Korean presidential election sees record number of absentee voters

November 29th, 2012 · Politics · 0 comments

Original article in Korean is at this link.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security announced on the 28th that for the first time there have one million absentee voter applications in the 18th presidential election on December 19th. The record-setting total stands at 1,086,687.

In greater detail, there have been 973,434 applications for absentee ballot for ordinary reasons such as being in the military or police, being an election worker, or being unable to go to a polling place on election day; 106,193 applications for reasons of residence in a home or medical facility; and another 7,060 for being provisionally registered.

Absentee voting will be on December 13th and 14th, and voting for those in the provisional category will be from the 11th to 14th.

An official with the Ministry said that “absentee voters may receive their ballots and then vote from anywhere in the country… residence-based voters may place their ballots in a self-addressed stamped envelope and mail it to their local elections commission before 6 pm on election day.”

Unfortunately many people in the third category don’t have the means to comply with regulation to get properly registered. Nearly a majority are in Busan.

SKorea: CSAT results arrive

November 28th, 2012 · Education and ESL · 0 comments

Korean students today got the chance to end their wait for the all-important results of their university entrance exam, opening the papers with trepidation.

Korea: The Impossible Country

November 27th, 2012 · Interviews · 0 comments

Journalist Daniel Tudor has written an introduction to modern Korea, titled “Korea: The Impossible Country” and published by Tuttle, who were nice enough to send a copy to me.

And I have to say, it was quite an enjoyable read. The book begins with a brief overview of Korean history up to the 20th century, then begins its real task of assessing the Korean journey of the past 100+ years. Initially the focus is on the Japanese colonial period, the post-Korean War years, and the rebuilding of the economy under Park Chung-hee. There’s a fair amount of colorful detail in these chapters, and Mr. Tudor’s brisk writing kept the pages turning for me.

The book then turns to the post-democraticization Korea known by most westerners, myself included. This section is structured as a series of comprehensively bite-sized chapters on many aspects of Korean society, most of which should be familiar to those who have been in the country for at least a couple of years.  Although each chapter is short, each is also dense with information, tidbits, and bits of interviews with Koreans. You could quibble with a few things being left out, but the book has to end sometime, and what’s there is a good read for those new to Korean culture especially. The only other such overall introduction to Korea that I could think of is Michael Breen’s “The Koreans”, the revised version of which was published just before I started living in Korea — in other words, a lot has changed since then.

If you’ve been keeping up with Korean current events since then, you likely won’t find too much in this book that you don’t already know. The flip side is that if you’re new to all things Korean, you should consider picking this up. Oh, and for a quick and entertaining introduction to Korean shamanism, I’m not sure this can be beat.

Mr. Tudor graciously wrote to me with answers to a couple of points about the book I was curious about, and I think what he said gives a good picture of the book’s flavor.

– Although you write objectively, your affection for Korea comes through. Was there a balance you felt you had to strike?

If that’s how it comes across, then I’ll be very happy. Frankly I like Korea a lot, and consider it a place that people don’t know enough about – so I don’t mind being a little bit of a cheerleader. But that doesn’t mean I won’t criticise. After all, this is an entire country we’re talking about, so that means that there’ll be plenty of good and bad. And a lot of the things I do criticise are the same things that Koreans are tired of as well – excessive competition in society, and the depressing amount of corruption in politics, to name a couple. All the way through, I just said to myself that I wanted to be honest but respectful. I hope I’ve done that well enough.

– You’ve lived in Korea for a number of years, but the book is virtually up-to-the-minute. Did you find yourself having to revise sections to keep up with events?

Absolutely, and it was a pain! Especially the politics chapter – I was forever revising that one. I find it pretty amusing that both main political parties changed their names during the time I was writing it. And I was weighing up whether to mention Ahn Chul-soo, or the so-called ‘jongbuk’ scandal, for instance. Maybe ten years from now, their presence in the book will make it look horribly dated – so it’s kind of a gamble mentioning current issues like that.

– In the book you cover many of the standard Korea-observer bases — democratization, education, pop culture — but also less-comfortable topics such as discrimination, homosexuality, and media bias.

It was a deliberate effort, really, to cover topics that I felt others weren’t bothering with. Generally, English-language books on Korea focus on the ‘miracle on the Han’, the Korean War, or North Korea. And I also feel that Korea gets painted as this hyper-conservative, Confucian country, when people are actually becoming less and less like that with every year that goes by. So I thought, what are the topics that show a ‘newer’ Korea, and haven’t been discussed much yet? Some of the criticism I had for this book relates to that – a couple of people said that parts of it felt like a collection of informative essays rather than a singular, unified book with a common thread running through every chapter. I don’t really mind that, as I was happy to sacrifice some unity at times to just get interesting information out there.

And the topics I chose were (well, I think, at least) important. The media in Korea is too biased, in both directions. The people working in it themselves will say so, too. And as for homosexuality… one early reader told me that it was ‘really not mainstream stuff’, as though I had some sort of agenda. I disagree; though it is difficult for gay people to publicly state their preferences in Korea (and many other countries), that doesn’t mean that those preferences don’t exist. There are 28 chapters in my book, and one of them is about homosexuals. Are one in 28 people homosexual? Probably. But it’s just that most of them don’t feel they can be open about it.

– An interesting, if implied, theme is the tension between influential ideals of Confucian harmony and the reality of a fractious, competitive nation where those who fail to “make it” can feel ground down.

Yes, I think this tension does exist; traditionally, Korea was ruled by a highly entrenched yangban aristocracy, so there was very little motivation or opportunity to pursue social mobility and betterment. Park Chung-hee saw that as a problem, and for similar reasons hated Confucianism.

But the creation of modern Korea saw the rise of meritocracy. I think that was very good for the development of the country, but the competition it fostered also creates a lot of pain – especially in a country which has a certain amount of ‘natural socialism’ as I see it, and a desire for greater social unity that comes from historic experience. It seems wrong to many Koreans that their society feels so dog-eat-dog.

But I think we’re also seeing the rise of a neo-yangban class. Early South Korea was very meritocratic, but now, through education, those who did well financially out of the meritocracy are passing on their advantages to their children through private tutoring, overseas schooling, and the US graduate school education that seems to have become almost compulsory among the top people in the worlds of academia, business, and thyou have to be absolutely brilliant to overcome this hurdle. Like the yangban, one’s place in this elite group depends largely upon the ability to get top scores in exams. There is therefore a focus on getting the result, rather than the process by which it is achieved. Creativity is sacrificed in favour of the ‘right’ answer. And it also means that there is a very limited definition of who is considered successful, intelligent, and so on. I think this itself is creating big problems in terms of leadership in Korea.

Most-read Naver.com articles of the week — November 25, 2012

November 25th, 2012 · Stories of the Day/Week/Year · 0 comments

Top 10 in society.

1. Regular bus service in Daegu and Pohang was suspended on the 22nd as part of plans to install and test a nationwide emergency-response service.

2. Incheon was also making preparations for the system’s arrival.

3. And so was Gyeongsangnam-do.

4. A man accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated college student in Suwon after dragging her into his hotel room laughed at her family in court.

5. Another article on the bus emergency system.

6. A trainee prosecutor is accused of dropping charges against a middle-aged woman, accused of theft, in exchange for sexual favors.

7. A TV program about haunted houses in Korea.

8. A man in his 50s committed suicide after watching a presidential debate. He left behind a six-meter-long suicide note with advice for the candidates.

9. A group of over 30 police officers were forced to take their pants off in public to discover which of them had a cellphone.

10. International students at a graduate school in Seoul were able to receive  falsified chemistry degrees despite not having graduated and not even knowing what the chemical formulas H2O an CO2 stand for. The vast majority of them were Mongolian.

‘Korea’s choice, America’s choice’

November 24th, 2012 · North Korea, Politics · 0 comments

With the American election complete and the South Korean elections just weeks away, the Hankyoreh21’s Lee Jae-hun examined what the Korean election may mean for relations with North Korea.

Original article in Korean is at this link.

The second Barack Obama administration has, fortunately, met with trouble. The American president’s first administration met disappointment with the results of its “strategic patience” approach to policy on the Korean Peninsula, and doesn’t know what to do. However, since he is not the neocon-surrounded Mitt Romney, the crucial moment for peace on the peninsula is still ahead. In China, Xi Jinping was elevated at the 18th Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, held November 8th to 14th. China’s Korean Peninsula policy under Xi Jinping is known as “peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” maintaining the country’s key goal of ensuring political stability in North Korea.

Northeast Asia is today being engulfed by a new Cold War. First, the China-US relationships is growing tense. The United Kingdom, known as the G-2 nation, has pledged cooperation but China, which is seeking to expand its influence by growing its economy, has been clashing with the US over its desire to “return throughout Asia” and maintain its dominant profits, while the US seeks to maintain the economic siege of China. Externally this is a competition over land, but at root it is about colonialism and cracks in the third-world mentality, and this creates obstacles in the US-China relationship. Second, with the fifth and final year of the Lee Myung-bak government the relationship between North and South Korea has regressed to Cold War-era levels.

This is the new Cold War era that the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia are entering. From 1998 to 2000, the partnership between Kim Dae-jung and Bill Clinton saw the balmy winds of peace and reconciliation sweep over the Korean Peninsula, ending the isolation of the Cold War. In 1998, North Korea’s provocative first missile launch was wrapped up by the Perry Process (DJ Process), followed by the first North-South summit, the adoption of the North Korea-US joint declaration, and the North Korea-US summit. Had Al Gore been elected president in 2001 rather than George W. Bush, the situation on the Korean Peninsula today would be qualitatively different.

In the volatile year of 2005, the September 19 Joint Statement intended to be a blueprint for the post-Cold War era in Northeast Asia was primarily guided by Korea and China. The partnership between Roh Moo-hun and Hu Jintao, rather than weakening neocon influence, led to President Bush and Chairman Kim Jong-il engaging in persuasion and pressure. The active cooperation of South Korea and China, which had carried arms against each other in the Korean War, gave rise to the saying that there are no eternal enemies or eternal allies. The examples of the partnerships between Kim Dae-jung and Bill Clinton and between Roh Moo-hyun and Hu Jintao demonstrated that historial fact that the Korea-US and Korea-China relationships are both necessary for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

In sum, this is the choice we face. Korea is a relatively weak nation surrounded by the US, China, Japan, and Russia. Where is Korea’s diplomatic power? To put it simply, that power is based on influence over North Korea. In Northeast Asia, the freedm and leadership of a successful Korean diplomatic policy will be proportionate to influence over North Korea. Influence on North Korea can be created only through deepened interdependence in which mistrust is turned into  mutual confidence and the two nations communicate and cooperate rather than regarding each other as enemies. Between the cooperation and conflict of the US-China relationship, someone must be able to step in and build a three-way partnership with Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.

Whoever it is must set goals of solving the North Korean nuclear problem, normalizing relations between North Korea and the US/Japan, building peace on the Korean Peninsula, and establishing multilateral agreements among the Northeast Asian nations. Since December of 2008 the six-party talks have been suspended, and they must be resumed. However, to accomplish this there must be considerable improvement in the North-South relationship. Who can start the virtuous cycle of peace and coexistence? In the presidential election on  December 19th we must select a candidate with such vision and ability. That is the historic meaning the election holds for all Koreans living in a divided land.

In South Korea, student journalists can fill the gaps

November 20th, 2012 · Education and ESL · 0 comments

Original article in Korean is at this link.

In the future, you may wind up reading articles written by student journalists in a joint project. Student journalists, unable to freely meet and communicate, were unable work together and complete whatever journalistic feat they desired. From those difficult times to now, joint projects allow student journalists, who don’t know adult journalists, to report on the student society that older people don’t know about.

This is the story about what happened to a group of teenaged student journalists last August. They were teen mothers and North Korean escapees, normally ostracized at school. That shows the advantages of student journalists. When they pretended I was their news source they asked me all sorts of questions about specific situations and emotions, but when they interviewed their peers they were much more easily able to make empathic connections.

In fact, this reporter saw that, being of the same age group, they could show things that I could not since I lack the same understanding. Teen moms have dreams and go to hagwons to study for the university entrance exams, for instance.

They have a multitude of stories to tell about their completely different lives, despite being of the same age or gender. When interviewing someone placed into difficult circumstances, rather than reacting with pity they simply continued to inquire, “how did this happen to you?” and showed a true journalistic ebility to draw out the difficult aspects of a story.

When it comes to diverse issues such as the experiences of teen mothers in the classroom, social support for teen mothers, the problems of superficial sex education, and the stories of teens from North Korea, I was deeply impressed with the student journalists’ abilities to express their points of view.

Stories written by student journalists and adult journalists may be different, but adult journalists have a strong tendency to focus on one truth and focus on that one to the exclusion of others. In my case, I wrote on article focusing on the limits placed on teen mothers in the classroom. This is due to the fact that full educational rights are not provided to them in the schools, and this is the greatest harm done to teenage mothers. Furthermore, they say, another problem is the very small amount of independence-promotion money they have, which prevents them from going to hagwons.

Most-read Naver.com articles of the week — November 19, 2012

November 18th, 2012 · Stories of the Day/Week/Year · 0 comments

Top 10 in society.

1. A look at a shuttered mental hospital near Gwangju, rumored to have been the site of horrific mistreatment of patients.

2. In another case of conflict between an elderly and a younger person being video’d, a “gangster grandmother” was filmed on Seoul’s line 1 scuffling with a woman who wouldn’t give up her seat.

3. An employee of a community credit cooperative is accused of embezzling some 1.8 billion won  from customers.

4. The driver of the car in the following picture was acquitted after arguing that the car had suddenly, uncontrollably accelerated:

5. A man alleges that when he went to the hospital for an endosopic procedure, the endoscope had been used just five minutes previously on the patient next to him.

6. Professor and author Jin Jung-gwon and Media Watch head Beon Hui-jae held a “Game of Death” debate over issues in the presidential campaigns, broadcast over the internet. Considering the heavy viewership there may be more debates.

7.  Another interview with a lottery winner, following up on a similar article from a few weeks ago.

8. Police arrested a 20-year old who dreamed of being a gangster. He is accused of car theft and assault.

9. An article about research on palm crabs, which… well, see for yourself:


10. Fishermen caught a 22-kilogram saw-edged perch.

SKorea: Ahn Cheol-soo, presidential candidate, washes cars

November 17th, 2012 · Photos, Politics · 0 comments

Professor Ahn Cheol-soo, having finally declared his candidacy for the presidency, has hit the campaign trail by washing cars. Oh, what I would’ve given to see Romney and Obama campaign this way.

Is North Korea preparing a new missile test?

November 14th, 2012 · North Korea · 0 comments

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University believe the satellite photos below show that North Korea has been testing rockets, possibly in preparation for a new ICBM test.

Korean Human Rights Commission produces its own movie

November 13th, 2012 · Society · 0 comments

Original article in Korean is at this link.

The National Human Rights Commission held a press conference at 8 pm on October 29th in Seoul to screen the film “Juvenile Offender” (범죄소년).

“Juvenile Offender” was produced by the NHRC. The term refers to teenagers who commit crimes between the ages of 14 and 19.

Actor-director Kang Yi-gwan spent three to four months conducting research at the Seoul youth rehabilitation center in preparation for the film, which is based on the discrimination that occurs against people with criminal records.

The press conference was attended by officials from the Ministry of Justice who had aided in the production of the film, as well as directors Park Chan-wook and Jeong Jae-eun, who helped lead the human rights film project with the NHRC.

The NHRC held further press conferences at 10 am in the Seoul youth rehabilitation center and 2 pm at the Seoul Probation and Parole Office on the 30th.

On November 11th the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Tokoyo International Film Festival.