*This event is dedicated to Megan Heffernan, a Busan expatriate community member, and Busan residents Moon Eun-Young and Moon Eun-Jung, who all lost their lives in the October 12, 2002, Bali bombing. And also dedicated to Patrick Cole, longtime friend of the Busan art scene who passed away two years ago and is sorely missed by many.