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June 2009

Get this...

Last year, along with a long-time Korean friend and fellow student, I attended a Hanyang University alumni breakfast where Gyeonggi-Do Governor Kim Moon-Soo spoke about future provincial development plans. After the meeting, I went up with my friend to meet the Governor and we exchanged a bit of small talk and business cards. We also greeted his private secretary and chatted for a moment, during which time my friend made the suggestion that they give me a role of some sort in promoting Kyeonggi-Do Province, which the secretary politely agreed would be a great idea and that he’d get back to us on it… which of course, he never did.

Fast forward to today….

My friend has established a small non-profit organization in Ansan which is working to provide various social services, and they’ve just set up office in a spare office building on the “campus” of a small hospital in town and are planning to work together on some projects with the hospital. He invited me over to see the new digs, and unbeknownst to me, scheduled for me to arrive at, well, right in the middle of a meeting he was having with a director of the hospital. As we were talking, he just happened to mention the situation in the first paragraph above and, lo and behold, the director exclaimed, “Oh! The older sister of my close friend is the wife of Governor Kim Moon-Soo!”… To which my friend replied, “Um… Do you think you could check with the Governor about having Steven be a spokesman for the province? After all, his secretary had already agreed to the idea but didn’t follow-up with us.”… The Director got on the phone straight-away, called the Governor’s wife and set up a meeting on Saturday morning for the three of us with the Governor and his wife at the Governor’s residence...

The Korean word for describing the feeling in a situation like this is “황당하다” (though you’d never know it from the dictionary definition).

I’ll post an update over the weekend about how the meeting goes! J

How Cheap Can Phone Service Get in Korea?

Here’s a conversation my wife had this morning with our phone service provider. 

“Hi, I’m calling about our phone service. I’d like to know why you charge us $2.75/month for a basic charge? Other companies provide this free. It really feels like our total monthly bill of $12 is so expensive… And why did we have to sign a one-year contract? It’s not like you’ve provided any special service… all you gave us was a free phone when we signed up. You know of course that the competition is currently offering a $180 sign-up bonus in cash if we sign up for their Internet service and they include phone service without any basic monthly charge... and a free phone!”

No wonder the phone companies have been scrambling to reinvent themselves.


What's Going On in the North? - Part 2

After sending yesterday's post to my friend Dan, he replied, "As I suspected - It's quite a different story than the fear-mongering in the news [here in the US]". And that got me to thinking... Interpreting the situation in the North is just not so easy and I was worried that it could create the wrong impression. Thus, I replied again as follows today:

Hi Dan,

Yes, the media doesn’t catch the nuances. But it’s not hard to take a completely different perspective and still be right.

After all, the North Koreans did start a war 50 years ago that killed millions of people. And many pundits believe the US and N. Korea came perilously close to war in 1994. In the last couple months, North Korea has tested a nuclear bomb, shot off both long- and short-range rockets, kidnapped, tried and sentenced American journalists, gratuitously provoked conflict by sending ships into S. Korean waters, shut down a factory complex run by the South and a major source of foreign currency earnings, declared that they no longer recognize the armistice from the end of the Korean War and that they regard recent actions by the South as declarations of war…

Even if the North doesn’t start a war, if they get away with holding a nuclear bomb for long, the Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese will all go nuclear quickly and a new regional arms race will ensue… (which is why it is thought China won’t let the North have a bomb)…

It would be a brave mainstream journalist in the US to overlook all this and say that that North’s nonsense is just a charade. 


What's Going On in the North?

A friend emailed me today asking for my opinion on the "real" climate in the South Korean community regarding North Korea. I had a little more to say than I expected when I first started replying. Here's what I wrote:

Hi Dan,

Nice to hear from you.

Koreans are so jaded by the antics from the North that not much goes beyond being a topic of conversion, and nothing the North does affects daily life at all… One leading line of thought says that that Kim Jong-Il is giving his military something to get excited about so that they will support his plans to hand power over to his third son at some point in the future. Also, they say the North had been really excited about Obama taking over and giving them some recognition and that they were insulted (even hurt) when he ignored them even while offering to talk to the Cubans, Iranians and others… By making such a racket, they hope to get back into discussions with the US and the recognition they crave. There seem to be strong indications that even if the US can’t keep Korea from rolling out the bomb, China is determined to keep it from happening. So since North Korea knows they can’t have the bomb, they are getting ready to deal…

So little is known about the North that it’s hard to know if the above conjecture is really right. There doesn’t seem to even be a photograph of Kim Jong-Il’s third son available which was taken within the last 15 years… Just this week the North released a photo they said was a recent photo of the third son… but amazingly, it turns out to be a photo that a South Korean guy had posted on his website last summer. It’s hard to comprehend how or why a regime like the North would do something so apparently asinine.

So, that’s my version of the story from the front line. J