Category: General Observers of Korea

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

From: https://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: https://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.)

6a011279704a5b28a40133ed0d01f9970b
 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:

P1000823
P1000824

 

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:

P1010233

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” (https://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.