General Observers of Korea Feed

Thoughts on Bringing the Kids Back to the US for High School

An American acquaintance in Taiwan recently asked me for my thoughts on whether to bring his daughter to the US for high school. The following is most of my response to him.

When we returned to Korea in 2008, we only planned to stay for a couple years, and two years in a Korean school seemed like a great thing for the kids. While they were in elementary school, I thought they were getting a great education, too.

However, as the years in Korea stretched on, the kids wilted in school, and especially when they hit middle school, they were frustrated and disinterested. As you know, they only teach to one type of learner in Asia (the same type of learner that created the system), and so if you're not that kind of learner, then you're pretty much out of luck. I was dropping hundreds of dollars a month on private tutoring and they were still not learning properly, and worse than that, didn't care (especially Cauvery). 

I've turned negative in my opinion about the Korean education system and cringe every time I read or hear someone on this side talk about how great Korean students are compared with their US counterparts. This only reinforces Korean perceptions that they've got a superior approach, unable to figure out why their system doesn't get them the dynamics outcomes they see in other places. So any efforts at reform are only at the edges, and I doubt they'll do anything to change anytime soon.

Treasure is two years ahead of Cauvery and we sent her to live with my mom a couple years ago so she could start sooner, and we also got lucky in finding a good charter school, rather than the main high school in town. There was a bit of a learning curve, but Treasure immediately blossomed in the new learning environment, and by this year, she's getting all As in honors classes. Since Cauvery and I returned from Korea last summer, he's also done well, though is not as naturally motivated. He's still at Cs, Bs, and As which is tons better than what he'd gotten used to in Korea, and if he can get to Bs and As next year without honors classes, then that will be a huge improvement over anything he was doing before.

I think letting your daughter have a US high school experience could be a very good idea. If you're planning to bring her back to the US, I would suggest you do so before her first year of high school. Treasure started here in 10th grade, and they made her go back and re-do a bunch of classes from 9th grade in summer school, even 9th English after she'd finished 10th grade English. Cauvery, on the other hand, just started right into 9th grade without having to do anything, even though his English ability and grades in Korean school were not as good as Treasure's. Basically, neither of the schools we talked with cared a whit about the school transcripts I brought back from Korea.

You asked about our living situation. We're renting a house in a very ordinary neighborhood and this is working out very well as I have no interest in the hassles of home ownership over the next 3-4 years. When Treasure heads off to college, we may try to upgrade to a nice-ish apartment, but my kids are enjoying the sports options at school and we use the backyard and driveway for lots of ball throwing, and that's a good thing.

I think the kids are benefiting from the cultural aspects of a US high school. Treasure loved going to prom on Friday, and everything leading up to that. She's looking forward to a senior trip and participating in student government next year.

Cauvery didn't originally want to come to the US and I gave him the option of going back to Korea next summer to attend an international school (after Treasure graduates and is on to college), but I don't think he's going to take it as he's making a good adjustment here. 

Other than for cost reasons, I don't want to take him back to Korea now since international schools in Korea are mostly full of Korean kids whose parents were forward thinking enough to get them a foreign passport. This is the same problem you mentioned in Taiwan, and means that even if the curriculum and teachers are American, the school culture is infused with the same Korean educational thinking that you and I don't like. It's simply impossible to get the kids a US-culture-based high school experience outside of the US, and those memories of US high school may be important to them as they move on in life. It also means they don't have to go through the cultural learning curve in their first year of college, since they will have already fully adapted during high school.

As you can see, I feel good about having moved the kids from Korea to the US. I see it as one of the last gifts I can give them before they move on to the rest of their lives.

 

 

My Response to HS Yoon's Comments on the Sewol Tragedy in Today's "Last Three Weeks in Korea" Newsletter

HS,

 
But do you really not understand why Koreans are demanding answers from the government over the Sewol tragedy? If you object to the government protests like that, your readers who don't have a full understanding of the situation will think Korea is a nation of lawless and irrational street demonstrators and "impure elements."
 
You suggest people should be protesting at the offices of Chonghaejin. But what good would that do? There's nobody there, since the state's already chasing those people down and throwing them in jail as fast as it can. Who would defend scum like the ferry captain, the crazy cult leader who runs the organization (and was already investigated in connection with a mass murder many years ago) or any of the other members of the greedy company?
 
But HS, are those crooks solely responsible for the tragedy? The world will always have folks who don't give a damn for the lives of others; we don't just sit around and let them kill people though. The government is responsible for safety oversight and rescue operations.
 
I didn't need the Hangyoreh to point it out for me to sense that President Park's public association of the ferry captain with the word "murder" just a few days after the event was very un-president-like. I believe murder requires a deliberate intent to kill but if President Park can expand the meaning to gross negligence, then let's ask how many other murderers there are.
 
How about the Coast Guard that showed up on scene unprepared and did virtually nothing? They could have entered the boat themselves and rescued the passengers! Is that not gross negligence? The Coast Guard won't release all the video footage of the time immediately after the sinking began. They've obviously got stuff to hide. Then there's the Coast Guard control tower on Jindo that didn't bother to check in at all with the boat passing by and where employees were later found to be destroying evidence.
 
P1020954Would the boat have even capsized in the first place if corrupt government officials had not been allowing it to operate far in excess of legal weight limits?
 
If the lifeboats had deployed, the passengers would have been evacuated and saved. What officials turned a blind eye to the corrupt safety inspections that lead to broken safety equipment?
 
The government outsourced the rescue to a private salvage company called Undine that was more interested in its own commercial privilege than rescuing passengers. How else do you explain it taking nearly a week to even enter the damn ferry? No litany of excuses about how cold or fast or muddy the water was will convince me that all the resources of the country were focused on the rescue in a timely fashion.
 
I'd also like to know how the authorities could herd the families of the missing into a gymnasium in Jindo and leave them there out in the open for days, while letting the media sit up in the balcony filming them 24 hours a day. I have asked myself what that would be like had I just suffered the loss of a child. 
 
After such tragic loss, followed by humiliation day after day, what do you really expect from the families of the deceased? My wife visited an acquaintance a few days ago who lost her daughter in the tragedy and is now in the hospital, a nervous wreck. Her daughter's body was found with fingernails all torn up from trying to claw her way out of the sinking tomb. I can't think of anything sadder.
 
President Park showed up in Jindo the day after the event to say she'd do everything she could. Maybe she did; I don't know. But from what I've read, she didn't really know what was going on for almost ten hours after the sinking started! Someone asked me recently if I thought President Park had done a good job dealing with the crisis. As an American, I'm not sure we'd expect more from our president in a situation like that (which is probably why President Bush weathered the Hurricane Katrina disaster as well as he did) but Koreans clearly do, especially when the system failed at so many levels and this resulted in such loss of life.
 
At this point, I'm not sure what another apology from the President would do, but don't you think a proper accounting of the government's responsibility in the tragedy is in order? Can we let the forces on the Right just keep saying it's all the result of the actions of a few? 
 
BTW, I don't know why you say the Left is "impure"; then the Right is "pure"? Some of my dearest friends and associates in Korea are on the Left and I swear, they are good people.
 
Of course, the opposition will try to topple the current administration; that's their job! I'm not saying they are right or wrong, but do you think they have forgotten their (perhaps biased... perhaps not) memories of the years of JH Park, DW Chun and TW Roh? Or the actual overthrow for awhile of MH Noh and then his destruction after leaving office?
 
For whatever reason, politics is a battle and it's election time. 
 
I don't think anyone who aspires to be president of a nation has any right to feel indignant about criticism in any form. The best way for President Park to overcome the challenge is not to portray herself as a victim of harrassment and/or hit back at the protesters but to properly do her job to investigate and clean up the system, if she can. It seems to me that the pressure needs to be kept up, especially as President Park's response has been so tepid and her determination to see it through in doubt.
 
Steven

Some Thoughts from Ansan on the Sewol Sinking Five Days Into the Tragedy

President Park just declared Ansan a disaster zone in order to make the city eligible for various federal assistance. I'm sure the mood is amplified for me because I'm so close to ground zero in terms of the school that the missing kids attended, but it feels in Korea just like it did after 9/11 in the US. 
 
The government's cancelled all public festivals (yeah, no Street Arts or Tulip festivals in Ansan this year), election campaigning is forbidden and the news keeps talking about the national trauma that's being suffered by the citizenry (not to mention the relatives of the missing, or of the missing themselves, or their friends who were rescued and are now wracked with guilt). Commentators on the left and right are going on and on about the rotten core of Korean society. 
 
Huh
The ban on electioneering has at least gotten one Ansan politician I know to shut up a bit after having posted multiple SNS and text messages last Wednesday on how horrible he felt about what happened and how he was heading straight down to the accident site. I'm not sure why, especially since he's not an office-holder; not even a candidate. He's a "preliminary candidate" for mayor. His sign says he'll be a mayor who is good at working; apparently he can't work quietly though. According to the news, they've finally chased out these scumbags from Jindo who were posing for photos and sharing in the free food brought in by real volunteers for the relatives of the missing. Way to go, Mr. Soong Huh!
 
Meanwhile, the government keeps throwing hundreds of rescuers, divers and ships into the mix and then talking about how hard it is to get into the sunken vessel. So here we are, five days into it, and they still can't find 80% of the kids even though they know exactly where they are.
 
I've got a detective friend here in Ansan who investigates deaths in the district where the school's located. He's gone off the grid and is surely down there at Jindo IDing bodies. He told me that after 20 years of this, he doesn't get any emotional feelings from his work anymore, but I bet this time is different.
 
Cauvery went to his first funeral a couple nights ago. He and Treasure don't seem too affected by the disaster, but who really knows, right? They have other friends with missing older brothers and sisters too so there should be more funerals in the schedule soon. As an aside, Treasure tells me the teachers at school are having an easier time than usual keeping the classes under control.
 
Lots of people I know are letting me know know they're praying for the situation. One competent dive team on the first day would have been worth more than all the prayer in the world though. Why does nobody ever point out the obvious and/or hold the pious accountable for the ridiculous claims they make about the power of speaking to the ether? To post this kind of opinion on my Facebook discussion where all the prayer comments have been posted would be considered insensitive and offensive. Thus, I'm hiding this over here on my blog that few of them are likely to read (if you did use the "p" word and then make it this far, sorry...) It seems at least as insulting to the deceased to bring up something as glib as prayer at a time as serious as this. This irritates me, big time, especially on Easter... you know, the day of resurrection and other superhero stories like that. 
 
For those who are curious, here's the address of the school: 426 Gojan-dong Danwon-gu, Ansan-si, Gyeonggi-do. (And here's the website: http://danwon.hs.kr/.)
 
I'm told that the authorities have closed off Danwon High School to anyone but students; I guess so many well-wishers from around the country were coming to express their condolences and lay flowers that it just became too much. The focus for related events in Ansan seems to have moved to Hwarang park, which is quite near Danwon High, and there's tons of room there, so it's a suitable place. As far as I know, evening candlelight vigils are being held there, starting around 8pm each day. 
 
For those wishing to visit, here's a map. The closest subway stop to the park is Choji station.
2014-04-19_21-12-17
 
Myunghee reports that business at Only Coffee is way down since the sinking.

Applying for a Korean F-5 (Permanent Resident) Visa While on an F-6 (Spouse Visa)

I had previously looked into getting an F-5 visa through the points system, but though I had enough points, I was on a student visa at the time, and there is no way to transition from that to an F-5. However, I've been on an F-6 (Spouse Visa) for a few years now and recently applied for an F-5.

I found the information available online and at Immigration to be adequate, but minimal and a little confusing. I hope my explanation of the requirements is somewhat more complete and helpful (at least for American citizens going to the F-5 from an F-6).

To be eligible for the F-5, I had to be in Korea for two years on the F-6 first (it didn't matter that I've been in and out of Korea for much longer than that before) and any time I spent out of the country (such as back in the States selling our house in 2012) did not count toward the two years.

Here's what I was responsible to have in-hand when applying at Immigration.

1. Police report from my home country (해외범죄경력 증명)

In my case, this took the form of a Criminal History Summary Check through the FBI (unfortunately the US Embassy in Korea provides no help at all in this matter). I found various information online about applying for this through a "channeler" or through a local office in my state, and even the online information about going through the FBI was confusing and made me concerned that the FBI wouldn't fulfill my request or that the document issued by them would not be usable for the visa application. But I took a gamble and went ahead and applied based on the information at the following link: 

To do so, I downloaded the standard fingerprint form (FD-258) at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/criminal-history-summary-checks/standard-fingerprint-form-fd-258 and took it down to my local police station. A detective on duty was happy to take my fingerprints.

I then mailed that with my application and credit card payment details (see link above for instructions) to the address shown and waited about a month to get it back.

Unfortunately, Immigration wouldn't accept this; it needed to be certified with an apostille (another service that the US Embassy doesn't provide). To get this, I had to send the certificate to the US Department of State in Washington, DC to request authentication. For details on that, I followed the instructions at this link:

The instructions include a requirement to provide a self-addressed prepaid envelope, but being in Korea, I didn't have access to US postage for the return. So, I prepared everything without the postage and sent it to my father in the US, asked him to get the postage (for both the outside envelope and return envelope) and forward on the documents to the US Department of State. Another month later, I received my authenticated criminal background check back, ready to submit.

The problem with this process is not just that there are so many points along the way where something can go wrong, but Korean Immigration will only recognize documents under three months old. That means, once you get your criminal background check in the mail, don't wait to send it in for authentication. And after getting the authentication, don't wait to take it down to Immigration and apply. I slid in just a week under the three-month deadline since I had not moved as quickly I should have to apply for the apostille.

I was told the first time I asked that I didn't need to get the criminal background check translated. However, when I showed up with the final application, a different person was at the desk. She told me it had to be translated into Korean. She also said I could do it myself and that I didn't need to hire someone else (which was nice!). She was even prepared to accept a hand-written translation, though I took it to the office and typed it up nicely there. Finally, upon submitting the translation, she gave me a certificate to sign saying that I'd translated it accurately.

2. Original AND photocopies of US passport and US driver's license

I might have only needed one of these documents, but I took both just to be safe.

3. W200,000 in revenue stamps

Apparently the cost used to be W70,000 but went up just this year. The revenue stamps (수입인지) can be purchased directly at the Immigration Office.

4. A filled out Permanent Resident Eligibility Application Review Report (영주자격신청심사보고서)

It looks like the following and can be picked up at the Immigration Office.

P1020718

5. A filled out application form (통합신청서)

This is the main application filled out for all types of visa applications and is available at the Immigration Office, too.

6. One color photograph

This must have been taken within the previous three months (though who's really checking?). The instructions say it's supposed to be 반명함 (half business-card) size, but Immigration rejected the photo I took, saying it was too small. When I took it back to the photographer, he insisted he'd given me the right one the first time. I still got my photo printed again, though, this time bigger (3.5cm x 4.5cm), and it turned out that this is what Immigration wanted.

7. Official copies of whatever family documents my local government office (동사무소) could provide for my wife, my kids and me, including 주민등록표, 기본증명서, 가족관계증명서, 혼인관계증명서.

I don't think I needed all that; but why risk leaving something out?

8. Proof of assets

They wanted to see proof that my wife and I have at least W30 million in assets in Korea. For this, I went down to city hall and got registered copies of the titles to our apartment and my office (등기 부등본). I also threw in my business registration (사업자등록증) for good measure, but that got returned to me, so I guess they didn't need it.

9. Wife and her ID

They would not accept the application without my wife being there too and presenting her ID.

-----------

Having submitted all of this at one time, I was issued a document evidencing that my application had been received (체류허가 신청확인서) and the officer told me that they'd contact me within ten months. She said that I would not be contacted before then, so I guess I just wait, though she did say it might be a little less than ten months. When I was in the office asking about things a month ago, the officer at the desk at that time told me it was an eight-month wait, so there's apparently some flexibility on this.

I can't say that the above documents and processes will be the same everywhere (things vary mysteriously) or that the requirements won't change between now and tomorrow. Also, the process for getting the criminal background check will be different for each country, and I got the impression there was a way I could have also gotten an acceptable document through the state rather than the FBI.  But at least, the above describes how I did it and it worked, so hopefully this explanation will be helpful to others facing the same challenge.

===================

UPDATE: January 26, 2015

Immigration contacted me early last month to have me bring in current versions of documents proving that my wife and I are still married and that we still own our apartment. About a month after doing that, I got a call on January 6th, telling me I could pick up my new alien registration card on the 20th, which I did. It looks like this:

Untitled

This means that after about three months of getting my documents in order and submitting them, it then took almost another year to be issued the F-5 visa.


Book Review: Dominion from Sea to Sea by Bruce Cumings

2014-02-14_23-00-48I enjoyed Dominion from Sea to Sea, though I would have liked to find more specifically Asia/Korea historical content. This is just a personal preference though and knowing US history interpreted through a Pacific lens is good.
 
I can't say my reading level is as advanced as Cumings' writing skills in parts. He's the master of the literature review, and my eyes glazed over in sections like the intro and appendix as he discussed Schumpeter, Marx (two thinkers I've heard of) and others (many who I haven't heard of).
 
My favorite parts were the sequential presentations of history, and especially when explaining about the movement of people over time. I was a bit surprised how nasty and cynical Cumings got attacking the major actors of Silicon Valley. It was fun to read though, and Seattle's now tops on my list of places I'd like to move to in the US (if I can get out of Texas; hate that place, but it's where the roots are...)
 
There was one thing in the book that really did stand out as a question mark. Cumings writes with such skill most of the time about complicated concepts, that I take it as policy to respect his intellect and not ask too many questions or advocate alternative opinions. (He'd be a scary person to disagree with in person!)
 
However, when he got to one section that I know a bit about, I rather felt he got petty. While recounting his visit to US military bases in Korea, he didn't sound any more profound than the average expat two weeks into his Korea experience. At one point, he referred to the "sad state of Korean-American relations", and I couldn't figure out where that came from, as well as "In the camp towns around American basis in Korea the atmosphere is often malevolent, with an air of resentment and cold stares". Cold stares? Well, Koreans don't generally smile at strangers anyway.... but no. And it was certainly not in context with the rest of the paragraph. So it did make me wonder if Cumings is just a bit too dramatic thoughout, even on the parts I can't speak about with confidence.
 
Anyway, I generally feel embarrassed about my own writing after reading Cumings. He must have a photographic memory with perfect recall; I can't imagine how he puts so much solid information into such a compact space, and then wraps in such masterfully crafted prose.
 
I probably won't read this one a second time but it now joins my collection on the bookshelf of valuable literature for future reference back.

The Not-So-Secret Formula of Korean 70s TV Dramas

Over the last couple years, I've watched three Korean TV series set mainly in the 1970s.

Light and Shadows (빛과 그림자, MBC) (64 episodes at 70 minutes each)

2014-01-04 오후 6-27-46

Samsaengi (삼생이, KBS) (120 episodes at 35 minutes each)

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Eun-Hee (은희, KBS) (140 episodes at 35 minutes each)

2014-01-04 오후 6-30-16

One way or another, this genre has turned out to be particularly interesting to me, and I've sometimes attributed it to the idea that these shows give me some insight into how Koreans remember the decades before I arrived in Korea, which I'd like to think gives me a better understanding of the culture as it is today. (I referred to Eun-Hee in an article I wrote a few months ago: "Reflections on Face...")

However, having watched these three shows in succession, I'm starting to wonder if I'm mainly just getting to see the basic template on which the writers are taught to base their stories (not to mention nearly about every building at Hapcheon Image Theme Park, where all three shows were filmed in part, and which we visited in 2012 - photos here, here and here.)

2014-01-04 오후 6-31-43

So now yet another 70s show is starting next week on KBS called Sungeum's Land (순금의 땅). Sungeum is the name of a girl and literally means "pure gold". Samsengi and Eun-Hee were also named after girls who grew up to become women on the show, so we can assume some similaries just from the naming. This is, however, the first to choose as its promotional graphic an image of a single person, rather than the set of four people (two males/two females) of the other three; I wonder if they'll change this once the story gets underway.

I'm not privy to any special information about the new series other than having watched the preview, but by pulling out my crystal ball (and analyzing my notes from watching the previous shows), I predict that Sungeum's Land (or Land of Pure Gold or whatever they call it in English) will include the following story elements.

1. Hidden Parent/Child (and Sibling) Relationships

Samsengi and another girl were switched at birth so that Samsengi grew up thinking she belonged to a family she didn't. Eun-hee was raised by an aunt whom she thought was her mother. In Light and Shadows, one of the leading parts grew up as an orphan but was actually the long-lost daughter of a rich Korean businessman in Japan. 

2. An Almost Justifiable Act of Original Deceit by a Person Trusted by the Main Family Who Then Ends Up Ruined

Samsaengi was switched at birth by a man who worked for her father and continued to live in the home of her father even as Samsaengi grew up and learned the truth. Eun-hee's father was accused of murder by a close friend who was the actual murderer. Both of these acts of deceit laid the basis for the plot of their respective stories and the persons committing the deceit did so for reasons that could be somewhat justified, having not started out as bad people. The perpetrators though spend the length of the show trying to keep the secret hidden, even resorting to murder to maintain the lies, but ended up committing suicide or going crazy.

I don't recall a key act of deceipt like this in Light and Shadows, but a childhood friend of the main character went into politics and turned against the family that raised him, and finally killed himself and another evil character in the end to redeem himself. 

3. Basis in the Korean War

The elements of #1 and #2 above all started during the Korean War; without the war, these terrible lies would never have gotten started.

4. Families Moving from the Countryside to Seoul

The main characters of Light and Shadows came from a small town with a made-up-name, but Samsaengi's family was from Daegu and the families of Eun-Hee were originally from Kaesung. In all three cases, they ended up in Seoul (or in Eun-Hee's case, Incheon, next to Seoul).

5. Underworld Figures, Corruption and Politics

All three stories involve gangsters, corrupt political figures, borrowing from moneylenders (with the main protagonists losing or almost losing everything) and torture of one or more main characters by the Korean CIA at "Namsan"). At least two of the shows included political demonstrations against the government and references to actual political events of the times.

6. At Least One Character Spending an Extended Time Overseas

In Light and Shadows, the hero spends a couple years in exile in Japan. Samsaengi's friends study abroad in Europe. And Eun-Hee's husband-to-be leaves for the US on at least three occasions to get away from it all.

7. A Faked Injury by Someone

I'm not sure why, but women in these shows like to fake injuries to manipulate others to do what they want. It happened in all three shows; no reason to expect otherwise on Sungeum's Land.


Reflections on Face and What It Really Means for Life and Business in Korea

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

One of the appeals of the Far East to many Westerners is the mysteriousness of these cultures that we are told have been around for so long and developed independently of Western influences. With all the yin-yang thinking, concepts of body centers of energy in martial arts and Oriental medicine (e.g. accupuncture) and other "deep" ways of seeing things, can we be anything less than awed?

A concept that gets bandied about a lot when describing E. Asian culture is "face" and it is sometimes described as an especially important aspect of life in Asia that should be respected at all cost. However, I've had my doubts that the Western conception of face is more than an approximation of the true meaning of it in Asia or that it's any different than a universal desire not to be humiliated or insulted. (See previous blog post from 2011.)

This article explores the topic and attempts to identify nuances of face in Korea (and by extension, Korean business) that are overlooked in the common Western understanding.

7-26-2013 3-31-05 PM

Some Definitions

My first encounter with "face" came just a month or two into my Korea experience back in 1994 when the Korean owner of my place of employment fought with my American boss in public and afterward was heard saying (in English), "I lost my face"... Notwithstanding that adding "my" to the sentence changes the nuance in English a bit, I recall wondering how he would have expressed this thought in Korean. It took me awhile to figure out what the Korean words and phrases are for face and its variants, so for the record, here they are:

  • face - 체면 (chaemyeon)

The word is derived from Chinese, with the first character meaning "body" and the second meaning "face, surface, side". The dictionary on Naver describes chaemyeon in Korean as "sense of one's duty or face that one presents to others". This is a little (but not much) different than "one's sense of honor or dignity", that I would say is probably the best way to represent the meaning of face in English. 

  • lose face - 체면을 잃다
  • save face - 체면이 서다
  • to be honorable - 체면이 있다
  • to be dishonorable - 체면이 없다

These are not words and phrases Koreans use all that often though and they are not standard terms you would normally hear when a Korean is expressing embarrassment, offense, anger, or even certain types of shame. It's also not the word a Korean would use when talking about how they feel after losing in a competition or negotiation. It might not even be the most appropriate term to use in the context of getting tricked or deceived, unless it involves some deeper personal disgrace.

On the other hand, Koreans might discuss chaemyeon when referring to information about themselves that they wouldn't want to share publicly if it would make others think less of them, or when wondering why someone else would behave in such an undignified way ("Have they no shame?").

So what's really different between Korean "face" and Western "honor"?

"Face" Seems to Be an Inexact Western Interpretation of Asian Chaemyeon

4016608384_40dc9403afThere's a dish in Korea called "donkas" (돈까스 in Korean and most often translated to English as "pork cutlet" - Photo of donkas at left used with permission from ZenKimchi.com). One thing that makes this meal interesting to me is that it's a Korean interpretation of a Japanese interpretation of a Western meal. It's popular enough in Korea to be a true Korean food (kind of like tacos are to Texans), but having originated elsewhere and been adapted to Japanese and then Korean tastes, it's not exactly what we'd expect from a pork steak dish back home.

The reason I bring this up is to illustrate how a concept can change when it moves from one culture through the filters of another.

In my 2011 article mentioned above, I suggested that the concept of saving face as we often understand it may have been the brainchild of a Westerner observing things about Asian culture that were hard to for him to understand. I've suspected that since Asians have been hearing Westerners talk about Asian face for so long, they've started to believe the rhetoric themselves and have come to see it as a uniquely Asian trait after all. 

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I recently had the opportunity to see what a Korean understanding of the Western concept of face might look like when reading the book 박근혜의 인생. I picked this book up because I thought it was going to be a biography of the current Korean president, but it turned out to just be some guy's hagiographic exposition on President Keun-Hye Park's wonderful traits as a leader. It's a crummy book. (I'm not saying she's a crummy leader, BTW.) But one spot that caught my attention was on page 193 where he quoted another book describing Park and then added his own explanation. The following is the original Korean passage and then my translation of it, and I added the red font for emphasis.

"굉장히 냉철하고 자기중심이 확고하다. 상황이 어려울 때 참모가 우왕좌왕해도 지도자는 자기중심을 잃으면 안 되는 법이다. 어떤 상왕에도 자기 페이스를 잃어버리지 않기 쉽지 않은데 이처럼 갖기 어려운 자질을 갖췄다."

- 진희정, 박근혜 사타일, 154쫒

어떤 상황에서도 자기 페이스를 잃어버리지 않는 그런 자질을 그녀가 가질 수 있게 된 또 다른 이유 중의 하나는 그녀는 최선의 노력과 지혜를 다한 사람은 하늘의 뜻을 겸허하게 받아들이고 초연할 수 있다는 사실에 대한 확신 때문일 것이다.

“She is extremely level-headed and firmly maintains her sense of balance. When things are difficult, and even if one’s staff can’t make up their minds, a leader must not lose her bearings. It’s easy to lose face in any situation, but she has this kind of rare character trait.”

- Geun-Hye Park’s Style (Hee-Jeong Jin), p. 154

Another of the reasons that she has the character trait of never losing face in any situation is that she is certain of the fact that people who exert their best efforts and act wisely can humbly accept the will of Heaven and rise above it.

I don't think the author ever used the Korean word chaemyeon in this book; but here, he quotes another Korean author using the Korean transliteration of the English word "face" and then uses it himself in the same context. Both authors seem to understand "losing face" when written with an English pronunciation as being the opposite of "calm, cool and collected", which is not quite the same as the way Westerners understand it. 

Sometimes Koreans use foreign words to express concepts that carry connotations not as easily expressed in Korean (other examples include "leader - 리더", "charisma - 카리스마" and "style - 스타일"). And in this case, it turns out that "face" can be another word Koreans, at least sometimes, choose to interpret from an outside perspective and not using Korean terminology.

This tells me that the concept of "face" is at least partially something Koreans are interested in because they've heard so much about it but that they don't feel entirely comfortable using chaemyeon to describe what they're thinking we mean by it. It also tells me that "face" and chaemyeon don't actually mean exactly the same thing, and apparently even the word "face" has different nuances for Westerners and Koreans.

Face is merely an approximation of chaemyeon, and not something particularly unique to Asia. In any culture, nobody anywhere likes to have their honor or dignity compromised.

So, if this is what face is, what's chaemyeon?

Face in Korea is Not Uniquely Korean, But It is Manifested in Uniquely Korean Ways

I've recently been watching a Korean TV series on KBS called Eun-hee. It's the fictional story of several families trying to come to terms with events that happened before and after the Korean War. These modern TV "dramas" (which is another English word used in Korean with an English pronunciation but slightly different meaning) set in the 1950s, 60s and 70s are particularly interesting to me. Perhaps it's because I didn't experience this Korean history directly and shows like this let me see, not what it was really like back then, but what Koreans of today want to remember it was like during those years.

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Anyway, in a series of recent episodes, the good-for-nothing nephew of the owner of a tofu factory embezzles money from the company and tries to blame it on Eun-hee, the lead character of the show. Amid rampant rumors among the factory staff, it gradually comes to light who the real perpetrator is and the characters are left figuring out how to deal with the situation.

Several options are considered and attempted. Since the guilty party is the nephew of the president, it would really reflect badly on the good owner to announce the truth to the factory workers, but the president can't let the issue slide either (that would look bad too). Somebody has to take the fall for the crime and Eun-hee is about to get fired. However, before this happens, a friend of Eun-hee borrows money and gives it to the company management saying he'll take responsibility for the crime, and then quit his job. Eventually, another friend of Eun-hee's sells his camera equipment to get some money, which he then takes to the nephew, telling him to return it to his aunt (the owner), explain it was an oversight and apologize for an honest mistake. This is what ends up happening.

We see the Asian concept of "face" in various forms here. To expose the nephew would have shamed the owner because it was her relative. But to leave the crime unpunished would have also called into question the owner's commitment to a clean work environment. On the other hand, to punish Eun-hee would have been terribly unfair, so her friends looked for options -- and eventually found one -- to save everyone's chaemyeon.

Somehow, in a Western context, I think we would find this situation pitiful. If the owner of the company can't keep her nephew in check, she should kick him out. Letting someone else take the fall for it, though not unheard of in a Western context (called "scapegoating"), is simply shameful. I don't think a Westerner would be terribly impressed by the efforts of the friends either to take false responsibility themselves. 

But in a Korean setting, this is a story of heroism and evokes sympathy for just about everyone (except the nephew). I would say this cuts to the essence of what "face" really is in Korea. It's not that Koreans have a unique sense of honor, it's that they prioritize it above some other values (an honest reckoning of wrong or squeezing the last advantage out of a situation, for instance) to avoid situations that would bring unpleasantness out into the open.

6a011279704a5b28a4014e89940928970d-800wiI'll point out that this Asian concept of face reminds me of the doctrine of atonement in Christian theology, where someone's got to take the punishment for sin, and it doesn't necessarily have to be the person who did the crime. This came to mind several years ago when former Korean President Moo-Hyeon Roh committed suicide during a corruption investigation. (Photo at right is the site of President Roh's death and his memorial from my photo weblog.) He doesn't appear to have been completely clean, but he must have judged that his death would a) atone for whatever errors were committed, both for himself and for others, b) bring the investigation to an end for everyone involved, and c) allow those who had previously worked with him to move on in their political careers without the baggage of the scandal. As for a), his political enemies still see him as seriously flawed, but his decision was successful in terms of b) and c), especially as his former confidante Jae-In Moon made a respectable run for the presidency last year.

Applying the Concepts of Face and Chaemyeon to Life and Business in Korea

I have found (from unhappy experience, sometimes) that showing unpleasant emotions in business in Korea can be unexpectedly counterproductive. It can be tempting to cross the line of civility since, for example, a Korean is more likely than a Westerner to stay on the line while being yelled at over the phone. Koreans will often appear to maintain their cool (and even a smile or laugh!) in an awkward situation, but this apparent calmness should not be mistaken for compliance or agreement. Verification of intent may require waiting for actions, rather than words.

Being aggressive with a smile rather than a frown, using extra words to avoid coming out and saying things directly, yielding on small points and even behaving in passive aggressive ways could all be more effective negotiating techniques in a Korean setting than a bulldozer approach. (Nevermind that "bulldozer" is the somewhat popular nickname given to some Koreans who've been successful in business, such as former Korean President Myung-Bak Lee (who was less successful with this approach in politics of late)).

Westerners doing business in Korea would be advised to handle awkward situations with a delicate hand and with as little direct confrontation as possible. It's not that wrong must be overlooked, but a solution that doesn't require people to admit error overtly can go a long way toward keeping important relationships going. Even if everyone knows what happened and the outcome is the same, the path toward that income in Korea is likely to have more bends and turns than it would in a similar situation in the West and if you stay cool, important relationships may just survive the turmoil.

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.


Discussion about the Korean Media's Inclination to Over-Represent the International Presence in Korea

I had an interesting email exchange this week with an acquaintance in academia about the role of foreigners in leadership positions in Korea. I made the following comment:

Are there really any long-term successful cases [of foreigners in leadership positions in Korea] that are more than objects of curiosity? We've already spoken of Charm Lee; it seems the incoming Korean president has her own pet foreigner, Dr. John Linton, who's going to head up some integration department or something, I believe. But Dr. Linton (if I recall correctly) grew up in Korea as the son of American missionaries, so how typical can he be considered? I heard it through the grapevine that Charm Lee ended up feeling somewhat isolated in his position there at Tourism Korea.... I suppose there might be other cases that don't hit the news, but I doubt if many/any since the Korean media is digging so hard to find whatever foreign faces they can put on TV and the newspaper....

My acquaintance commented on my choice of words, such as "objects of curiosity" and "pet foreigner", and he asked me if could back up my statement about how the Korean media is digging to find foreign faces they can put on TV and the print media.. To which I responded as follows:

I don't have any data per se about the media's inclination to over-represent the international presence in Korea, but based on living here, it's pretty obvious. 

How else do you think I got on TV, in magazines, the newspaper over the last couple years? It's certainly not because I had anything particularly interesting to share other than my experience and perspective as a foreigner.

There's a morning show that translates to "Human Theater"; it's a weekly series of cute five-day documentaries about the lives of ordinary people in Korea with special stories to share... At least half the time, there's an international element to it. We have this show on after breakfast at our house most weekdays...

The same few people pop up in the media all the time... 

I used to read the Chungang Ilbo newspaper (owned by Samsung) and their Saturday edition tends to include these stories a lot... 

I was at a conference on North Korea a couple years ago and attended with another Westerner. There were a couple hundred Koreans in the room, too. Guess who's photos showed up on the front page of the newspaper the next day, with the caption "Foreign Researchers"?.... (To be fair, I recall there were two other Westerners in the room who didn't get into the paper though...)

They have an annual event here that's a Korean copy of TED called TECH+; they were practically begging foreigners to sit in the audience by giving tickets away a couple years ago... 

This fact has actually been a bit of a disappointment for me on KBC; One of my goals was to increase my network in Korea; problem is that within six months I was connected to everybody and the same people show up at all the expat events... There's very little additional networking available at this point since the community is so small...
It can't be much different here than anywhere else in Asia...


Korean Views on Japanese Society and Economy are Changing

Japan is a popular topic of discussion among Koreans. The themes used to focus mainly on a) how bad the Japanese were during their 34-year colonization of Korea and b) how advanced they are and that it would really be nice to catch up.

Today, the tone is much different.

Koreans still talk about how much they resent the Japanese colonization, but now that Korea's on a roll with the success of its economy and popularity of Korean culture throughout Asia (and even in Japan), and as Japan's still working through its 20-year funk, Koreans are gaining quite a bit of confidence in their analysis of Japanese society and economy and where it's all going.

9-21-2012 12-34-35 AMI remember seeing the Korean book on the right at the bookstore recently denying that the Japanese "samurai" concept is anything more than a modern myth (사무라이정신은 거짓! - The Samurai Spirit is a Lie!). A recent study by Citigroup estimates that Korea will have the 4th highest per-capita GDP in the world in about forty years (and far higher than Japan). I often hear about how the Japanese are "becoming soft" and how they've lost their motivation to succeed, as exemplified by the opinion of one Korean I heard say that Korean young people and Japanese young people don't have a lot to talk about because Japanese young people are more concerned about part-time job working conditions than they are about developing their careers. I even came across some discussion online recently about some Western fortune teller who predicted that Japan will become a Korean colony within the next thirty years; of course, this prediction was met with a lot of interest and enthusiasm by Koreans.

Recent Korean opinions about the Dokdo Island issue are pretty uniform; I have yet to find a single Korean who can express with any sympathy the Japanese argument for why the islands historically belong to Japan. The closest I've heard is the position of a professor at Hanyang University saying that because so much of Korean culture and so many Koreans (commoners, royals and artisans) emigrated to Japan over the past one or two thousand years or so, Japanese see Korea as their long-lost half and so they can't understand why Koreans behave with such independence if, in reality, they're the same people. Thus, on this argument, Japanese claims on Dokdo boil down to the idea that it doesn't really matter whether Dokdo was a recognized Korean territory long ago or whether the Japanese rightly claimed it in the late 1900s; the Japanese are just claiming what's been theirs all along.

One point I can't quite get a clear viewpoint on is whether Japan is still ahead of Korea or not. According to a recent article mentioned on Korea Business Central, the Korean standard of living is on par with that of Japan. But more commonly I hear that the Japanese economy is 4-5 times larger than the Korean one and that Korea is still decades away from catching up on a per-capita GDP basis.

In a recent conversation, the opinion came up that Japan is turning inward, as Korea is becoming more international (and in particular, more like the US, which is an assertion I hear quite a bit). When I pointed out that, from what I've heard, Tokyo is a lot more cosmopolitan than Seoul, I was told that this is only a surface thing and that the Japanese maintain a distance between themselves and anything foreign... or else they find a way to make that foreign thing Japanese. I tend to think a good number of non-Koreans would say the same things about Korea, but my point here is to draw the distinction between the Korean view of themselves and their view of Japan.


Comparing Old and New Maps of the Ansan Area

I found this map section in a map of the Seoul area over at the Korean War Project. It shows Ansan from around 1950.

Old Ansan

Here's what the identical map section looks like today in Google Maps:

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Note how many of the location names in the map above correspond to neighborhorhoods in the new map (notwithstanding some spelling differences.) The comparison also shows just how much of the sea has been filled in to make room for the city today.

For reference, the subway line in the current map follows the rail line shown in the old map that was built during the Japanese colonial period to connect Incheon with Suweon. Both lines are shown in red in the comparison map below and some of that old line still remains along the tracks of the subway. 

Old Ansan

For more about the modern development of Ansan.


Weighing the Pros and Cons of Korean New City Development Along the West Sea

We recently interviewed Dick Warmington on KoreaBusinessCentral.com. (Click here to listen and/or read the fascinating interview.) Dick is President of Chadwick International School in Songdo, Korea, which is a new city built entirely on reclaimed land in the West Sea south of Incheon. It's a dramatic testament to the Korean drive to develop new living spaces on a peninsula with very high population density.

One member of KBC took exception to the development in Songdo, pointing out that it has destroyed a lot of the natural ecosystem in the area. His criticisms also extended to Chadwick, and I wanted to answer his concerns, because there's no doubt that a lot of trade-offs are getting made in the process of the Korean economic miracle. (Click herehere and here for his comments.)

The following is my reply:

Vince - I'm surprised by your hostility toward Chadwick International (not Songdo International). There are international schools all over Korea and the world and have been for a long time, at costs roughly similar. Mainly the only thing Chadwick International is doing differently is to base their program in Songdo on the seventy-five years of history and expertise they've built back in California. Private schools like Chadwick are expensive everywhere.

6a011279704a5b28a40134801984ea970c800wi
I understand Chadwick jumped into Korea only after other educators had abandoned plans to run an international school in Songdo, leaving the city high and dry (I'm not 100% certain so others can confirm whether I'm right about this fact). What's notable is that Chadwick International has a higher proportion of Korean students than other international schools in Korea; this point is significant to me because it gives them more of a connection to Korean society at large than most of international schools, and a means to influence the education debate in Korea.

But even if you're not impressed by this, your position on Chadwick still seems hard to understand and so I sense it stems mainly from misgivings about Songdo itself. Further, I'd say that these misgivings are actually based on a fundamental rejection of the Korean property development model in general, not simply that too many rich people live there or that they could have razed neighborhoods in older areas of Incheon instead of building out into the West Sea.

The reason I say this is that Songdo is different only in degree and timeline, not in kind, from other development that Korea's been engaged in for at least thirty years. My town of Ansan is just down the road from Songdo and over 50% of it was built on reclaimed land from the West Sea. In fact, if you want to know how far the water line used to run in my neighborhood, read my post History of the Area Around Nojeok Hill to get the translation of the historical marker pictured above, and be sure to check out the map at the bottom of that post. Everything between the current waterline and the old waterline is reclaimed land!

Also, if you think beaches are being destroyed just for rich people, then hop in the car and drive a few minutes to Shihwa, which is halfway from Songdo to Ansan, This happens to be a working-class Songdo; dirty, small apartments, factories... and nearly 100% reclaimed land, just like Songdo.

As you know, Songdo's not the end of the line either. They're working on new city plans for Yongjongdo! Or should I say, half-next, since the airport's there already. (I visited Yongjongdo back in 1994 when you had to take a boat to get there and it was still relatively unspoilt.) 

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So this is the runaway development you refer to. Fair enough; there is a certain irony in all the talk about being eco-friendly in Songdo and elsewhere when so much ecology was destroyed in the creation of these places (One of the mottos I've seen for Ansan lately is "Eco Ansan"....)

But if you take a step back and acknowledge that nice cities are being created where millions of people enjoy things like the 2011 Ansan International Street Arts Festival (Click here for photos of the event, all on reclaimed land!) or where we can relax with the beautiful parks and views (Click here for some recent views), then is it a bit easier to understand the trade-offs that Koreans have been making to develop the outer edges of the Seoul area, and to appreciate that it's not just a monster out of control? And if they're going to build a city like Songdo, don't they deserve some credit for giving it a low carbon footprint?

Songdo's only 1/3 finished so they've still got a ways to go before it's done, but I've heard from Koreans who live there that it's a great place to live already. To be honest, I've visited a couple times and not been terribly impressed, but maybe that was because I was seeing it in its 20% completion state and because I barely got out of the car. I've also heard from non-Koreans who live there that it lacks "vitality", but to each his own. They probably wouldn't like my Ansan either.

I'll also also point out that these Korean new cities satisfy some mysterious Korean urge to try to build new utopias, but that's a whole different chapter of whatever book I ever decide to write.

Since I don't think Songdo itself is the problem, but that it's the whole Korean approach that's bothering you (and since I only have photos of Ansan, not Songdo), here are some links about the development of Ansan that you (and others) might find interesting, as well as a photo of the city from the top of our daily hiking course.

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Click here to read the rest of the discussion, including insightful comments by other Korea Business Central members.


I Sometimes Wonder if "Face" in Asia is a Figment of People's Imagination

Everybody's heard that "saving face" is important in Asia. It turns out Koreans think the Japanese place particular importance on this. But on a recent discussion on Korea Business Central, a member familiar with Japan mentioned that Koreans take the concept of "saving face" to a whole new level, and later clarified that he thinks it's the same in both countries but that each culture manifests it differently. I, on the other hand, have some suspicions about the whole thing. The following is what I posted in response:

I harbor a suspicion that the supposedly unique Asian characteristic called "face" is a figment of people's imagination.

Perhaps some Westerner long ago traveled to the Orient and found it to be a mysterious place. One day, he learned that the Asians even have a word for one's sense of personal dignity ("chaemyun" in Korean) and observed that we don't have a word for it in the Western languages (well, we do, but it takes us several words to make the phrase.. it's called, "sense of personal dignity") and he and the Asians all got excited about this newly found trait that nobody'd noticed until then.

Before you knew it, the concept had taken on a life of its own and it was used to explain all kinds of odd behavior and it became generally accepted that Asians will do anything to "save face" and that this makes them special and hard to understand. I guess that means Westerners don't really give a damn if we're insulted, shamed or otherwise made to feel less than special.

I'm certainly open to other opinions (and very likely I'm wrong here), but I do suspect there's not much to the chaemyun myth at all.

Click here to read the rest of the KBC Relay Interview with Greg Sheen, including insightful comments by other Korea Business Central members.


Is It Just Me, Or Is This Korean Online Banking Process Too Complicated?

I've been doing this for years now, so I've pretty much figured things out and it looks pretty straightforward in the video. Still, back when I was getting set up, I remember spending hours and hours at it. Even today, just one wrong number and the whole process falls apart (and three failures in a row and the account shuts down, making you go to the bank to get it working again). In fact, the reason I thought to prepare this recording is that in my first time through I got all the way to the last step and did something wrong, which made me start over and think to record my second try. 

I should also point out that this is ONLY possible in Internet Explorer. Ecommerce stuff doesnt work in Korea under any other browser... by government order! (Fortunately, this rule was relaxed recently but the number of Korean sites which are now browser independent still approaches zero.)

 


Foreign Talent Leaving Korea Due to "Three Serious Difficulties"

Koreans are commonly concerned about how non-Koreans view their country, and one index for measuring this is the number of foreigners living in Korea.

According to an article in the Jungang Ilbo today ("Foreign Talent Leaving Korea Due to "Three Serious Difficulties"), the number of foreigners living in Korea is about 1.22 million. However, of these, only about 40,000 are classified as "professionals"; the others would mainly be laborers, students and immigrant wives.Furthermore, of the professionals, about 20,000 are in the English-teaching profession, meaning that there are about 20,000 non-Koreans working in Korea in professional jobs that are not related to ESL.

The chart below shows that the number of foreigners in Korea has more than doubled since 2005, but that the increase is slowing significantly.

Htm_2010100321504150005010-001

The article points out that the number of foreign professionals actually declined over the last year and in a survey, three main complaints foreigners have about Korea are listed in more detail in one of the sub-articles ("Schools for Foreigners Are Too Expensive... He Sent the Family Away and is Living as a 'Goose' Father" - "Goose Father" is the term Koreans normally use to refer to a Korean father who works in Korea to pay for his wife and children to live overseas for a year or two so that the children can get a foreign education.)

  1. The cost of education at international schools is prohibitive and the article mentions that professionals with school-age children often cannot afford to keep their families in Korea. 
  2. English is not spoken widely enough and non-Koreans speakers face a lot of difficulties, from things as basic as using appliances at home all the way to not being able to participate and thrive in the workplace. An American executive working for a Korean conglomerate is quoted as saying that her work was determined by what documents were translated for her by subordinates and that she was never given an English-language work review or specific work instructions in English.
  3. The government has put restrictions on the types of jobs foreigners can get a professional visa for and the procedures for getting such a visa approved are onerous. In many cases, this process takes 3-4 months and involves a letter of recommendation from a local government head. Considering the difficulties many Koreans have getting good jobs themselves, this letter of recommendation is not always forthcoming.

Htm_2010100321533550005010-001Finally, in a third article entitled "English Isn't Easy in Lectures or in Everyday Life... Goodbye, Korea", there is the story of an Indian professor, M. Desai (photo at left), who had signed a six-year contract to work at Seoul National University but ended up leaving Korea after only nine months, complaining mostly of the difficulties of working in an environment where English is not spoken fluently. This really surprises me because Seoul National University is one of the top schools in Korea!

These types of stories keep showing up in the Korean news and many Koreans are earnestly looking forward to the day that non-Koreans come to Korea and find it to be as international and liveable as any other globalized place in the world. It seems Korea still has a long way to go.

 


Online Source of Photos of Old Ansan

44773I'm always amazed to think of the growth and changes in Ansan since I first arrived almost 17 years ago. But that pales in comparison with the transformation of what used to be a sleepy fishing village into a city of 350,000 people when I arrived in 1993 (Current population is about 750,000 now.)

Here are links to some before/after photos of Ansan on my Seongpo-Dong blog this year:

DSCN7200 Recently, I came upon another source of old photos, which is the website of the City of Ansan. The general photo section is here: http://photo.iansan.net/ but for photos of old Ansan, they can be seen in the following categories:

내고장 안산
안산의 옛모습
안산의 발전상

To see the photos in large size, you must be logged in (membership is free and easy, but basic Korean-language ability is necessary to get through the form) and be accessing through Internet Explorer (other browsers don't work.)

 

 


Overcome with Emotion From Singing the Hymn to Kim-Il Sung

7-22-2010 1-11-46 PM I'm reading Under the Loving Care of the Father Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, by Bradley K. Martin. 

Here's an account of the composition and first singing of the hymn to Kim Il-sung on his 60th birthday, as told and interpreted for Kim Jong-il's official biographers.

Apparently Kim Jong-il was in charge of arranging the birthday party for his Dad and as part of that, he commissioned lyricists and composers to spent fifteen months writing a song.

p. 256

"Many songs were written but none of them appealed to Kim Jong-il."

"With the deadline approaching, Kim Jong-il visited the composers late at night.... Despite all those sacrifices by the Great Leader, '[the composers] had not yet produced a single song that would pray for [Kim Il-sung's] long life.' Kim Jong-il continued:"

"... This song must not be a mere ballad; it should be a hymn of the entire people expressing their ardent hopes and wishes."

"Bingo! The writers 'felt inspiration'..."

"Kim Jong-il pronounced the hymn 'flawless.'"

p. 257

"[At the banquet], the performers stood to sing... but they could not, they were sobbing so hard."

"Both the conductor and the orchestra were similarly affected and everyone at the banquet gave way to tears. Dear Comrade Kim Jong-il... called in several other singers.. but the voices of these singers also faltered and the audience, who were standing up, began to join them, singing between their sobs. The whole house plunged into a whirlwind of excitement.... The sound of weeping could be heard everywhere."

Wow! I think I'd like to get a recording of that hymn...


Analysis of the Cheonan Incident and the Political Fallout, As Well as Predictions for Its Outcome

I remember where I was when I first heard that the US Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded (in typing class, 11th grade - Lomalinda, Colombia), that the Ceausescu regime had fallen in Romania (backpacking - Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh) and about the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks (living room at home - Irving, Texas). In the modern history of Korea, the sinking of the Cheonan naval frigate will go down as a similar seminal moment. And where was I when it happened? In Yoido, Seoul, having beers after the inaugural meeting of the World FTA Forum.

I'm not sure about the Challenger or Romania events, but the 9/11 attacks have generated plenty of conspiracy theories about who really committed the act; likewise, all minds in Korea are not of one accord when it comes to what happened with the Cheonan. (Click here for some of the "alternate" theories.) And as with the US reaction to 9/11, the Korean government has taken a hard-line stand, not willing to let this incident go without a response. Still, the actual options available to the Korean government are surprisingly limited. (Check out this article in the Korea Times.)

We've been discussing the incident over at Korea Business Central (Click here to visit the discussion; note that I was the first member to post an opinion that the North was likely behind the attack.) for the last couple months and it's interesting to see the comments from members at different points in time since the attack occurred. North Korea expert Marcus Noland was a guest of KBC in the Korea Business Central Series back in this interview in January; he also discussed the situation a week ago in this podcast.

P1010121My associate, Don Southerton, has already prepared an overview of the events and some expected outcomes here. It's been all over the news (at least in Korea and internationally; it seems it's not quite on the front page back home in the US). Here's some interesting analysis in The Economist, my favorite news source. 

The Cheonan sinking has opened up a raging public debate in Korea about what's to be done; it's also affected society deeply, such that many public events this spring were cancelled, including one here in Ansan. The banner in the photo above from mid-April says, "Considering the atmosphere in society caused by the naval vessel sinking, this year's Ansan International Street Arts Festival is cancelled. We ask for the wide understanding of the citizens." On the other hand, life in the South goes on as before; I can't think of anything that's actually changed in our daily routines (except for losing the arts festival, which I suspect the city wanted to cancel anyway).

I should point out that the effects of the incident have roiled the financial markets, leading to a spike in the exchange rate. This worked well for us when we transfered extra funds from the US last week to pay off a big chunk of our Korean apartment loan. Don Southerton has shared here about a silver lining of the Cheonan incident for the large Korean exporters, too.

The following are my opinions (guesses!) about the situation. It'll be interesting to come back later and see where I was right and wrong. Note that I accept the Korean government's position that the attack was perpetrated by North Korea, and not by the US, South Korea or anyone else.

A. The North Attacked the Cheonan To Reshuffle the Deck and Get a New Hand

With the way things were heading geopolitically, Kim Jong-Il just didn't have much to lose in the attack and sought to shake things up in the following areas.

  1. The hardline policies of the government in Seoul were making things harder for the North and the only aboveboard way out was to humiliatingly accept the South Korean government's demands to shape up. By doing exactly the opposite of submission, Kim has signaled that the current offers on the table to him will (still) not work and thus changed the trajectory of discourse. By splitting the consensus of the other five nations in the six-party talks, he hopes to shift the framework and achieve better terms in future nuclear and aid negotiations.
  2. Kim has used this event to rally his people around the flag and distract from the disaster of last year's currency crisis which brought on economic hardship. It also disrupts the public mood enough to introduce new lines of thought, such as those regarding the transfer of power to his son Jeong-Eun. Apparently these benefits more than offset the loss of economic revenue from shattering ties with the South, and are possibly supplemented by additional aid from China.

It is clear that Kim had thought through the next few moves, since the North's actions and statements following the incident appear to be following a script that is methodically shutting down all channels between the North and South. 

By breaking the existing consensus, Kim hopes for new trends to emerge that are more in his favor. What those trends will eventually lead to, we can only wait and guess. But various interesting developments are underway.

B. China's Just Not That Interested in a Consensus

Based on the standards to which most countries are held, North Korea should have been put in its place long ago. But the implications of agreeing to the dastardliness of the Korean attack on the Cheonan are apparently more unpleasant to China than the embarrassment of looking so out of step with the international community on what happened and what should be done about it. 

We are told that Kim Jong-Il, on his recent trip to China, insisted to the Chinese that the North didn't have anything to do with the Cheonan attack. But if China really does feel betrayed and lied to by the North, China's certainly not showing this and apparently there's more to the situation than meets the eye. I have to think the Chinese have some kind of understanding with the North about these types of incidents. In exchange for the North's role of keeping things unsettled in north-east Asia in ways that the Chinese approve of, China tolerates the pressure from the international community and makes sure the political system stays intact in the North. 

It's hard to make sense of the thought processes there but it likely has something to do with the creeping influence of China in North Korea and China's possible objective of bringing the North much deeper into it's sphere of influence, as described in my post here.

C. South Koreans are NOT United in their Condemnation of the North

I was surprised that the Grand National Party of President Lee Myeong-Bak fared so poorly in last week's local elections, in spite of the praise it is getting internationally for its handling of the crisis. In the elections of 2007, the GNP won an overwhelming victory and interpreted that as a mandate to change the country's approach in a wide range of areas, including relations with North Korea and other nations.

Apparently that wasn't the case though; perhaps voters in 2007 were just frustrated with the incompetence, but not ideology, of the previous President Noh Moo-Hyun. Public frustration with the government's misunderstanding of its original election mandate has lead to a never-ending series of political confrontations by the opposition to try to obstruct the current government's efforts. 

It turns out that a surprising number of South Koreans blame the current administration's hard line position for pushing the North into a corner and leaving them too few options (see Point A above). Many South Koreans see the need to indulge the North a lot more and not demand submission. So while the current administration has been fingering the North for the Cheonan incident, the opposition sees more merit in talking about why recent policy has make the North do such a thing, rather than discuss the obvious (that the North is a bankrupt, dysfunctional and evil state). 

This led to accusations during the campaign by the GNP that the opposition is not adequately patriotic, but obviously, this tried-and-true political strategy is not carrying as much weight as expected.

D. The Cheonan Incident Will Be Gone from the News Very Soon

The Lee Myeong-Bak administration could blame false propaganda for the demonstrations in 2008 against the import of US beef (which was actually about other stuff, in particular, panic by the opposition that the new government seemed unstoppable in its rolling back of the previous ten years of more liberal policies). 

But the latest election defeat is clearly a different matter. The government must have thought it had an election winner with its hardline position against the North. Considering that the opposition's views and political strategies carry more popular weight than the government had heretofore cared to recognize, I expect that the current administration will soften its line on a wide range of issues.

I bet grandstanding over the Cheonan incident will be gone from the news soon, the Sejong city move will take place as originally planned and the Four-Rivers project scaled back and, perhaps, forgotten.

I wouldn't be surprised though if the government gives ground on the above "public" issues but then redoubles efforts to pursue its agenda in economic and financial sectors, as those appear to be less controversial, but no less near and dear to the heart of the president.

President Lee's nickname is the "bulldozer". I expect that the heady days of the Lee Myeong-Bak administration's "bulldozing" approach to political change are over though; the next few years will involve a lot more middle-of-the-road consensus and less confrontation.

E. Six-Party Talks Will Get Underway Again Next Year Without a Climb Down by the North

The North won't apologize or admit fault but still the never-ending discussions about nuclear disarmament in the North will get underway again in the context of Six-Party Talks and the old cycle of bribing the North for promises that they only keep half-way will repeat itself yet again. 

Considering China's apparent interests (See Point B above), there doesn't appear to be any other likely outcome.


The GyeongGi Province Experience: GAFIC, Hyeongok, Dongtan and the Smith Company Battle Site of July 5, 1950

 

GAFIC

A few weeks back, I visited General Secretary Yong-Moon Kim, who runs the GyeongGi Province Association of Foreign Invested Companies (GAFIC), to learn more about what the association does and I reported about it (as well as another related meeting a couple weeks later in Suweon) on a post to this weblog

6a011279704a5b28a40133ed890627970b  GAFIC is located in southern GyeongGi Province, officially in Pyeongtaek City, but actually about five miles west of the city within the Hyeongok Industrial Complex. It is dedicated to supporting the needs of foreign-invested companies in GyeongGi Province and I am a consulting committee member to the organization.

Hyeongok Industrial Complex

Hyeongok has sites reserved for foreign-invested companies and, according to materials published by GyeongGi Province, it focuses on companies manufacturing electronic parts, communications equipment non-metal mineral products and composite and chemical products. In the photo at right, the GAFIC office is at the "A" marker and the red line marks the outer border of the complex property. (Click here to see this map in Google Maps.) 

Hyeongok is just one of many industrial areas in GyeongGi Province which have sites available to foreign-invested companies on preferential terms.(For more information, don't hesitate to contact me directly; as FDI advisor to the GyeongGi provincial government, I am available to assist non-Korean companies that need information about doing business in GyeongGi Province.)

Dongtan New City


6a011279704a5b28a4013480bcc863970c-800wiAs I left GAFIC, I followed the roads north north-east until I hit Route 1 near Dongtan. This is a brand new city going up just south of Suweon and the street layout below shows clearly the planning that went into its design. (Click here to see the map in Google maps.) I wrote a short post last year about Ansan, the city in GyeongGi Province where I live and which was one of the very first new planned cities in the Seoul area. Dongtan is being built on a similar concept.

Dongtan City is slated as a terminal point on the future GTX transportation system, which will make it possible to reach destinations across GyeongGi Province by high-speed underground rail within about 30 minutes' travel time from Dongtan. The above photo on the left was taken across Route 1 with Dongtan New City in the background. Note the construction underway in the foreground of the photo.

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Smith Company Battle Site of July 5, 1950

Having connected up to Route 1 west of Dongtan, I headed south about a kilometer to reach the UN Forces Korean War First Engagement Memorial, just north of the city of Osan (and south of Dongtan), which marks the spot of Smith Company's defense on July 5, 1950 against the North Korean invasion of South Korea

This is where I turn the article over to several relevant quotes from The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam.

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"What was about to unfold, as the Americans and the North Koreans rushed toward their initial meeting, was an American disaster of the first magnitude... On July 4, Smith took about 540 men, what was effectively an understrength batallion... a few miles north of Osan... They reached their positions about 3 A.M. on July 5." (p. 146)

"The tanks kept coming -- followed by a long line of infantrymen and then an even more terrifying site, another twenty-five North Korean tanks... the lead of the enemy column, later estimated to be about six mile long... The Air Force didn't know where Task Force Smith was... (p. 147)

"...most of the battalion had been lost... It was a very bad beginning." (p. 148)

"July 1950 was one of the worst months in American military history..." (p. 150)


6a011279704a5b28a40133ed899885970b-800wi  As I stood on the north edge of the memorial site, I looked out over the southern outskirts of Suweon and Dongtan New City; the photo at left shows my view. In addition to Halberman's book, I had brought with me The Darkest Summer by Bill Sloan and The Korean War by Max Hastings and I read the relevant passages from each. I imagined the line of North Korean tanks rumbling south over the plain in this photo, and I tried to reconcile that image with the urban construction that now reaches the edge of the memorial park. It was hard to imagine this having ever been the remote location which marked the very first clash of the Korean War between UN (mainly US) forces and the North Korean invading army.


6a011279704a5b28a40133ee257713970b-800wi  As I was just finishing up my reading, two busloads of American GIs pulled into the parking lot on a guided tour. Until that time, I had been virtually alone. As the Americans poured out of the vehicles, I finished up the last page, jumped in my car and drove off, taking note that the Americans in the buses demonstrate how even sixty years on, the effects of the Korean War are still with us. (Not to mention the recent attack and sinking of a South Korean battleship by North Korea, which took place after my visit that day. Click here for a discussion on Korea Business Central about the incident.) 

As I followed Route 1 and drove back across the terrain the North Korean tanks had traversed in 1950, I was brought back to the present by the traffic jams and modern development all around. I ended up getting confused by the directions on my GPS, and took the long way back home to Ansan, approximately a 45-50 minute drive from the Smith Company battle site.

Join me in person for the GyeongGi Province Experience and get a deeper understanding and appreciation of everything related to GyeongGi Province.


Kolkata, The Koreans, Samsung, Michael Breen and the Rest of Us Expat Patronizers

From: http://pages.cthome.net/india2/On Sudder Street in Kolkata, India (see photo at right, which is not mine; click to see original page) in late 1989, I formed my most vivid memory of anti-Americanism. I was having breakfast at a small coffee shop frequented by foreign backpackers and the room was crowded so there were multiple strangers to a table. Somehow – and I don’t remember the details at all – I got into a political discussion with a guy from France. He was criticizing something about the US government and I took umbrage to it. I was naïve, sure – should have known better – but there was something about others attacking my country that really rubbed me the wrong way that day. Before I knew it, the entire coffee shop of mainly Europeans was in an uproar and I ended up leaving without finishing breakfast.

That was me, an American in India, getting upset with what others were saying about my country; imagine how the average American would feel if, say, a Brit came to the US, lived there for three decades, wrote a book explaining the American psyche to non-Americans and got himself a column in an American newspaper where he published patronizing and, at times, insulting analyses of US society?

6a011279704a5b28a40120a831a08a970b-500wiI already shared my opinion about The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies by Michael Breen back in January. (Click here for my book review…. Incidentally, Breen’s a Brit who’s lived in Korea for about 30 years, wrote a book and authors a column for a Korean paper.) In my article, I was pretty critical of Breen’s stereotypical expat-oriented approach to explaining Korea and Koreans. 

But in fact, before reading the book, I’d never heard of Mr. Breen. This isn’t his fault though; it’s more indicative of my isolation from expat society in Korea since Breen’s the “real thing” when it comes to long-term expats in Korea.

My second experience with Mr. Breen was just a few weeks ago when I picked up a Korea Times newspaper looking for information about classified advertising. I realized then that he writes a column for the newspaper and the article I read there was about Korean-American Robert Park’s illegal entry to North Korea to protest against the regime. Breen challenged Koreans with this (paraphrased) question: “Why do Koreans care so much about Dokdo while North Korea is murdering millions of citizens and testing nuclear weapons? If the answer is that Koreans aren’t willing to stand up for important issues themselves, then they should at least be grateful to the foreigners that do it for them.”

OK, fine. It seemed a little edgy and moralizing, but the point was worth bringing up; and surely outsiders have a role to play in bringing fresh perspective into the understanding of Korea. But my respect for Breen’s commentary here is diluted by a lot of what he said in The Koreans. And as it turns out, the Robert Park article apparently was not Breen's worst.

Back in December, Breen published a piece in this same Korea Times column ridiculing corruption in Korea through a satirical spoof. In particular, he made fun of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee. The column has long since been removed from the Korea Times site I’m sure, so I can’t provide a link to it now. But here’s a link to an article about Samsung’s reaction, which included a $1 million civil suit against Breen for libel. And just today, the LA Times reports that Samsung is dropping its civil suit, but that the criminal case is still pending. (Funny I didn’t read about any of this in the Jungang Ilbo...)

So this leads me to recount another experience from my teenage years. I remember once I was doing the typical adolescent thing with a friend, which was complaining about my parents. I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure I wasn’t being nice. I was having a great time until my friend started agreeing with me… and adding more criticisms of his own. Huh? Suddenly my perspective changed. I immediately circled the wagons and became my parents’ best defender.

OK, so there you have it. Koreans are adolescents that don’t like their family being criticized by others even though they feel the right to criticize themselves. And their leading companies run roughshod over free speech to protect their reputation. But is this true? Is it only Koreans who would appreciate a little sensitivity to criticism, especially when some of it is rubbish from foreigners living in their country? Besides, doesn’t the UK have libel laws? Granted, the bar for libel is surely set higher in the West, but so what? Did Breen come to Korea to bring the ROK “up” to the level of his own glorious home country? What’s “up” really mean?

In fact, I’m often surprised at the level of interest we non-Koreans have in the thought processes of the “natives”. It’s certainly true for me; I never gave a moment’s notice to what makes Americans tick while I was growing up, but the day I got off the plane in Korea as a 23-year old, I felt I had something to contribute to understanding the Korean psyche.

Here’s an example of the nonsense that went through my head:

 

  • Question: Why do Koreans share so freely with me in their English free-talking classes?
  • Answer: They are glad to have momentarily escaped from oppressive Korean culture which makes them hide their true feelings. Finally, talking with me, a Westerner who doesn’t expect them to perform according to the burdensome social rules, they can relax.

Um, OK. As I see it now, the very premise of the question is flawed. But this is the expat experience and I don’t know that we ever get through it completely. I still try to figure out Koreans and there’s a category on my blog entitled “Understanding Koreans”. How far do we take it though? I was talking with someone recently who said that she thinks Koreans need foreigners to explain their psyche to them since they don’t properly understand themselves. I mentioned this to another expat later… and he agreed with HER! It’s a good thing we Westerners have such clear thinking about ourselves. After all, Socrates said, “Know thyself” but no Eastern philosopher’s ever said anything that profound, right?

I might also point out one more relevant item here. Samsung wasn’t bashful in going after Breen, but there’s a Korean who’s pretty much saying the same thing (actually far worse, and not with satire either). Former legal counsel to Samsung, Kim Yong-Chul, has published a tell-all book entitled Thinking Samsung and the story is described in this New York Times article. Samsung isn’t saying a word about this book officially; no lawsuit… Even the mainstream media in Korea isn’t touching it (though it is for sale here.) I find it interesting that Breen’s case, while not being trumpeted, hasn't been buried in Korea like the Kim Yong-Chul book story.

Anyway, as I reach the end of this post, I find it very hard to write the conclusion. Any admonition to Mr. Breen to avoid moralizing and patronizing prognostication about Korea reminds that such an exhortation would be tinged with hypocrisy. 

So here's the best I can do: In the words of Rodney King, another deep thinker whose situation in 1992 eventually lead to rioting in Koreatown in LA, "Can't we all just get along?"


"New" is the "New Old" in Korea Today

Koreans are reclaiming their history in a big way. When I first arrived in the mid-90s, I remember thinking that if Korea could put together a public relations machine like Japan's, they would really raise their profile in the world. As Koreans have a lot to be proud of, it's gratifying to watch this process underway now.

A recent McKinsey report (Available for download at this Korea Business Central discussion: http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/mckinsey-quarterly-reportsouth) explains that the Korean "national brand" still needs work but I am sure that over the next decade or so, the country will make great strides in promoting itself to the world.

Even so, it is important to remember that promoting one's history isn't always the same as remembering and recreating it exactly like it was. The following are four examples of the "New Old" in Korea today.

Makgeolli (막걸리)

The Korean traditional liquor makgeolli has been making a comeback in Korea. This cloudy drink, an unrefined rice wine, was traditionally enjoyed by Korean commoners but lately, it's become very popular in respectable society too and the supermarkets are brimming with it. (Click here for an article about it on Wikipedia. See photo below for the choices at Star Mart here in our neighborhood in Ansan.)

5-9-2010 7-32-34 PM There are makgeolli-related events going on throughout Korea and recently I even got an email from AMCHAM Korea promoting a Makgeolli Experience Tour for foreigners in Korea sponsored by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency. Koreans are all about letting the world know how healthy and tasty Korean food is, and I'm a big supporter of this.

I personally love makgeolli, both for its taste and its low price. Nothing's better than a couple glasses in the evening while watching the latest Korean TV "historical" drama.

But there's just one little problem.... Aspartame is listed in the ingredients of every major brand. I don't want to jump into the controversy here about whether aspartame is a deadly toxin or not, but I think it's safe to say that promoting aspartame-sweetened makgeolli as a healthy, traditional drink is a bit of misnomer. I guess the stuff the Korean peasants drank in the past really wasn't as tasty as the new stuff.

Samulnori (사물놀이)

P1010294 Visitors to Korea are often treated to a musical (and sometimes, dance) performance called samulnori, where musicians dressed in Korean traditional garb sit on the ground with four different kinds of percussion instruments and bang out hypnotic rhythms. It's amazing the coordination that these drummers achieve and this distinct musical form is getting a great reception from audiences from around the world. 

Koreans seems to realize the potential for national branding here and children are learning it in school too. Just last week, at field day at my kids' school, one of the classes performed a form of samulnori. (See photo at right for the field day event. To learn more about samulnori on Wikipedia, click here.)

But how old is samulnori? Undoubtedly, it derives from older musical forms, but as we know it today, it is... exactly 32 years old, thanks to Kim Duk Soo's creation of it in 1978. I'm not saying it's not a great product, but to call it "old" without recognizing the "new" elements would be a mistake. Before 1978, the samulnori of today did not exist.

For an extra special treat, click here to check out this Nanta video. It mixes elements of samulnori with food... and showmanship... and comedy... It's definitely worth watching, but is this "traditional" Korea?

Hanok (한옥)

As Koreans gain renewed pride in their heritage, it is natural they would want to revive traditional Korean architectural styles. A great way to spend a weekend is to visit one of the many Hanok Villages across the country and stay for a night or two in a traditional hanok house. Bucheon, a neighborhood in Seoul, has been designated a neighborhood for hanok construction and the government is providing (very!) generous subsidies to get homeowners in the area to remodel in the hanok style. (Click here for information on Wikipedia about hanok.)

Untitled I was very interested last year to see an article in the Jungang Daily newspaper describing the concept one builder has for a high-rise hanok apartment complex. Imagine, living on the 20th floor of a building and feeling like you're in Korea of yester-year.. I even cut out the article and though I can't find a link to the original article now, I've included a scan of the article on the right.

In today's atmosphere where "hanok-ization" is becoming a new wave in Korean construction, it's easy to wonder how much of the "traditional" aspects are really being retained. For example, the Korean traditional "hot stone" concept of actually putting heated stones under the floor (thus "ondolbang" which means "hot stone room") was long ago replaced in modern homes by pipes sending hot water through the floor.

Many other changes are afoot, too. Just this week, I came across an article from the Jungang Ilbo with a title translated to English as "Government Policy and Standards Support is Needed in Order to Commercialize and Modernize Hanok"

Again, I'm not saying this is bad, but don't expect the resulting hanok styles to be "true to the original" either.

Hanbok (한복)

Korean family traditions are a mixture of the old and the new. Marriages are probably most representative of this, with at least 50% of the imagery having been copied from Western practice. But some aspects retain a Korean flavor, such as the requirement that female family members at the wedding wear the Korean traditional outfit called hanbok. (Click here for a Wikipedia article.)

5-9-2010 8-39-47 PMAs it turns out, my niece is getting married this Sunday and my wife needs something to wear. Seeing as how hanbok has been around since time immemorial, you would think the hanbok outfit my wife bought about fifteen years ago would still be wearable. But no! It turns out that the styles for this clothing are changing almost as rapidly as for blue jeans and tennis shoes and we're going to have to rent an outfit for her since I'd hate for Myunghee to look out of style wearing this "traditional" Korean dress. (The photo at left was taken almost 10 years ago on my son's first birthday... I guess we'd be embarrassed to wear these old clothes around now.)

Conclusion

My point in this article is not to criticize the Korean efforts to modernize traditional goods (though I wish they wouldn't put aspartame in the makgeolli!), but simply to point out how the word "traditional" is a fluid term in Korea. 

Of course, it's not just Korea; every culture finds it necessary to update as they go along since actually going back in time and really doing things the way they used to be done is something very few of us seem interested in anymore. 


Announcing the GyeongGi Province Experience!

To learn about GyeongGi Province, there are many great English-language resources on the web. 

A good place to start would be Wikipedia. Just going to Google and typing in "gyeonggi province" gets another long list of sites. Be sure to try alternate spellings too: kyunggi province, kyeonggi provincekyeongki province, kyonggi province, kyunggi-do, kyeonggi-do, kyungki-do, kyonggi-do. (Isn't it great that GyeongGi's got a pronunciation that's neither here nor there in English?) Finally, try variations on these search terms too: invest in gyeonggi, life in gyeonggi, gyeonggi companies, etc.

The government of GyeongGi has a great looking site. It also has another one about living in GyeongGi Province. Invest Korea offers its own page about investment opportunities in Gyeonggi Province

You might even try visiting Twitter for investment opportunities. I got something like 200 hits when I typed "Gyeonggi" into the search box at LinkedIn.com. (You'll need to be a LinkedIn member to use this. Signing-up is free and if you do, be sure to add me to your network.)

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 No study would be complete with out a map of GyeongGi Province. And while you're there, check out the Photos, Videos, additional Wikipedia sites, Webcams, Google Buzz and Terrain (The Real Estate option seems a little dead though; don't waste your time.)

If you've still got questions about GyeongGi Province, you can email me and I'll likely know the answer or know someone who can get it for us (sometimes free; sometimes for a price... depends on the question, of course). Or want some printed materials about investing in GyeongGi Province? Again, email me. Care to discuss with others? Then post a discussion at Korea Business Central and I almost guarantee, if it includes a reference to Gyeonggi Province, someone will answer.

OK, so don't say you can't find out more than you want to know. But what fun is any of this? And how deep is your understanding if you're just reading words?

See, hear, feel, smell, taste and feel GyeongGi Province through the GyeongGi Province Experience! 

Keep your eyes on this page as the program takes shape in the weeks and months to come. 

Can't wait? Then, again... just email me and I'll be glad to fill you in.


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - History of the Area Around Nojeok Hill

On the main intersection in Seongpo-Dong, across from Star Plaza and about a five minute walk from the base of Nojeok Hill is a historical marker:

4-24-2010 3-19-35 AM 

I've passed it many times but hadn't bothered to read what it said until recently. It's a fascinating story about the history of our neighborhood. Here are a couple photos of the marker, along with its translation:

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Seong Meori [Meaning Castle Head

(Seongpo Landing, Seong-Doo [Also meaning Castle Head])

Situated between Tae Hill of Gojan-Dong and Dokju Valley of Seongpo-Dong, this village in Gunnae-Myeon, Ansan-Gu was called Seong-Got-Po-Chon-Ri in Choseon times and renamed Seongpo-Ri at the end of the Choseon period. Fishermen used the area as their forward landing point along the zone running about 300 meters to the southwest and 400 meters to the south of where Star Plaza is currently located. The feng shui (Korean: "poong su") of this spot saw it as the head of a castle, thus it was called Seong Meori (Meaning "Castle Head"] Landing. Later, a boat landing was set up in Sadong Gura after the Korean War. But this blocked the water and prevented boats from coming and going to Seong Meori so the fishermen left for places like Gura (Currently: Sa-Dong) and Baeot (Currently: Bono-Dong) to carry out their livelihoods. 

The Seong Meori area became more suitable for farming, and the farming village which sprung up was the home of the Lees of Yeoju, the Shins of Yeongweon and the Yeoms of Paju; it had 76 residences. After the old neighborhood system was abolished in 1976, the area was transformed into what it is today, starting with construction of Artist Apartments, and then [Housing Corporation] Apartment Complex #9 and [Housing Corporation] Complex #10. Right up until the neighbornood system abolition, every year around January 15 on the lunar calendar, a festival was held partway up the slope of Nojeok Hill to wish for the well-being of the village.

As mentioned above, this is Star Plaza:

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Here's a map of the area. The red lines show the previous waterline around Seong Meori Landing:

4-26-2010 3-36-14 AM
 
  


My Associate Met Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Explained to Him Why Dokdo Belongs to Korea

I met Professor Hosaka Yuji at the inaugural meeting of the World FTA Forum, which is the association run by Chairman Chang-Woo Lee, my former boss from LG International Corp. At that meeting, we became associates by virtue of our joint membership on the World FTA Forum operating committee. (Professor Hosaka and Chairman Lee are 4th and 5th from left, respectively, in the photo below.)

IMG_2415 Professor Hosaka is originally from Japan and currently teaches Japanese studies at Sejong University in Seoul. But what's extra remarkable about him is that he is a naturalized Korean citizen!

His decision to change nationalities came about as he studied the history of Dokdo (called "Takeshima" in Japanese), which are a couple islands in the East Sea (sometimes called the "Sea of Japan") and which are the subject of a long dispute between Korea and Japan. (A few Koreans are even taking this dispute to the billboards and newspapers of the US.)

Both countries claim ownership, but Korea has managed to occupy the islands militarily and in the course of his studies on the subject, Professor Hosaka came to accept the Korean position. He is now Director of the Dokdo Research Institute and a leading Korean advocate for Korean sovereignty of the islands.

Last Thursday's edition of the Jungang Ilbo published an article by Professor Hosaka regarding his meeting with Prime Minister Hatoyama in 2006. It is a remarkable recount of the events and I have included the Korean article and its English translation below.

-----

내가 만난 하토야마 총리

My Meeting with Prime Minister Hatoyama

4-18-2010 8-34-26 PM 나는 2006년 5월에 지인의 소개로 방한 중이던 하토야마 유키오 일본 민주당 간사장(당시)을 만났다. 독도에 대한 한국 측 논리를 일본어로 설명해 줄 사람을 찾았기 때문이다.

An acquaintance arranged for me to meet Yukio Hatoyoma when he visited Korea in May 2006. At the time, he was General Secretary of the Democratic Party of Japan and was looking for someone to explain to him in Japanese the logic of Korea's point of view regarding Dokdo.

당시의 민주당은 2005년 9월의 중의원 선거 참패로 국회의원 수가 격감한 상황이었다. 그러나 나는 일본 제1야당에도 한국 측 독도 인식을 전달하는 것이 큰 의미가 있다고 생각하고 요청에 응했다.

Having been crushed in the House of Representatives elections of September 2005, the Democratic Party of Japan had seen their numbers in the Diet fall sharply. But I agreed to the request because I saw it as a meaningful opportunity to share the perspective of Korea regarding Dokdo with the leading Japanese opposition party.

서울의 어느 호텔 음식점에서 만난 하토야마 간사장은 언론 매체를 통해서 본 것보다 훨씬 예리한 인상을 주는 인물이었다. 민주당 국회의원 2명과 비서실장, 그리고 나의 지인이 동석했다. 시간은 당초 30분을 예정했으나 그들은 내 설명을 1시간 반 정도 들었다. 그래도 시간이 충분치는 못했다. 그런데 내 설명을 듣고 나서 하토야마 간사장은 독도가 조선 땅임을 인정한 1877년의 ‘태정관 지령문’ 등을 가리키면서 역사적 사실로는 ‘일본 측 참패’, 즉 역사적으로는 독도는 한국 땅일 수 있다는 뉘앙스로 소감을 말했다. 그러나 샌프란시스코 조약에 의한 독도의 귀속 문제에 관해서는 독도를 ‘미국이 재검토하여 일본 것으로 결론을 냈을 것’이라고 강조했다. 당시는 2006년이었으므로 2008년 7월에 발견된 일본의 독도영유권을 부정하는 미 국무부 극비문서 등이 아직 알려지기 이전의 상황이었다.

I met General Secretary Hatoyama at a hotel restaurant in Seoul and he came across to me as someone much shrewder than the impression I'd gotten from seeing him in the media. He attended along with two national assemblymen from the Democratic Party, along with his office manager. I was also joined by my acquaintance. We had initially scheduled to meet for just thirty minutes but the visitors listened to my explanation for about an hour and a half. Even so, there wasn’t enough time. But after listening to my explanation, General Secretary Hatoyama pointed to, among other things, the “Tae-Jeong-Gwan Directive” of 1877 which recognized Dokdo as being Chosun [Korean] land and the historical fact of this “Japanese catastrophe”; this was a nuanced way of saying that, historically, Dokdo might be Korean land. But regarding the issue of Dokdo's jurisdiction based on the Treaty of Peace with Japan, he emphasized that “the US re-considered the matter and would have come to the conclusion that [Dokdo] belongs to Japan.” As it was 2006, the top secret documents of the US Department of State that denied Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo and which were discovered in July 2008, had not yet come to light.

4-18-2010 8-45-01 PM 하토야마 간사장은 독도의 역사적 사실에 대해서는 어느 정도 인정했지만 샌프란시스코 조약을 둘러싼 국제법적 해석에 있어서 한국 측 논리(당시), 즉 독도를 한국 땅으로 인정한 1946년의 연합국 문서가 51년에 조인된 샌프란시스코 조약에도 반영됐다는 논리를 ‘한국 측 논리일 뿐’이라고 일축했다. 이에 덧붙여 ‘나는 일본인이니까 역시 다케시마(독도의 일본명)는 일본 것이라고 생각한다’고 민족주의적 감정을 드러냈다. 그 모습에 나는 실망감을 느꼈다. 현재도 그 상황 그대로라면 하토야마 총리의 생각은 독도는 ‘역사적으로 한국 것이었을 가능성은 있지만 결과적으로 샌프란시스코 조약상 일본 것이 됐고 자신은 일본인이므로 그것을 믿는다’는 것일 수 있다.

Prime Minister Hatoyama recognized the historical facts of Dokdo to a certain degree but, regarding it as just the Korean opinion, rejected the Korean logic of the time regarding the interpretation of international law surrounding the Treaty of Peace with Japan [signed between the US and Japan] – which is that the documented position of the Allied countries of 1946 which recognized Dokdo as Korean land would have been reflected in the Treaty of Peace with Japan, which was signed in 1951. In addition, he showed ethnocentric emotion by saying, “Since I am Japanese, I think that Takeshima (the Japanese name for Dokdo) belongs to Japan.” I felt disappointed by that expression. Even if our meeting took place now, Prime Minister Hatoyama might still think, “There is a possibility that Dokdo was Korean historically but as it ended up to be Japanese in the Treaty of Peace with Japan, this is what I believe because I am Japanese.”

그런데 그 후 새로운 자료가 발견됐고 한국 측 논리는 크게 발전됐다. 하토야마 총리가 현재의 샌프란시스코 조약에 관한 한국 측 해석을 들으면 개인적으로 생각을 좀 더 수정할 가능성이 있다고 본다. 그는 지난해 12월에는 고등학교 사회과 교재 해설서에서 ‘다케시마(독도)는 일본 땅’이라는 직접적 표현을 삭제하는 데 결정적 역할을 했다. 그러나 최근 기자들의 질문 공세에 밀려 독도에 대한 ‘일본 정부의 방침을 바꿀 생각이 전혀 없다’는 견해를 밝혔다. 그러나 그 자리에서도 그는 ‘독도는 일본 땅’이라는 표현만은 피했고, 외상도 “한국이 (독도를) 불법점거하고 있다는 표현은 쓰고 싶지 않다”고 말했다. 지지율이 계속 하락하고 있는 현 상황에서 7월의 참의원선거를 앞에 두고 민주당에 불리한 발언은 피해야 하는 입장에서 불가피한 선택이었을지 모르나 내 고교와 대학교선배이기도 한 그가 민족주의적 감정을 극복하고 아시아를 크게 품었으면 하는 마음이 간절하다.

But since then, new materials have been discovered and the Korean position has advanced greatly. If Prime Minister Hatoyama were to listen to the current Korean interpretation regarding the Treaty of Peace with Japan, I think he might revise his personal thoughts on it a bit more. Last December in a position paper regarding the social studies curriculum in Japanese high schools, he took a decisive role in having the direct expression deleted which said, “Takeshima (Dokdo) is Japanese land.” Recently, having been pressured under questioning by journalists, he expressed this position: “There is no consideration being made to change the Japanese government’s guidelines” regarding Dokdo. But even as he said that, he still avoided using the expression “Dokdo is Japanese land” and the foreign minister has also said, “[We] don’t want to use the expression that Korea is illegally occupying [Dokdo]”. Currently, as Prime Minister Hatoyama's support is continuing to fall and with the House of Councillors elections coming up in July, it may be an inevitable choice to avoid expressions which are disadvantageous to the Democratic Party of Japan. But he is also my senior alumni from both high school and university and I have a strong hope that he will overcome his ethnocentric bias and embrace the Asian perspective.


The "Great Train eXpress" Sounds to Me Like Something Out of the "Old West"

Korea's a small country, but sometimes it feels much larger than it is because of the traffic issues.Things have been getting better -- much better! -- fast, though. 

In fact, the first national highway from Seoul to Busan (approximately the same distance as Dallas to Houston, or NYC to Washington, DC) was only finished about thirty years ago. Now, the country is covered in highways and, especially once you get outside the major cities, travel is fast and comfortable.

6a011279704a5b28a401347fdcdf94970c Even within the Seoul metropolitan area, the traffic is improving. When I got to Korea in 1994, I remember that just taking the 15 mile trip from Ansan to Suweon was a painful 1-2 hours on the weekend; today, it seldom takes more 20 minutes.

The Seoul subway system boasts something like 300+ stations now, and is growing continuously. It's been connected to various satellite cities (which mostly means Gyeonggi province) for a long-time but the lines are continuously being extended much deeper into the province. Still, travel times are relatively long. For example, from my office here in Ansan, the subway takes about 40 minutes to reach the outskirts of southern Seoul.

And KTX, the Korean high-speed rail system, is growing rapidly too, with 2nd generation carriage upgrades being introduced in stages, taking riders from one end of the country to the other. (Though, the only boarding point in GyeongGi province is at Gwangmyeong station, which is not convenient to get to from just about anywhere.)

Now, the Korean government is introducing a brand new public transport network that promises to take riders quickly from various points in Gyeonggi province into Seoul and back out again at speeds reaching 200km/hr. It's called GTX, which stands for "Great Train eXpress". If it really does begin service on schedule in 2016, our current two-hour trip from Ansan to Euijeongbu will be more than cut in half. Most of the travel time will be spent just getting to Geumjeong station, the nearest junction to us. 

I am surprised that there is very little English information on the Net about this. The official site at gtx.go.kr doesn't have an English version. I found an official (Korean) blog called "Mr. GTX" (http://blog.naver.com/whorse54/70070822301) but the last post was three months ago.

However, I did find this English-language promotional video! It appears to be several videos combined into one, so there's a lot of repetition, but here it is nevertheless:

In addition, here is a TV report posted yesterday which is about the interfacing of GTX with another rail project in Yongil. Click the photo to view the Korean language video in a separate window. I have provided the English translation of the report below, but the original article is here.

4-14-2010 1-51-02 AM
 

[Anchor] Last April, Gyeonggi Province proposed GTX, a rapid rail transit system for the metropolitan area, as a means of resolving the serious traffic problems in and strengthening competitiveness of the Seoul region. It's already been one year since the GTX announcement. Let's take a look at the work going on in Gyeonggi Province to link the transportation networks and achieve efficient GTX construction.

[Reporter] With the opening scheduled for the end of June, trial testing is underway on the Yongin city light rail line.

Running a total of 18.1km from Giheung to Everland, the Yongin light rail line is designed to accomodate up to 226 people in one carriage.

The Yongin light rail line connects with Giheung station on the extended section of the Bundang line, which is currently under construction. Riders will be able to transfer here and it is expected that this will make both Seoul and the Suweon area more accessible. 

Gyeonggi province is currently working on GTX, the rapid rail system for the metropolitan area, and is considering a plan to link the Yongin light rail line to the Dongtan-Samseong section of the GTX system, one line of which runs through Yongin.

[Interview] Gyeonggi Province Green Railway Division Head Sang-Gyo Seo says, "We are looking into extending the light rail so that it can connect with GTX.

Exactly one year ago, Gyeonggi province proposed GTX as a revolutionary means of solving traffic problems in the metropolitan area.

Running at 40m underground at speeds up to 200km/hr, GTX was proposed as a revolutionary transportation network that connects all areas of Seoul and Gyeonggi Province within a 30-minute travel time.

To achieve effective operations of GTX, and even as it promotes the early opening of the extended portion of the Bundang line, Gyeonggi Province is actively working to build a traffic network that connects with the light rail line.

©G News Plus News | Eun-Hee Choi cheny@gg.go.kr

Date/time : 2010.04.13 16:19


The New Chinese Province of Chosun

The Lost Tribe of China

There's a lot of talk in Korea about the way Korean history is being taught in Japan. The two countries don't usually see eye-to-eye about Japanese colonial rule of Korea between 1910 and 1945. Lately, the debate around whether or not Japan had an official presence on the Korean peninsula centuries ago has been in the news. And of course, there's the never-ending dispute about the island of Dokdo, which both countries claim as their own. Fortunately, Korea and Japan are both modern societies that operate under the rule of law. It's hard to imagine these disputes evolving into shooting wars; they'll probably just continue to fester for a long time.

P1000863 But another historical debate has the potential to blow up into something bigger. I first learned about it while translating in 2006 for Dahn World, a Korean organization with a center right outside my office window here in Ansan (see photo) and whose motto is "Health, Smile and Peace". (Note: Dahn World has been in the US news lately for some less pleasant allegations, too (click here for details), though my purpose today is not to jump into that debate.) 

Dahn World's affiliate, Gukhakwon (literal meaning: "Institute for the Study of the Country"), promotes Korean history from a Korean perspective and I translated a number of articles about their work to stop the Chinese distortion of Korean history in regard to the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. Apparently Chinese "scholars" are asserting that Gogureo was a Chinese clan, not Korean. And since the Gogyuryeo occupied areas of what is today North Korea, the implication is that today's North Koreans are a sort of "Lost Tribe of China".

At the time, I didn't really think much of it. Seemed like interesting reading, but what does it matter from a practical standpoint?

The Fate of Ceausescu?

According to conventional wisdom, the North Korean government faces two apparently bad options: 1) maintain a totalitarian grip and try to avoid social chaos while the economy crumbles or 2) open up to the outside and... unleash social chaos as the people see what a lie they've lived under for so long. 

Perhaps Kim Jong-Il and his cronies are running out of time even on the first option. When I saw how the North Korean regime executed one of its own former lead bureaucrats last month, blaming him for the recent currency reform fiasco, it made me wonder just how long the very top of the command structure can avoid the wrath of the people. Apparently there are already riots in North Korea about the worsening economy. How close is the regime to losing control, which would lead to its overthrow and maybe even a bullet to the head of Kim Jong-Il?.... Are we looking at another Romania in 1989?

Surely the end is coming, but how this will happen is a more open-ended question than many people realize.

Marcus Noland's Interview on Korea Business Central Got Me Thinking

South Koreans generally expect that the North Korean economy will fall eventually and that when it does, the North and South will become a unified country again. This assumes that the North doesn't have any other options and that the South simply needs to wait. But what if there is another option?

4-6-2010 12-05-48 AM The recent interview on Korea Business Central with Marcus Noland (author of Avoiding the Apocalypse and pictured at left) made me aware of yet another possibility (even likelihood, perhaps!?), which is that North Korea may not "collapse"; it might become a vassal state of China. 

If this is what China is working toward, it would explain why China continues to be relatively uncooperative in finding a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue. Further, there is a very large Korean-Chinese community in northern China and China is the closest thing North Korea has to a friend. Even as I write this, Kim Jong-Il is preparing to take the train (he's afraid to fly) to China with outstretched hands to see what goodies the Chinese will give him. 

Apparently Noland isn't the only one with this opinion, nor is this opinion limited to outsiders. At lunch yesterday with my advisor at Hanyang University, Professor Seo explained that a lot of Chinese behavior should be interpreted in this context. Further, he asserted that what comes after North Korea goes under Chinese "protection" could lead to war as South Korea seeks to expel the Chinese.

Reunification Achieved... but of China, not Korea

Here's how China might take over North Korea:

As the North Korean economy crumbles and the government loses control, the North asks for help from "big brother" China, who comes in to restore order. If the Chinese just don't bother to leave after that, who's to tell them to get out? After all, the North Koreans can't run the country on their own and besides, they are really Chinese, descended from Goguryeo of old (but today called "Chosun"). With this outcome, China grabs a little more territory and the former North Korean leaders get to live out the rest of their days under Chinese protection without being held accountable for the atrocities they committed.

In some ways, this would bring the situation full circle... Throughout much of Korean history, Korea paid tribute to China. During the 20th century, the country went under Japanese domination. After 1945, North Korea passed into the Soviet sphere. So, if things turn out as described here, North Korea could find itself under Chinese control as a new "province of Chosun", nominally independent but in many ways like it had been in centuries past.


Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top - Before and After Photos of Ansan (Part 1 of 4)



I came across these fabulous photos on display in the lobby of the Ansan Concert Hall a couple months ago. All photos can be expanded by clicking on them.

Seongpo-Dong and Gojang-Dong Areas

P1000405

Hwarang Recreation Area

P1000406

Industrial Complex (Dyeing) Area

P1000407

Il-Dong (Guryong-Dong) Area

P1000408 


Industrial Area (Chemicals) Area

P1000409

Bukok-Dong Area

P1000410

Il-Dong Area

P1000411 


A Summary of Dr. Victor Cha's Interview on Korea Business Central

The Korea Business Interview Series continues at Korea Business Central (KoreaBusinessCentral.com). 

The latest interview was held with Dr. Victor Cha, former Director for Asian Affairs in the White House's National Security Council and current Director of the Asian Studies Program at Georgetown University. Dr. Cha is author of Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia.

Here is the link to the interview audio:

In addition, the discussion and transcript can be found on Korea Business Central at the following link: http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/korea-business-central-3

(The full list of interviews can be found here: http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/interviews-2)

Main points of the interview:

Topic #1 - KORUS and the Korean Economy

  1. The Korean economy is improving thanks to the current Korean government's expansionary fiscal policy, which sets the administration up for good results in the June local elections.
  2. The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) will lead to increased economic activity in both the US and Korea. 
  3. The Obama administration is starting to say the right things about trade and passage of KORUS will ultimately depend on a big push by the White House.
  4. In addition to being the largest bilateral free trade agreement negotiated by the US, KORUS is also important in terms of the template it offers for future free trade agreements.
  5. It is unlikely that the US Congress will do anything on KORUS until after the US mid-term elections in November.
  6. The main sticking points to passage of KORUS by the US Congress include trade terms for beef and automobiles. These will likely be dealt with through side agreements, rather than renegotiation of the main agreement text
  7. Passage of KORUS is expected to benefit US automakers, citrus growers and various service industries, among others.

Topic #2 - Economic Engagement Between South and North Korea

  • North Korea is not taking up the Lee Myung-Bak government's "3,000 Proposal", which promises North Korea a per-capital income of $3,000/year within ten years if North Korea will denuclearize and improve its human rights record with South Korea. Therefore, economic engagement between North and South Korea has gone into reverse under the current administration.

Topic #3 - Sports Diplomacy in Asia

  1. Dr. Cha's idea for his book Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia came after seeing the newsworthiness of sports on a visit to Australia with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  2. The seminal case of sports diplomacy was "ping-pong diplomacy" which lead to China's opening to the United States in the 1970s.
  3. Since then, Korea has been very successful in promoting diplomatic initiatives through sports, such as the Seoul Summer Olympics in 1988, where Korea's efforts eventually led to the normalization of relations between the Soviet Union and South Korea in 1990.
  4. Korean success in the recent Vancouver Winter Olympics positions Korea well to host a future Winter Olympics in Korea.

On the Death of a Fellow Student's Mother and Figuring Out How Much Condolence Money to Give Him

In Korea, the exchange of money takes place in situations Westerners often find strange (to say the least!) and this has been part of the culture for a very long time.

On the negative side, the little white envelopes with cash symbolize the graft in Korean government and business. In fact, a top story in the news these days is whether US$50,000 cash left on the table in an envelope for a cabinet member of the previous government was actually received by that cabinet member or whether someone else picked it up and it disappeared.

3-17-2010 9-44-17 PM But the exchange of money goes beyond such black-and-white corruption and it is to unfair to stereotype the process as bad without understanding the meaning behind it. In many cases, the exchange of money and gifts is simply a mechanism Koreans use to communicate to others about the value they place on their relationships.

Just yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with my wife which was helpful to me in further internalizing the factors involved. 

It all started with a text message I received to my phone from a fellow student in the graduate program at Hanyang Unversity telling me that another student's mother had died. The time and location for the funeral was mentioned too, though it's several hours' drive out of town and I'm not close enough to the student to really be obligated to show up. However, the next text message I got contained a bank account number for sending condolence money and that's what prompted the following conversation with my wife.

Me: The mother of a fellow student died and I need to send some condolence money. How much do you suggest? W100,000?

Myunghee: No, that's way too much. The standard amount is W30,000 these days; I mean, you don't know him that well.

Me: W30,000? How could I send so little? This student is someone I know relatively well; certainly better than the average. I've even driven him to the bus stop after class sometimes.

Myunghee: Fine, then give him W50,000. 

Extra commentary: W40,000 is a taboo number since "4" in Chinese characters sounds like the word for "death". Thus, no cash gift will ever have the number "4" in it. After W30,000 was determined to be too low, our next choice up was W50,000.

Me: What about W70,000?

Extra commentary: For some reason, W70,000 is next after W50,000. With W60,000, the recipient would think to himself, "Huh? Where did W60,000 come from? If not W50,000, then he should have done better than W60,000!". Giving W90,000 would get this reaction, "Gee, he should have just rounded up to W100,000... What's he saying with W90,000? How strange!". It's hard to explain, but even W80,000 seems a bit wrong to me, too. In my mind (and perhaps a Korean reader can comment further for me here), my choices were: W30,000, W50,000, W70,000 or W100,000.

Myunghee: W70,000? You'd be giving too much! If everyone else is giving W50,000, and you give W70,000, it'll look funny. The money is just a way of acknowledging his mother's passing (Korean word my wife used: "인사차").

Me: OK, fine. I'll wire him W50,000 tomorrow.

If this seems like a rather calculating way to come up with the amount, then that's because it is. My process with my wife was not different than the thought process every Korean goes through when deciding on these matters. 

Everything about the process is deliberate and communicates meaning. Understanding this meaning can be illuminating, both in personal relationships and in business.


Toyota's Despicable Contempt for Korean Consumers

The Koreans are thrilled silly about the Toyota quality problems. They're trying not to gloat but their glee is barely concealed, especially as Hyundai and Kia auto sales increase so rapidly in the US. But this isn't really what my post is about today and I'm going to depart a bit from my normally Korea-friendly perspective.

3-3-2010 8-52-44 PM In an editorial in the Jungang Daily yesterday (유교가 '아시아의 세기' 감당할까), columnist Hwan-Yeong Kim (in photo at left) talked about the way Toyota is apologizing for their quality problems. Apparently the president of Toyota showed up at a press conference with American journalists and only bowed 70-degrees when he apologized the first time. He then had to come back and do it again at 90-degrees. But when he got to China, he bowed 90-degrees the first time. And it seems he hasn't bothered to show up in Korea to apologize at all.

So Mr. Kim is irked that Japan's paying so much attention to keeping the Chinese happy but is ignoring the Koreans. He backs this up by pointing out that when Toyota started selling their Lexus models in Korea, they sold at higher prices here than anywhere else in the world and that this showed contempt for the Korean consumer.

But just today, the Jungang Daily ran another article with this title: "Why do Automobiles for Export Have Safety Devices but the Ones for Domestic Consumption Do Not?" (수출 차엔 기본인 안전장치, 내수 차엔 없다?). Apparently the Korean car makers are willing to outfit their cars with less value for Korean consumers than they are in overseas markets. 

Or how about this? When Hyundai first sold its Genesis model in the US, the prices were so much lower there than in Korea, people were buying the car in the US, importing it back to Korea and still saving money. In early 2008, we bought our Kia Pride (called a "Kia Rio" in the US) in Korea for much more than it would have cost back home.

My point, of course, is to ask whether anybody could blame Toyota for selling their cars expensively in Korea when the Korean car makers themselves are doing the same thing. Rather than moan and groan about being slighted by the Japanese, perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask what can be done to create a more consumer-friendly car market in Korea.

And BTW, I sure hope the Korean makers are prepared for the day that the US media and Congress, goaded on by the US automakers, decide to turn some quality issues into another "perfect storm" of a media circus.


Korean Cultural Nationalism: "Generation High Speed", the Vancouver Olympics, Japanese Imperialism and the March 1 Movement

There's a new term being tossed around in Korea lately: "쾌속세대". It can be roughly translated "Generation High Speed" and is being used most directly to describe the Korean athletes who competed (and often won!) in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. But, at least in the Jungang Daily, which I read, the term has quickly come to refer to the whole generation of Koreans born around the time of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and who are now perceived as being the future driving force behind Korea's emergence as a world beater.

What Korea-phile wouldn't be heartened at this Korean pride in the newest generation to come of age? It's great stuff... But lately, having read the book Ethnic Nationalism in Korea by Gi-Wook Shin (I reviewed it recently here.), I have also become more sensitive to the nationalism in Korean popular culture and an article on the front page of today's Korean version of the Jungang Daily caught my eye. 

The article is entitled "아우내 장터의 망국세대, 밴쿠버의 쾌속세데, 대한분국 100년의 드라마" ("The Republic of Korea's 100-Year Drama: From the Generation of Aunae Market that Lost the Country to Generation High Speed in Vancouver"). To understand the full meaning here will require some additional historical background.

140px-Yu_Gwan-sun Today, March 1, is Korean Independence Movement Day (or, a more direct translation of the Korean: "March 1 Holiday"), which commemorates the failed declaration of independence by Korean patriots against the Japanese in 1919. The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Japan's formal colonization of Korea, an event of national humiliation which Koreans refer to as having "lost the country". Aunae Market is a place near the city of Cheonan where an 18-year old rebel named Yu Gwan-sun led a demonstration in 1919, was arrested by the Japanese and died the next year in prison.

Eo-Ryeong Lee, a top editorial advisor at the Jungang Daily, writes today's cover article in the form of a message addressed directly to the Generation High Speed athletes who competed in the Vancouver Olympics. He waxes glorious about how the Koreans of Generation High Speed have brought pride to the country by winning so many events which had previously been dominated by Western athletes. He even says that if Yu Gwan-sun has been born in 1988, she'd have been Yun-ah Kim, the Korean figure-skater who earned gold in women's figureskating. And if Yun-ah Kim had been born in 1901, she'd be remembered as leading the demonstration at Aunae Market. Mr. Lee refers to all of them as national heroes. The implication here, of course, is that the Olympics are vicarious war and that winning gold medals brings a fitting conclusion to the process of restoring national pride which was lost 100 years ago. 

220px-KimMedal Westerners reading this may think I'm going too far, but the truth of of the observation can really only be grasped by those who've stood amongst Koreans as they watch their athletes compete. From the World Cup to the Olympics, every Korean victory brings a little more healing to the national humiliation of 1910.

And it's not just in sports. How many Americans get warm fuzzies thinking about how many McDonald's restaurants have been opened around the world? Do we want to sing the national anthem when Starbucks, Dell and Intel dominate foreign markets? On the other hand, every time Korean companies succeed overseas, Koreans are filled with happiness and pride. 

Understanding this reality goes a long way toward making sense of Korean nationalism. As you see Koreans studying in universities, working in companies and competing in sports around the world, remember that they are "Generation High Speed", sent by the nation to reclaim the national honor.

-----------------

I might also point out one more interesting aspect. The Jungang Daily generally translates the main stories from the Korean paper to the English online version. But this one wasn't translated, even though it's on the front page! What could be the reason? Is it that Koreans don't want to reveal this side of themselves? I don't think so... I bet it's that they don't think non-Koreans would really find this interesting. 

But it's in understanding such aspects of Korean culture and history that we gain insights into what motivates Koreans and to find ways to work with Koreans in business and life effectively.


The North Korean Economy with Marcus Noland

We hosted another installment of the Korea Business Interview Series at Korea Business Central a couple weeks ago. This time, our very own Tom Tucker discussed the North Korean economy with author and economist Marcus Noland. 

Here's the link to the 29 minute podcast interview:

In addition, the discussion at Korea Business Central, along with the full transcript, can be found here:

http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/korea-business-central-1

Marcus' book can be purchased on Amazon by clicking here.

The main points of the interview:

 

  1. In response to economic collapse and state failure in the mid 1990s, the North Korean economy has moved from central planning to a very highly distorted market economy.
  2. North Korea should be growing at a reasonable rate thanks to economic benefits from the surrounding countries. Its economic problems are self-imposed.
  3. The state is currently trying to reinvigorate state institutions to regain control of market activities in the economy.
  4. The government's recent currency reform was aimed to undercut the market by confiscating people's savings, which has destroyed the working capital of private entrepreneurs.
  5. China functions as North Korea's ultimate guarantor both in economic and political respects but its efforts have not had a positive impact on North Korean behavior.
  6. Unlike China and Vietnam under central planning, North Korea is an industrialized economy. Therefore, it is questionable whether the Chinese and Vietnamese models of economic reform would be effective in the North Korean context. Economic reform in North Korea could be more explosive politically than they were in China and Vietnam also. Thus, reform in North Korea is more difficult.
  7. From a South Korean perspective, engagement with the North makes sense but the North Korean regime recognizes the threat they face from this and have been restrictive in what they allow South Korea to do.
  8. It is unlikely that North Korea will have the same political regime in 10-20 years that it has now. But unification with the South is not a foregone conclusion as North Korea could still end up over the long term as a tributary state to China that remains independent from South Korea.
  9. The solution to the North Korean nuclear issue will require convincing North Korea that they can achieve their goals without nuclear weapons. But it is almost impossible to envision a deal that is grand enough to convince the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons.

Book Review: Ethnic Nationalism in Korea, by Gi-Wook Shin

For some reason, I never really took much notice of the nationalism that pervades Korean society. I mean, Koreans are patriotic. But who isn't? Where I come from, the US (well, Texas, actually) is the center of the world, so why should I be surprised by Koreans who think their country is where everything important happens? Koreans fly their flag, sing the national anthem and talk about their long history. Back home, we do the flag and singing things (not me, but most everybody else), though the history's a bit shorter. The Korean sense of nation is just like everywhere, isn't it?

Apparently not. And apparently this sense of nationalism is still as strong as ever so I can't reconcile my ignorance of the obvious by just contrasting the "old Korea" with the "new Korea" and saying I missed out on the old version like I did recently in my review of The Koreans. As a result, Ethnic Nationalism in Korea was enlightening to me in many ways.

2-4-2010 5-08-43 PM First of all, the Korean version of nationalism is based on ethnicity. In other words, Koreans define the greater Korean nation in terms of a shared bloodline. In today's world, the fact that Koreans are of a single ethnicity is almost too obvious to need pointing out. But the basic premise of this book is that Korean nationalism that defines the nation based on this ethnicity is a product of factors in the modern era. Shin repeats often that the Korean ethnic nationalism of today was not a foregone conclusion but rather emerged out of the Korean experience. 

Korean ethnic nationalism started as one approach to dealing with encroaching Western influences at the turn of the 20th century. With Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910, pan-Asianism gave way to ethnic nationalism as a means of resisting Japanese cultural domination. Through the 1920s and 1930s, the ethnic nationalistic approach competed against international socialism -- which divided society based on class, rather than ethnicity -- as well as agrarianism.

After the colonial period, Korean nationalism had to deal with a divided nation and Shin describes the dynamics of this in fascinating detail. Since 1945, no Korean government on either side of the ideological divide has questioned the ethnic nationalistic premise. Thus, in spite of the radically different economic systems in North and South Korea, the underlying social justifications are remarkably similar. As Shin explains (p. 24):

"...the kind of nationalism developed in the South was quite similar to what appeared in the North. Both sides recognized ethnic unity of the Korean nation, accepted the premise of the primacy of nation over other cleavages, and competed over the legitimacy of their own system as representing the whole nation. Nationalism became a key resource in the politics of postwar Korea, both North and South, despite contrasting political ideologies and incorporation into competing world systems (communist and capitalist)."

Today, South Korea, as a nation, is justifiably proud of its achievements and this sense of "one race-one-nation" is as strong as ever. The book cover incorporates a photo of one of the most memorable demonstrations of Korean national pride: mass gatherings during the 2002 World Cup in Korea. We were there too and for a fortnight, I was an "honorary" part of this unforgettable Korean experience:

P1000956 

P1001007 

The author appears to wish Koreans had a more nuanced view of the nation; that they didn't just assume history was what they think it is and that an ethnic approach to defining the nation is the only way. He does seem resigned to how things are though and acknowledges the constructive role nationalism has played and continues to play in Korean society. 

Shin writes as a scholar and the reader should not expect to finish quickly. There's even some statistical analysis of survey data and many references to literature by others in the field. I didn't get lost in the concepts but came pretty close a few times. This book isn't written for a newbie to the field and it assumes the reader has a background in cultural studies in general and in Korea specifically. 

For the reader willing to make the effort, this book is packed with new information and insights about Korea and Koreans. I thank my associate, D. Bannon, for kindly recommending this book for my winter reading this year.


Book Review: The Koreans by Michael Breen

I came to Korea too late. It's just that simple. I came as soon as I could, of course, which was straight after university graduation in the US, but I missed out on seeing the "old Korea". It was the Korea of anti-Americanism, the Korea of poverty, the Korea of militant student demonstrations and of government oppression. I missed all that.

41GDTA19NFL._SL160_ When I arrived in Korea on December 28, 1993, this was gone. Life in Korea has had it's challenges for me but through it all, I've been treated well at least as often as I would have back home, have never gotten into an argument about how evil my country is, witnessed true democracy from day one and don't know what a starving Korean would look like. As best I can reckon, I arrived in Korea right when the positive political, social and economic trends were coming together for the country.

I have non-Korean friends and associates who lived in Korea in the 1980s. Some of them were gone from or leaving Korea by the time I arrived. So we have very different views about the country; in many ways, irreconcilable. The fact that one country can have changed this much in such a short period of time is astounding and I think a lot of foreigners who first understood the old Korea are unable to make proper sense of or describe the Korea of today. Or perhaps they just had too much fun obsessing about the bad things they saw: typical "expatriate-itis"

Michael Breen got to Korea in 1982; he wrote this book in 1998 (and updated it in 2004). He should have written it ten years earlier because his descriptions of "old Korea" don't ring true to me when I look at Korea today. But more than that, the book's fatal flaw is not that Breen is still trying to describe the Korean of old, it's that he just hasn't looked hard enough to figure Korea out properly for any time.

Breen apparently never got very far out of the international community in Seoul. He let the views of other expatriates color his outlook on Korea too much. And perhaps it's his journalist background showing through, but this cliche-filled book of stereotypes is a bit too sensationalized. To get things off to an exciting start for his non-Korean readers, he begins by running Koreans down every way he can, presumably so he can pick them back up later in the book. (병주고 약주고...)

In the interest of "fair reporting" (I guess!), the author goes to some effort to mix his condescending views with a smattering of compliments. His basic message to Koreans is: "I don't care what everyone else is saying about Korea and Koreans, I still think you're pretty cool." This, in a nutshell is Breen's double-message throughout the book.

One of Breen's main themes is that Korea hasn't yet grown up; they went to hell and back during the first two-thirds of the 20th century and so they are still working through the after-effects of that. Well, yes, there's some undeniable truth in that, but does it warrant quotes like this? "...Koreans came out of a half-century of Japanese domination with such a profound sense of worthlessness that they seemed to have lost any notion of who they were or where they came from." (pp. 4-5) This is a strong statement that overlooks far too many nuances and counter-currents of thought to be useful in understanding Korea correctly.

In fact, the book is full of similar insights (i.e. "nonsense") which are clearly the product of Breen's discussions at dinner parties with ignorant expatriates. Here are some examples just from the preface and first chapter:

  • p.4 - "You need a high-level bullshit indicator to figure out what's going on."
  • p. 31 - "Koreans are more gregarious than we are. They're so into other people that they don't read books much and they tend to fall asleep when they're by themselves." (Huh?)
  • p. 35 - "Korean is not a good language to argue in because there are so many shades of meaning. It is so easy to be misunderstood. English is a language for clarity and logic."
  • p. 36 - "Korean men who are angry... bellow from the pit of their stomach... You can see why men rule in Korean society."

As I read this book, I found myself constantly writing question marks and asterisks in the margin because of all the dubious assertions. Are disputes in Korean society usually solved by force? Really? (p. 142) Are Koreans reluctant to work as hard as they used to? Is it because their companies give them cheap apartments to live in? (p. 63) Can "an astute observer... summarise the main features of a country's political culture after spending a little time on the roads"? (p. 189) Indeed!

Breen spent awhile in Korea and according to the book jacket, is still a frequent visitor (at least as recently as 2004). His wife is Korean. Apparently he did a lot of reporting about Korea for various international newspapers. Good for him. This book shows clearly that he did some time, met many Koreans and has opinions about Korea. A reader wishing to find out what the politically correct opinions of Korea are in the expatriate community could learn a thing or two through this book. 

But readers looking for a thoughtful understanding of Korea and Koreans reached through diligent research and contemplation will not find that this book breaks new ground. The subtitle of "The Koreans" is "Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies". Just the fact that Breen summarizes all Koreans into this "they" and "their" indicates the stereotypical way this book seeks to explain Korea and Koreans.


"Long Live Korea!" - The Legend of Hong Soo-hwan's Comeback Win

I discussed and translated an article from the Jungang Daily newspaper last week in this post of Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top. Here is the (almost) full Korean source followed by the translation. It was nice to work on a translation project where I was the client since it gave me the freedom to translate a little less literally than usual. 

Note that the following Korean text taken from the Jungang Daily website is not complete and I wasn't able to find my printed copy again. So the English translation does contain a paragraph or so of content not in the Korean here.

“대한국민 만세”… 홍수환의 4전5기 챔피언 신화

1977년 11월 27일 파나마에서 홍수환 선수가 신설 체급인 주니어 페더급 챔피언에 올랐다. 74년 남아프리카공화국에서 첫 번째 챔피언에 올랐을 때 “엄마 나 챔피언 먹었어”, 그리고 “그래 내 아들아, 대한국민 만세다”라는 대화로 새로운 유행을 창조했던 홍수환이 파나마에서 또 드라마를 만들어냈던 것이다. 2회에 네 차례나 다운됐던 홍수환은 3회가 시작되자마자 역전 KO승을 이끌어냈다.

한국 근현대사에서 수많은 스포츠 사건이 있었음에도 77년 홍수환의 승리가 머릿속에 뚜렷하게 각인돼 있는 이유는 무엇일까? 무엇보다도 ‘역전’이라는 단어가 우리에게 주는 매력 때문일 것이다. 20세기에 들어서자마자 나라를 잃었고, 식민지에서 해방되자마자 분단과 전쟁을 겪었던 우리 민족에게 ‘역전’보다도 더 뚜렷한 목표는 없었다. 1936년 손기정, 76년 양정모의 올림픽 금메달이 있었지만, 70년대 레슬링의 김일, 권투의 홍수환, 그리고 야구의 군산상고에 환호했던 것은 바로 역전의 드라마 때문이었다. 이들은 우리 민족뿐만 아니라 우리 스스로를 대신해 역전 드라마를 써 주었던 것이다. 홍수환의 드라마는 77년 수출 100억 달러, 1인당 국민소득 1000달러, 그리고 쌀 자급을 통한 쌀 막걸리의 재등장과 점철되었다.

또 다른 이유는 암울한 시대 상황 속에서 피어난 환희의 순간이었다는 점이다. 77년은 유신의 어두움이 사회를 짓누르고 있었던 시기였다. 75년 베트남 패망뿐만 아니라 74년의 오일쇼크에 따른 경제적 어려움으로 짙은 그림자가 드리워져 있었다. 홍수환의 승리 한 달여 전부터 본격화된 학생시위로 인해 긴급조치 9호 이후 처음으로 20여 일간의 휴교가 있었지만, 언제쯤 봄이 올 것인지 누구도 예측할 수 없었던 시대였다. 여기에 더하여 동년 11월 11일에 있었던 이리역 다이너마이트 폭발 사건은 사회를 더 음울하게 했다. 이러한 어둠 속에서 터진 홍수환의 승리는 잠시나마 전 국민의 마음을 환하게 해 주었다.

스포츠는 이렇게 사회적으로 다양한 효과를 만들어 내며, 특히 국가대항전을 통해 국민을 통합하는 수단으로 작동했다. 대부분의 독재자가 스포츠 육성을 강조했던 것도 모두 이 때문이었다. 여기에 더하여 스포츠는 갈수록 순수성과 다양성을 잃고 상업화되고 있으며, 이제는 잔인함까지 더해가고 있다. 비록 그것이 ‘국가’를 위해 이용됐다고 하더라도 ‘그때 지금’의 아름다운 스포츠 정신이 그리워진다.


"Long Live Korea!" - The Legend of Hong Soo-hwan's Comeback Win
In Panama on November 27, 1977, Hong Soo-hwan was crowned champion in the newly established junior featherweight division. When he first won a championship in 1974 in South Africa, Hong had called his mother to tell her about it and is reported to have said, "Mom, I beat the champion", to which his mother replied, "Yes, my son. Long live Korea!". In fact, this short conversion even entered the Korean vernacular of the time. Hong's fight in Panama also resulted in a well-known story. In the second round of that fight, he was knocked down four times but came out right at the beginning of the third round to win with a dramatic KO.
Even though many events have transpired throughout the modern history of Korean sports, Hong Soo-hwan's win in 1977 stands out as one of the most memorable. What could be the reason for that? More than anything, the answer to this question is found in the fact that we Koreans are drawn to the idea of a come-from-behind win. Having lost our country's independence to the Japanese at the very beginning of the 20th century, Korea then emerged from the Japanese colonial period only to be split in two and then suffer through the Korean War. During those long years, could we have wanted anything more ardently than a "come from behind win"?
Of course, athletes such as Sohn Gi-jeong and Yang Jeong-mo earned gold medals in the Olympics in 1936 and 1976, respectively. But it is the comeback wins in wrestling by Kim Il, in boxing by Hong Soo-hwan and in baseball by the Kunsan Commercial High School in the 1970s that Koreans remember with the most pride. These winners gave victories not just to the nation as a whole, but also to each of us individually. Hong Soo-hwan's win took place alongside the national achievements in 1977 of reaching $100 million in exports and per capita income of $1,000, and coincided with the re-emergence of "makkoli" made with natively grown rice.

Another reason Hong Hwan-soo's win stands out so clearly today is that it represented a happy moment in what was otherwise a very difficult time in the country. In 1977, the darkness of the Yushin Constitution was pressing down on society. Furthermore, not only had Korea been on the losing side in the Vietnam War but the oil shock of 1974 caused enduring economic shadows. As a result of the severe emergency measures taken by the government in response to the outbreak of student demonstrations about a month before, there was a 20-day suspension of university classes and no one at the time could predict when things would get better. In addition, the fresh memory of the Iri Station dynamite explosion incident that occurred on November 11 of the same year led to a generally gloomy feeling throughout Korean society. It was within this context that the victory of Hong Soo-hwan provided such an inspiration to the entire nation.

Sports generate various effects like this in society. In particular, they serve as a means of bringing a nation together through the shared experience of sporting events that take place at the national level. This is one reason most autocrats have pressed for the development of national sports programs. But in addition, the more sporting develops, the more the genuineness and variety are lost as commercialization creeps in. Here, we might even mention the cruelty that sports often involves. Thus, even if we say that such achievements are sought for the sake of the "country", we still miss the naive beauty of the sports of that bygone era.


What a Come-from-Behind Win Means to Koreans

I came across a remarkable piece in the Jungang Daily newspaper yesterday. I say it's remarkable because within just a small print space, the article provides a unique glimpse into the Korean mindset of today and illustrates factors from the past that have contributed to this outlook. 

Though the main news stories in the leading Korean media are translated over to their English editions, many gems are left out and remain inaccessible to non-Korean speakers. This is unfortunate, because a deeper understanding of Korea today cannot be achieved without grasping the nuances in tidbits like this.

The article was written by Park Tae-gyoon, Professor of Modern Korean History at the International Graduate School of Seoul National University and the original Korean version can be found at http://article.joins.com/article/article.asp?total_id=3895261. Here is my translation of it.

-------------------------------

"Long Live Korea!" - The Legend of Hong Soo-hwan's Comeback Win

Htm_2009112703080910001010-001 In Panama on November 27, 1977, Hong Soo-hwan was crowned champion in the newly established junior featherweight division. When he first won a championship in 1974 in South Africa, Hong had called his mother to tell her about it and is reported to have said, "Mom, I beat the champion", to which his mother replied, "Yes, my son. Long live Korea!". In fact, this short conversion even entered the Korean vernacular of the time. Hong's fight in Panama also resulted in a well-known story. In the second round of that fight, he was knocked down four times but came out right at the beginning of the third round to win with a dramatic KO.

Even though many events have transpired throughout the modern history of Korean sports, Hong Soo-hwan's win in 1977 stands out as one of the most memorable. What could be the reason for that? More than anything, the answer to this question is found in the fact that we Koreans are drawn to the idea of a come-from-behind win. Having lost our country's independence to the Japanese at the very beginning of the 20th century, Korea then emerged from the Japanese colonial period only to be split in two and then suffer through the Korean War. During those long years, could we have wanted anything more ardently than a "come from behind win"?

Of course, athletes such as Sohn Gi-jeong and Yang Jeong-mo earned gold medals in the Olympics in 1936 and 1976, respectively. But it is the comeback wins in wrestling by Kim Il, in boxing by Hong Soo-hwan and in baseball by the Kunsan Commercial High School in the 1970s that Koreans remember with the most pride. These winners gave victories not just to the nation as a whole, but also to each of us individually. Hong Soo-hwan's win took place alongside the national achievements in 1977 of reaching $100 million in exports and per capita income of $1,000, and coincided with the re-emergence of "makkoli" made with natively grown rice.

Another reason Hong Hwan-soo's win stands out so clearly today is that it represented a happy moment in what was otherwise a very difficult time in the country. In 1977, the darkness of the Yushin Constitution was pressing down on society. Furthermore, not only had Korea been on the losing side in the Vietnam War but the oil shock of 1974 caused enduring economic shadows. As a result of the severe emergency measures taken by the government in response to the outbreak of student demonstrations about a month before, there was a 20-day suspension of university classes and no one at the time could predict when things would get better. In addition, the fresh memory of the Iri Station dynamite explosion incident that occurred on November 11 of the same year led to a generally gloomy feeling throughout Korean society. It was within this context that the victory of Hong Soo-hwan provided such an inspiration to the entire nation.

Sports generate various effects like this in society. In particular, they serve as a means of bringing a nation together through the shared experience of sporting events that take place at the national level. This is one reason most autocrats have pressed for the development of national sports programs. But in addition, the more sporting develops, the more the genuineness and variety are lost as commercialization creeps in. Here, we might even mention the cruelty that sports often involves. Thus, even if we say that such achievements are sought for the sake of the "country", we still miss the naive beauty of the sports of that bygone era.


A Drive Around Nojeok Hill

11-26-2009 6-58-35 AMKorean portal site, Daum.net, offers a mapping service of Korea that is very similar to Google Maps. And just as Google has been unrolling their Street View across North America, so Daum is doing the same in South Korea with Road View. This is where 360-degree photos are taken by a camera strapped to the top of a specially-fitted vehicle as it drives down the road. 

So far, Daum has covered the main roads in the main cities, including everywhere indicated in blue lines in this graphic. Just this week, the company announced it is going to extend coverage soon to every drivable road in Seoul.

I don't know when they will get their camera cars out to the alleyways of Ansan, but they've already photographed the main roads here. And so I put together the following four minute video from those photos simulating a drive from the entrance of our apartment complex, out and around Nojeok Hill and then back home. 

Because of the way the photos were taken, there is a good bit of reckless lane changing and driving on the wrong side of the road, but that is just part of the fun, I guess. 

You should notice Nojeok Hill in the background during much of the video.



The following map shows the path taken in the video:

11-26-2009 7-39-23 AM 

 


Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top - McDonald's 20-Minute Home Delivery Service

There are just two McDonald's outlets in Ansan and one is right at the foot of Nojeok Hill. It is located in the food court at Homeplus, which is the very successful Korean discount chain run by Tesco of the UK. We eat at Mickey D's occasionally, but not particularly often, mainly because there are way too many excellent Korean food options available.

11-14-2009 1-26-25 AMWhile McDonald's does a decent business in Korea, the stores near us are seldom packed. Getting to the restaurants can be a hassle too, especially if finding a parking place is hard and/or costs money.

Neither of the two McDonald's stores offers a drive-though, either. Indeed, it's only at Lotteria, a rapidly growing Korean competitor of McDonald's, where I can order, receive and eat my food in the car. And the Lotteria menu is remarkably creative; for example, I enjoyed a Shrimp/Avocado Burger there last week!

But McDonald's is experimenting with new ideas, too. They've started offering coffee and an Egg McMuffin for breakfast; something Koreans aren't used to. We've been a couple times in the morning and I think we were the only people in the store both times, so it's hard to say this has been a raging success.

DSCN8833

And some time back, McDonald's introduced a home delivery service through a national toll-free number (its 1600-5252, in case you're interested). When placing the first order, you give the operator your address, but after that, the system automatically links the address to the phone number and placing an order is as simple as dialing in and saying what you want. Takes all of 30 seconds... and within about 20 minutes, the food is brought by motorcycle delivery: cold food in one insulated pack and hot food in another. 

I was home alone today and rather than make lunch myself, I ordered by phone and this friendly chap brought it over. Since delivery is free (home food deliveries are ALWAYS free in Korea, it seems), it cost me W5,500 (about US$5)... pretty competitive, I'd say, but still, I don't know if many Koreans are ordering hamburgers from home.

 

In the news this week, I read that McDonald's is planning to open 1,000 new stores next year, including many in Asia. I wonder how many will be in Korea, though. (In fact, one McDonald's store in Ansan closed a few years ago.) With the competitive Korean market, I wouldn't be surprised if they are planning to take their investment dollars to more promising Asian countries.

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My $5 McDonald's lunch today was delivered in 20 minutes for free!

Indeed, Korea has been a tough market for many American corporations. Wal-Mart left in 2002 after suffering huge losses. In today's Jungang Daily (세계적 온라인 서비스, 한국선 왜 고전하나), there is a story about how Second Life and MySpace have given up in Korea, most Koreans don't seem to have heard of Facebook, and Google captures less than 10% of the search market. It's all the more difficult to understand when I look at the apparently weak Korean competition these online companies face. 

On the other hand, you can barely find a seat at a Starbucks in Korea in spite of the fact that Starbucks coffee prices here are reported to be the highest in the world and General Motors (of all companies!) is a big player in automobiles since their acquisition of Daewoo Motors over ten years ago.

I'm still working through the reasons why some foreign brands succeed, while others fail so miserably here. It's hard to make sense of sometimes. Meanwhile, I keep hoping that McDonald's will break a profit on this home delivery service so I can continue to enjoy it.


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - The Berlin Wall, the Korean War, Foxholes and Korean Unification

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event is being celebrated around the world as the symbolic beginning of the end of the Cold War. But to Koreans, the Cold War hasn't fully ended yet as the separation between the two Koreas at the DMZ (Korea's "Berlin Wall") is still (with notable exceptions!) as impenetrable as ever. Indeed, as noted in a previous post (Insight into How Little Anybody Really Knows about North Korea), the news that crosses the border from North to South is most notable for its absence.

DSCN8642Even in our neighborhood in Ansan, there are small reminders of wartime hostilities in the form of foxholes at Nojeok Hill. Here are two that I know of which are right beside well-travelled paths.

Long before Ansan was built as a new city (see previous post, The New City of Ansan), Nojeok Hill would have been near the sea. Today, of course, the shallow bay has been filled in for development and the ocean coastline is miles away. 

I've often wondered when and why the foxholes were dug since they've been around as long as I've been climbing the hill here and never during that time have they served a purpose. It seems possible they originated during the Korean War itself but I'm not aware of any hostilities having taken place in this immediate area. 

P1001738Instead, I suppose they were installed at some point later as a defense against a sea invasion by the North. Since the city of Ansan was developed from the beginning of the '80s, it seems safe to assume the latest this area could have served as a military line of defense would have been the 1960s and 1970s. 

Though obsolete today, these neglected foxholes are a reminder of long conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Getting back to the connection with the Berlin Wall, today is the Korean newspapers' annual opportunity to discuss the parallels between the unification of East and West Germany and the as-yet unrealized unification of North and South Korea.

The lead editorial in today's Jungang Ilbo (Korean article: 베를린 장벽 붕괴 20주년의 교훈) covers the same information that I've ready many times about the possibility of future unification between North and South Korea. Here are the main points of the editorial, which reflect pretty much the standard position of the political class in Korea:

  • The fall of the North Korean regime could come suddenly and at any time. South Korea must study carefully the process of unification in Germany in order to be prepared.
  • E. German per-capita income in 1989 was 43% of that in the West but in spite of astronomical sums spent by the West, incomes in the East are still just 71%. Considering that North Korean per-capital income is barely 6% of that in the South, Korean unification cannot follow the same path taken by Germany; it would likely be most similar to the China/Hong Kong approach.
  • But when the opportunity comes, the South must pursue unification resolutely with vision. According to a Goldman Sachs report, a unified Korea governed under sound policies could reach a per-capita GDP level equivalent to France, Germany and Japan. There is nothing Koreans want more than to be able to boast of this achievement.
  • Other countries in the region may oppose the strength of a united Korea and the government must take advance steps to overcome these objections.
  • Even now, one of the main lessons to learn from the experience in Germany is that South Koreans need to provide humanitarian support and work to improve human rights in the North.

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Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - The Climb Up

Korea is a land of mountains, but compared with the famous peaks in other parts of the world, Korean mountains are really just "hills". Nearly every one is climbable in a day; there are very few multi-day mountain hikes available. But that isn't to say the views aren't fantastic from any of them. 

The best thing is that it doesn't even take a mountain to get a fantastic view. Just 8 1/2 minutes is all that's needed to climb Nojeok Hill and see the entire Ansan area. 

So, for the record, here's the climb from bottom to top... (BTW, sorry for the shaky camera... and the smoggy view at the top... Other photos on this weblog were taken on clearer days.)




Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - On the Campaign Trail

Myunghee and I arrived at Nojeok Hill around 6am this morning and started our walk along the perimeter trail in the dark. About a hundred yards down, we came across Candidate #7, Kim Seok-Gyoon, handing out campaign cards under a park lamp. As luck would have it, I had brought my camera and asked Candidate Kim's assistant to snap the memory.

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Tomorrow is special-election day in our district, Sangrok-Gu, to fill the position held by someone else until he was impeached for corruption. Every candidate gets a number, with the lowest numbers going to candidates from the largest parties. So that means my pal, Candidate #7, is hardly the leading contender for the position. 

Candidate #7_Page_1Sure enough, his campaign card shows him as "unaffiliated", though it is clear he is aligned with a dissenting faction of the Grand National Party (GNP), which is the party of President Lee Myung-bak and which currently holds power in the Korean National Assembly. Candidate #7's faction is that of Park Geun-Hee, who is the daughter of former President Park Jung-Hee (see yesterday's post) and who was beaten by President Lee to lead the GNP in the presidential primaries a couple years ago. The bad feelings from that political battle still dog the government party.

Candidate #7_Page_2 From the back of the card, we can see the issues that are important in our area. First of course, is the question of who will best protect the disadvantaged in the current economic recession. But second is the decision of where the new Ansan subway line will be built. Candidate Kim assures us that as assemblyman, he will make sure the new line goes through our neighborhood and not the area a few miles to the west. The final decision is set for December, so there's a lot of lobbying going on. The residents of whichever neighborhood the subway line goes through can look forward to a big property value boost.

Korean elections in the city are notable by how easy it is to meet and greet the candidates. Because of the close proximity within which everyone lives, just a casual stroll through the neighborhood can generally produce a candidate's campaign truck roaming around with speakers blaring (see video below) or an actual candidate (as evidenced by our meeting in the dark this morning). And when campaign workers line up on street corners and bow to the passing cars, they make no distinction between voting Korean and non-voting foreigner. I always get a kick out of being bowed to as I drive around during election season.

 

 


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Finally, just as I was finishing up this post, I received the following text message on my phone. It says: "October 28 (Wednesday) is election day for the national assembly member representing Sangrok-Gu. Voting is your right. Sangrok-Gu Election Committee". I would have expected it to also mention something about not accepting money from politicians in exchange for a vote but perhaps the days of that kind of blatant corruption have passed.

National election day in Korea is always a public holiday; unfortunately, because these special elections are being held in just certain areas, we don't get that benefit tomorrow. If we did, I could miss my Strategic Economics class at university...


Korean President Park Jung-Hee: Thirty Years Later

Park Jung-Hee had been in power in Korea a little over two years at the time of JFK's assassination in 1963. Sixteen years later on this day, October 26, 1979, Park was also shot dead while still president. Today, not unlike the way Americans remember Kennedy, many Koreans look back on the rule of Park with nostalgia and virtually everyone regards his rule and death as pivotal events in the modern history of the nation. At his funeral, hundreds of thousands of Koreans lined the streets of Seoul to mourn.

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But Park was no respecter of human rights in the tradition of Kennedy and he didn't reach office through the ballot box. Instead, he was a military man who took power through a coup e'tat, ousting the elected president Syngman Rhee, with whose chaotic rule many had become tired. This event ushered in eighteen years of right-wing dictatorship -- and closer ties with the United Stated. In these and many other ways, Park's rule was nothing like that of Kennedy's term of office; it was most similar to that of 20th century autocrat, Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

But today, if you ask the average Korean who Park Jung-Hee represents to them, many, if not most, will say he is the father of the modern Korean nation, that he carried Korea through a necessary phase of economic development and that he paved the way to the advanced society Korea is today. At the same time, Park's rule was harsh and few in Korea would welcome back anything like it again. Opinions about his death at the hand of the director of the Korea CIA (some Americans would see another possible parallel with Kennedy here!) tend toward a belief that his rule was destined from the beginning to end in tragedy. 

Today's articles in the Korean newspapers looking back on his life and death reflect this dual memory Koreans carry with them of President Park Jung-Hee: sincere appreciation for what he did for the country, but a refusal to say much good about him without following up by reminding the reader of the excesses of his rule. It's almost as if his achievements need an apology; that he was the exception to some rule that says success can't come from doing things the wrong way.

I often wonder why later Korean presidents have suffered so much in the opinion polls after they take office. It happens every time. Perhaps it's due to the memories Koreans have of Park as someone who ruled with an iron fist for nearly two decades without any apparent personal financial corruption and who got things done and moved the country forward relentlessly. It may be a different world now, but Koreans long for another leader who delivers everything they remember about President Park -- but who does it nicely.


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - Is Ansan an International City?

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This is Hasan, a friend of ours from Bangladesh who is living in Korea. We took this photo in our neighborhood near the foot of Nojeok Hill. Myunghee met his sister in Texas while studying English together several years ago but the sister's US visa ran out and she returned to her home country in 1995. In 1996, Myunghee visited the family in Bangladesh for almost a week. While she was there, Hassan was her "tour guide", showing her around the area where they live, but communication was difficult because his English-ability is limited.

Unbeknown to us, shortly after Myunghee's trip, Hasan applied to work in Korea as a foreign laborer. It involved a bribe to a Korean bureaucrat or official fee (we're not sure which) in the amount of about $5,000 (a huge amount of money there) to earn the privilege of coming to Korea to work. He also studied Korean for a year in order to increase his chances of being selected for the Korean work visa. It seems that there are far more applicants for these work positions than there are positions.

He called one day about a year ago to notify us he had arrived; we'd heard through his sister that he might be coming, but we didn't know when he was going to show up. His year of Korean study had paid off as communications with him are much easier now that we can all speak Korean together.

There are tens of thousands of foreign workers in Korea from various countries. And it turns out that Ansan is the city in Korea with the highest number. According to an article in the Jungang Ilbo last week, approximately 35,000 foreigners are living legally in Ansan and another 35,000 or so illegally. Of these, by far the most are Chinese, followed by Indonesians and Vietnamese. Most come to live in the area around Ansan Station, which is far from our neighborhood. And most of these foreign residents are providing labor for the factories that sprawl through the the Banweol and Shihwa Industrial Areas, south-west of Ansan and south of Shihwa City.

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Photo taken from Nojeok Hill

At current exchange rates, foreign workers coming to Korea can expect to earn the equivalent of about $800-$1,400/month for 40-60 hours/week of work, as well as living accomodations, which are often very basic. And most foreign workers send between 60-80% of their earnings back to their home country.

It was only 20-30 years or so ago that Koreans were going overseas (mostly to the Middle East) to labor on construction projects. The fact that Korea is now hosting hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill the need for unskilled labor, even during the current economic difficulties, is testimony to the prosperity that Korea enjoys today.

See the map below for orientation to the Ansan area:

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Insight into Just How Little Anybody Really Knows about North Korea

Take a close look at the following photo of Kim Jong-Il embracing the Chinese premier in Pyeongyang this week.

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Considering that the border with North Korea is just a short drive from Seoul (indeed, I used to have a view of the mountains of North Korea from my desk while working at LG International Corp.), it's often hard to help people understand the extent of the world's ignorance about the communist country. Here's an excellent opportunity to explain.

It is assumed that Kim Jong-Il had a stroke last year but the only way anybody knows this is from indirect evidence, such as photos and video released by the North Korean government. Usually, these are undated and occasionally fabricated. (The most absurd recent example I can think of is where North Korea published a photo that a South Korean guy had put up of himself on his website but which the North Koreans insisted was a recent photo of Kim Jong-Il's son... It turns out the latest genuine photo available of the son is several years old and was determined to be him only after he returned from studying in disguise in Europe.)

Anyway, apparently what's interesting about the above photo to those who study North Korea is that is shows one finger of Kim Jong-Il's that won't extend, indicating a physical issue that has not healed from his stroke last year. 

If matters this trivial and based on such small details are the focus of this kind of attention in South Korea (indeed, the photo was printed above the fold on the front page of the Jungang Ilbo newspaper this week), consider what this says about how much is really known about North Korea and the "Dear Leader".


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - (Almost) Full Moon Over Ansan

The Korean Chuseok holiday took place this weekend to celebrate the harvest full moon. It is one of the two major Korean holidays of the year (the other being the Lunar New Year). 

I took this photo of the full moon early in the morning today from Nojeok Hill facing west. In the distance on the right, you can faintly see the new skyscrapers of Songdo IBD (click the photo for a bigger view), the latest Korean new city, which is being built on reclaimed land off Incheon (and very close to the place of MacArthur's famous Incheon Landing on September 15, 1950).

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Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - The New City of Ansan

My Korean hometown started life as one of the first "new cities" in Korea, master-planned by the government and built to alleviate congestion in the Seoul area caused by millions of people moving from the countryside into the capital region during the course of Korea's rapid modern development. 

Construction on Ansan began in the early 1980s in this area which previously existed as little more than a small fishing village called Banweol. When I arrived in late 1993, the city was about half-finished. The area north of the metro line was mostly complete and the area south of it still mainly undeveloped. 

Today, Ansan is a city of a million residents adjacent to the giant Banweol Industrial Complex, an area of factories producing all manner of goods for the Korean industrial economy.

The following photos which I've taken from the top of Nojeok Hill show the dramatic changes in a large swath of the city that I've personally witnessed during my time here.

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1995

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2002

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2009

It is these beautiful views of the city, for which a 360-degree panorama is available from the top, that make Nojeok Hill such a nice place to get away for a hike several times a week.

Today, there are many other new cities, mostly but not all, in the Seoul area. Other early new cities where construction began in the early 1990s include Shihwa, which is adjacent to Ansan; Ilsan, north of the Han River to the west of Seoul; and Bundang, south of Seoul. Another more recent new city under construction and of particular interest to me is Songdo, which can be seen in the distance from the top of Nojeok Hill. 

Even today, as Korea moves from "emerging market" to "advanced country", similar construction is still underway in countless places, most a bit further from Seoul thanks to faster transportation links, and all still being referred to as "new cities".

But no matter how gleaming the new apartments are everywhere else and how much they resemble my neighborhood, I always remember that this "new city" wave of the future in Korea started, in large part, here in Ansan some thirty years ago.


Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top - Introduction

Several times a week, I climb Nojeok Hill near our apartment here in Ansan. It's just a 10-12 minute climb but I get pretty winded on the way up. By the time I've gone to the top and down twice, and gotten back home, the round trip takes a little over an hour. 

 

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I've been climbing this hill since I first arrived in Korea over 15 years ago. A lot has changed for me in that time... and for my town of Ansan. Indeed, this hill has seen a lot of Korean history, and in the last 25 years, it has been at the center of incredible economic development.

 

9-24-2009 6-33-12 AM

Today I start a series entitled, "Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top". The first few posts won't have much to say about business, as the Korean economic miracle only started less than 50 years ago. But from this vantage point, we'll get some remarkable glimpses of how Korea became the economic player it is today, as well as some insights into where the country is headed.