Category: General Observers of Korea

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.

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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.

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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: https://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.

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"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.'"

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"[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.