Category Archives: Korea

Danny Zuko is a Bad Boyfriend

Tell Me More

I was having dinner at a restaurant last night, the meal was great, my wife was enjoying the excellent food and it appears that most other customers and families around us were equally pleased. While the restaurant served liquor, it was not so much a drinking place but a place where someone can bring their family, as evidenced by a couple of the customers and their kids. There was one table however, that kinda spoiled the mood for everyone else.

It was a group of six men, drinking not too heavily but enough that they are all loud and can be heard by everyone in the restaurant. They were fairly young, maybe late 20s-30s. And though they were speaking a tad fast and my Korean is not that good, I could catch enough of what they were talking about, namely: the women they slept with, how their girlfriends are in bed, which Japanese adult film star they would like to be with, and how to get a Japanese girl. My wife heard all of this, and she corroborated my guesses. It was quite annoying and uncomfortable hearing all of this, with my wife at the table, children in the restaurant, and the server being a woman. Good thing the food was excellent.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I never really understood the urge of bragging about sexual prowess and conquests. I mean sure, one can brag about having bedded several women as a way to measure themselves among their male peers in a caveman sort of way, but going about the lurid details is something else entirely. It’s almost like a group session of humiliating women… women who happened to trust the men in the group. It’s a tad too distasteful for me, and if I took a recording of the conversation last night and posted it online, I’m sure most of the men on that table would be single and unemployed within the week.

The incident last night was reminiscent of what happened with several famous celebrities in Korea who were caught sharing their sexual exploits including photos in a chatroom. These were men, doing basically the same thing I witnessed last night, being lewd, sharing too much information, and shaming women in the process. I don’t think it had anything to do with bragging or demonstrating one’s machismo since several members of the chat group are young, popular celebrities who could easily be with several young women if they ever want to. This chatroom incident sparked a huge outrage, bringing down several celebrities, starting several investigations, and calling for crackdowns against sharing photos and spy pornography.

This isn’t the first time people got in trouble for sharing intimate details online. I recall a couple of years ago, one of the biggest photo-sharing sites in Korea was shut down due to men sharing intimate photos of unsuspecting women, giving out tips on how to rape women, and even arranging for partner-swapping.  Now, I’m not against partner-swapping should everyone involved be in on it, but I believe the women were basically pimped out on the site without their knowledge and consent.

I don’t know what has prompted this wave of misogyny. Perhaps its men bottling in their feelings after being subservient boyfriends and husbands, perhaps it’s new technology and people just being their worst, perhaps it’s young people basically rebelling against the Confusion culture, perhaps it’s a backlash to the rise of the feminist movement, or perhaps this whole thing has been there all along. Perhaps it’s Danny Zuko and his friends merrily chanting, “tell me more, tell me more.”

So once I become a grizzled old grandfather, what do I tell young men? “If you wanna brag about how many women you slept with, go ahead. Give a number. If you really want to brag about your manliness, go to a sauna together. Leave the women who trusted you alone. Don’t be an ass and betray that trust just so your friends could have a disgusting mental picture. You don’t need to help them with that. They can make disgusting mental pictures on their own. ”

 

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Random KFC Incident

Whistle Portrait

With women from the Middle East, due to cultural reasons and perhaps my own misconceptions, I try to give them a wide berth. So when I was at a KFC and this woman and her young daughter, who were obviously tourists, were ordering after me, as I sat down and waited for my number to get called, I shoved the seat next to me a bit farther. I wanted to give them space when they sit down.

Before the woman sat down however, she dragged the seat even further from me. I didn’t know how to take that. “Was there something about me?”

“Don’t be silly!” I thought.

They finally called my number and I went to the counter. As I was picking up some extra napkins, my food from the counter disappeared just as I turned back to it. Then I looked back, and the woman’s kid grabbed my food, brought it to her mother; and they were rifling through my burger, chicken, and fries.

I didn’t say anything and waited for them to realize their mistake. I also thought that maybe I made the mistake and didn’t hear my number correctly.

But when they finally realized their error, they went back to the counter and tried giving me back my meal with the woman saying, “No touch! No touch!” my original tower burger hastily wrapped in an amateur fashion.

I have OCD when it comes to germs so I wasn’t about to eat it. I could just imagine that hyperactive kid’s fingers all over my food or their spittle all over my fries and custard.

“No touch! No touch!” she kept saying. I ain’t touching that either, lady.

So I just forced a smile and asked the lady behind the counter for a replacement. Both she and I kinda just rolled our collective eyes at the incident.

Not once did I hear sorry from the woman nor her kid.

After waiting 7 minutes for my replacement meal, I went to the dining area. I sat there shoving chicken down my mouth as I glared at this woman and her kid. My OCD started kicking in when I realized they didn’t replace my tray nor my Coke. Also, my chicken was suspiciously cold. What else did they have their spit and their fingers all over? Visions of National Geographic footage of microscopic creatures I saw when I was a child kept repeating on a loop in my head as I ate. “What else did that kid touch before going into the restaurant? Do either of them have a cold. Do I hear sniffling? Is it cold in this restaurant?”

“Wait, why am I obsessing over this?! Is it because they’re Middle-Eastern? Am I being racist?! Surely, not. But why the focus on diseases?! Hey wait a minute, I’m sure I’d be a little bit grossed out regardless of who the person inadvertently had their dirty hands all over my food. But why say ‘dirty?!’ What is going on really?! And why is this chicken so cold?”

Worst KFC experience ever. I think I’m going to have indigestion.

Now, there’s really no big revelation from the whole experience. No truths about Middle-Eastern women nor tourists. These facts are just incidental… details, mere details to color the incident. What bothers me however is the fact that no matter how emphatic we sometimes try to be towards other people, it’s annoying when they don’t bother reciprocating the same thoughtfulness. It’s not owed, but it sure would’ve been nice.  I’m sitting there, trying to think about other people, and later they just grab people’s meals willy-nilly. And in the end, I end up eating a suspicious meal, obsessing about germs and PC culture, staring and probably menacing a couple of tourists.

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Soon to be Deleted

Chest_Pain

I’m trying my hardest not to write anything about depression at the moment. Unfortunately, listening to Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse, and old episodes of Dopey, there’s really not much that comes to mind.

One thing that keeps coming back to my head however are suicide scenes they sometimes broadcast here on television. In Korea, it’s common for people to just lock themselves in a car and burn something in order to die from asphyxiation. Afterwards in the news, you might see cigarette butts and bottles of liquor unblurred as the camera explores the car. I’ve been wondering why you don’t often see food in these scenes. Of course it might seem pointless to be eating food as you try to end your life, but I figure eating is probably one of the most distracting and pleasurable thing to do as you await your death in a sealed room or vehicle. With me, they’d probably find my sad body with bucket of KFC chicken nearby. It’s very difficult to think of anything, much less smell faint, toxic fumes, as I soothe my depression with greasy bites of chicken. So yeah, if you see me checking in a hotel alone with big bucket of chicken, call 911. You just might save my life.

If I was to give some advice though, other than seek help if you’re depressed or thinking about suicide, is that people should never look up suicide scenes online. I looked up suicide scenes online checking for food (we live in a frivolous era) and stumbled on the darkest, most depressing scenes of the human condition. Alan Black’s ‘Faces of Death’ didn’t prepare me for this. Most of the scenes, usually from what appear to be educational presentations, and they look like they are from developing or Eastern European countries, and without much context, I began to build stories explaining the scenes. It’s a rather grim exercise. Save yourself the misery and watch highlights of Pawn Stars instead.

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A Grim Trend

Fish Folk.jpg

There seems to be an awful lot of death around me lately. Last November, my grandmother passed away. I had to fly to the States for a bit of a memorial gathering. I haven’t seen my grandmother for many years prior to her passing, and in at least a couple of scares, our family had to mentally prepare ourselves for her passing. And when she finally passed away, it was more like seeing the long inevitable, acting in a scene long rehearsed.

Not long after, my godfather passed away. I don’t have much of a relationship with him, but he was close with my father and I do love my cousins. His health has been in a decline for many years now. And while it was a surprise for me that he passed away, I had a feeling that it was to be expected. He wasn’t getting any healthier. A few weeks after his passing, another uncle passed away. Like my godfather, his health was in a decline as well. It’s a bit of a coincidence that he was really close with my godfather and that they both died within weeks of each other’s passing. It’s almost like what they say about old couples dying.

Just now, my landlord just passed away. He’s not a relative, but being my landlord, he’s physically the one closest to me. His death hasn’t hit me as much as my grandmother’s death did, but the fact that I just saw him smiling with his family gathered all around him on a Sunday afternoon a few days ago makes me feel really uneasy. He was a good guy who was kind and generous enough to let me stay at his place for so many years even though he wasn’t particularly fond of the way I decorated and furnished my apartment. I just hope he makes a straight beeline to heaven and not linger around to make his complaints about my living space known.

Oddly enough, we are planning to move to a different place sometime this year. Having my good landlord finally pass away seems to make that decision even more pertinent. Here’s hoping we find a reasonable place in this currently ridiculous Seoul real estate market.

I don’t know if there’s really a point to my writing this week. There have been a lot of people dying lately. It feels quite uneasy.  I really would like to shake it off.

Be kind to people while they are still around. One of my biggest regret in life is not being there with my mother in her last years. I could’ve found another job. I could’ve made arrangements around my life to make it possible for me to be there with her, but I didn’t. I was lazy, unimaginative, selfish, and unkind. I kinda shut it all out. I pretended everything was going to be fine, and in the process, I missed out on so much from a woman who was nothing but a saint to everyone in the family. Be kind to people while they around, because when they’re gone, you might end up writing blog entries about it repeatedly and getting reminded of your mistakes every time another person dies.

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Reading the Christmas Barometer

Conversation

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I have become bitter, old, and cynical, but it is still my favorite holiday. It’s my favorite holiday when it’s good. Otherwise, it’s one of the most depressing days of the year. If it’s bad, it becomes a barometer of how messed up your life has been. What the hell have you been up to that you can’t even get a Christmas that is joyful?

The thing with Christmas is that it always brings me to a time when my family and I were still living together. My mother was still around, everyone got presents, and we even shared the evening with our cousins and extended family. There were tons of food and something Christmas-related was on the television to further amp up the mood. It was close as I could ever be to experiencing a Norman Rockwell painting. And yes, I do realize that nothing could ever replicate the holidays of my childhood, especially with rose-tinted glasses, but every year, I just want a decent meal and an evening that doesn’t end with me sleeping depressed.

Joyful is the last word I would use to describe Christmas this year.

There was one Christmas when my family, after having celebrated and opened all of our presents, was subjected to the sounds spousal abuse happening over at our neighbor’s house. It was pretty bad. To this day, I could still remember the sound of that poor woman being choked, as well as the knocking of her husband’s mother saying, “that’s enough… please stop it.” I don’t remember how the whole thing ended, but I do remember that no police officers were called to the scene.

There was another Christmas when I spent the holidays all by myself. I was in midst of the lowest depression. Nothing was working out in my life and I found myself wandering the city all by myself while people around me laughed, cackled, held hands with their loved ones, and made me all the more depressed. I remember one of the good things about that year was that it was actually snowing. It reminded me of being back home. See, when everything is bad, it’s the smallest things that count. What surprised me that year was that I got messages from two people I long discounted from my life. One from an old student and another from a friend whom I like to think I once helped out through her depression. It was good to be remembered. And at that time, I like to think I did something good to be remembered during the holidays. My life was messed up, but at least I did a bit of good for some people. I wonder what they’re up to now?

I’ve never been seriously bullied in my childhood, but I do remember being ostracized or being called names at one point or another. It was nothing serious, and I used to brush them off, but I do remember its sting and the cold lump it built on my throat, slowly making breathing a little bit harder. I’m sure everyone knows this feeling. I never thought about those feelings much before, but on Christmas, that’s the exact sensation that I felt. I’m a grown man, but I felt insecure, ugly, inept, unloved, not normal, and in a word “weird.” It was one of those few instances when I truly felt I didn’t belong… that something was truly wrong with me. That cold lump on my throat was making it harder for me to breath, and as I type these words, the sensation is still so fresh that I can still feel its sting. It’s like I am that neighbor lady being metaphorically choked.

I actually sometimes wonder if that actual benign lump in my thyroid is a manifestation of insecurities, Christian guilt, actual guilt, depression, and anxiety, and that it will someday grow and choke the life out of me.

Ugh… what am I writing? It’s December 26! It’s a low bar. I had a shitty Christmas. I hope everyone had a better Christmas than me.

 

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Hijacking the #MeToo Movement

Good Doctor

At 4:00 am, a couple is having drinks in a bar in Seoul. The franchise is known for its cheap drinks, thus it gets really crowded and tables are often close to each other. Because of this, and because it’s typical of people when they consume alcohol, people tend to be quite loud when they speak.  The couple gets harassed by a neighboring table. They were two women who for some reason started to harass the table. According to the couple, the two women have been exceptionally loud prior to them trying to ruin their neighbor’s evening. The couple decided to leave.

Not long after the couple left, a neighboring table of four men made comments at the two women. The group claims that they asked the women to quiet down and stop harassing other people. One of the women said that at some point, one of the men began filming them. The two women didn’t take this lightly and started arguing with the men.

The argument spilled outside when it got physical. Ultimately, it resulted in the two women getting seriously beaten and the police getting called. Everyone was arrested and now we have two conflicting stories and some people trying to tie the incident with feminism and the #MeToo movement.

I don’t care so much about the insults or the women’s claims that the men insulted them for them for not looking feminine. It was 4:00 am, people were drunk, and I am sure the two women must have hurled equally vile insults at the men. The women claimed that the men attacked them first, however, security camera footage proved that the women were the first to attack the men. I was never on their side, being obnoxious bar patrons, but this puts them in legal jeopardy and provides defense for the men. The men were trying to diffuse the initial situation (being good Samaritans), were initially attacked, and have a good argument for self-defense. The women were proven to have initiated the attack and are bad actors, providing false statements.

Korea doesn’t have a very good record when it comes to self-defense. Usually it is often the one who is most injured that gets compensation, which makes it wise for people to just walk away from a confrontation even after they have been physically assaulted (grabbed, touched, lightly hit) or threatened. There are self-defense laws, but in the country, it is often countered by laws over excessive force. I believe that at least one of the women thought that she could get away with physically assaulting a man and not have any repercussion due to the tendency of people to avoid physical confrontation and the unwillingness of most men to physically confront women. I’m in no way an MRA apologist, but I believe some women DO goad men into what they believe is an unwinnable trap, where men are either cowards for walking away or are monsters for hitting a woman. I think that these two women thought they could “win” the evening or satiate their bruised egos by putting at least one of the men into this trap.

Unfortunately for the men, it doesn’t look good that there are four of them and only two women. The excessive force argument is also pretty convincing. Most people could imagine four men easily defusing the situation with not as much injury. But if you follow that idea a bit further, the question becomes: what is the reasonable amount of injury is enough to diffuse an attack from a drunk and violent woman? You inevitably come to another trap. Are the courts and society at large willing to say that it is reasonable to lay a hand on a woman? In this day and age of feminism, equality, and the #MeToo movement, that would seem like a bridge too far.

It goes without saying however: it is never good to hit women! It is never good to hit people!

But in my opinion, allowing women the defense of being the weaker sex is in itself sexism. The women were proven violent instigators and they should be seen as that in the eyes of the law. The men’s actions don’t exist in a vacuum, and it should be seen as a separate case. The men would appear to be excessive in that early morning brawl, but that doesn’t give the women excuse for their earlier action. The problem is one of the women already started an online petition calling for an end to hatred against women. “The women were beaten up just because they wore no makeup and had short hair.” She is trying to make the case about men hating women instead of men hating obnoxious bar patrons who harass and physically assault other customers. And if they’re claim that men attacked them because they didn’t look attractive enough. Wouldn’t there be more evidence of this behavior? Perhaps other victims of this “gang’s” misogynist attacks, be it physical or verbal?  Or maybe other customers in the bar noting that the men were criticizing patrons for their looks? So far there’s been none. Just witnesses corroborating the men’s accounts and video footage showing that the women attacked first. Unfortunately, it would appear the women already have sizeable support on the Internet, turning the whole thing into a nationwide gender debate.

True sexism and misogyny is assigning the women weakness and freedom to harass other customers due their weakness. Being a woman does not allow anyone to lay a hand on a stranger free from consequences despite that stranger hurling insults. True sexism and misogyny is allowing incidents like this to be under the umbrella of feminism and the #MeToo movement when it has nothing to do with the movement. I’m a visible minority living in South Korea. If I initiated a physical altercation with two people and lost, I cannot immediately cry racism. It would be an insult to genuine victims of racism as well as a disservice to the fight against prejudice if other people took me seriously.

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Bad Politics for Thanksgiving

Bath Time

There is a crisis in South Korea right now. Housing prices have skyrocketed, making buying homes a dream for most young families. At the moment, the traditional way of building wealth is much too lucrative for the average person, and it has become the realm of speculative investing/gambling the same way stocks and cryptocurrencies are. I’m not sure if there’s anything the government can do to calm the market down, but as far as I can tell, they’re not doing anything that could effectively make things better for people. Along with the housing crisis is the current unemployment/wage crisis.   The government’s attempt to regulate time spent in the office and prevent overworking as well as their push to increase minimum wage has made companies reluctant to hire new employees. The job market was already tough before the Moon Jae-In administration, but their recent actions have made it more difficult for young people to find jobs. There are even been reports that many graduates have given up on finding lifelong employment and have settled on multiple part-time work or the gig economy. There is good intent in increasing the minimum wage in South Korea which is woefully low for a country with such high living costs, and there should be regulations in a culture which pressures workers to stay at work long after regular business hours have passed, but I feel like the rollout of these initiatives should’ve been coupled with incentives for big and small businesses to follow-through. Carrots and sticks. In any case, things are not good in South Korea at the moment. With Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) coming next week, there is very little to be grateful for in many Korean households.

Which is the reason why the President’s North Korean expedition rubs me the wrong way. It reeks of tone deafness and bad politics. While things are, at best, stagnant domestically, Moon Jae-In continues to pursue relations with North Korea when Kim Jung Un has yet to demonstrate that he is a good actor when it comes to negotiations regarding nuclear disarmament. Why is this the priority when people in the country are struggling to make a future for themselves, when the wealth gap between those invested in the real estate market and those just starting their families and career are getting to be so wide that more and more people are getting into crippling debt? I kid with some people sometimes, but a part of me believe that at some point, the only people who can afford the high rise apartments continually being built all over Seoul would be Chinese investors. Re-establishing the Kaesong Industrial Complex is not going to help the average Korean. It’s not going to make it easier to buy a house or get a proper job.

If anything, Kim Jung Un promising to denuclearize and allow nuclear inspectors is good politically for the one person who has not risked anything to push for disarmament: Donald Trump. While Moon Jae-In is running around North Korea, his victories towards nuclear disarmament are claimed by Donald Trump. I understand that nuclear disarmament benefits everyone, but here it seems he is working far too hard for the benefit of someone who really couldn’t care less. Also, who did Moon Jae-In bring with him to his recent trip? Three heads of Korean companies, two of whom have recently skirted Korean laws. It’s just awful, awful optics. Not only is the average Korean not going to benefit from the North Korean summit, but it appears that those who will gain are giant companies whose heads can break Korean laws and still continue to operate their multi-billion dollar companies. The Samsung heir who conspired with the previous administration and was convicted is attempting to rehabilitate his image with this trip to North Korea and the government is giving him the opportunity to do so. Awful.

Give up, boys and girls. Winners and losers are born. If you were not born a winner, give up already. That Samsung heir, boy, is he a winner!

Now, I agree that governments can’t be focused on one thing only and that the current domestic crisis is quite complicated and would require a solution lengthier than a couple of days-worth of socializing with communists, but I just find the whole thing inept and a tad misguided. While Moon Jae-In might be noble in his intent, I believe Kim Jung Un is simply looking for a photo op at the moment. And this, in a nutshell, is my problem with the current administration. While much better than the past administrations, it is far too invested on its good intentions and not so much on effective policy. Not being evil and getting elected is one thing, but actually running the government effectively is another. I feel like this current North Korean trip, with the backdrop of the domestic crises shows that the Moon Jae-In government is far too starry-eyed with its own ideals. And for that, they will get punished politically by their opponents. (It pains for me to say it, but they should.) It will be a loss for them politically, but that’s small compared to the huge impact the current crises is inflicting upon young Koreans.

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Kimonos and Fake News

Spoliarium

I’ve been doing a bit of an informal survey after hearing a friend spout off what sounds like anti-Japanese sentiment disguised as facts. In an attempt to disparage the character of Japanese culture specifically and the Japanese people in general, she mentioned that the kimono was designed specifically for the woman to easily have sexual encounters with men at a moment’s notice. That is why what appear to be cushions or pillows are attached at the back of the outfit. This factoid (or to cut to the chase, this lie) seems to be designed to hurt the Japanese image by basically calling their traditional attire a sex attire and by virtue implying that Japanese women have a history of having loose morals.

I’ve been asking Koreans around me about the reason for the kimono’s design and most people reference this rather risqué explanation to different degrees, with some being more polite than others. This was very fascinating since the people I asked were mostly well-educated people who have visited Japan several times, if not lived there for several years. They mostly came up with the same explanation, although some expressed doubts regarding its veracity.

Now, I’ve read about kimonos, seen them worn many times first-hand, and been with people who had it put on. There are many degrees, but kimonos can be quite complicated to put on. It took my friends almost an hour to have it put on them, and this is with a professional assistant. When you see people walking around Japan with their Sunday best kimonos, these are mostly complicated attires with several layers. They are not the fastest things to take on and off. Probably the easiest and least layered kimono I could think of are the yukatas worn in the summer, but compared to the Korean hanbok, they are probably a little more complicated to put on and off, so I don’t understand this idea of “easy access.” As for the cushions or pillows attached in the back. They are otakos or oversized ribbons mainly placed there for aesthetic purposes. I would hardly consider them pillows. One of the reasons for putting so much material around women at the time was that it was considered ideal for women to have a straight, flat figure. It was simply the aesthetic at the time. And as for pillows and the idea of having women basically be on their backs, Japanese women, when fully attired in traditional garb will have a very complex hairdo. Back then, they would never rest their head on pillows for fear of ruining their hair, and instead rested their head and neck on what amounts to a wooden platform. The whole pillow/easy access thing is simply a fantasy.

But what lends it credibility is a bit of truth. One is that there is a history of courtesans and prostitution in Japan which does involve the image of geishas wearing heavy make-up and kimonos. But this is counter to the easy access image the rumor I’ve been hearing. Another bit of truth is that kimonos are usually tied from behind, thus women would often require assistance when putting on such complicated attire. Prostitutes would sometimes tie their kimono in front so they could easily put them on and off without assistance, but that it not the only sole reason to wear a kimono with the ribbon in front. Elderly people for example, would tie their kimonos in front to make it easier to wear them. In any case, there are many reasons why kimonos could be tied in front, but I think the originators of the easy access lie just latched on to the prostitution story and made it true for all kimonos.

But what is the purpose of the lie. I imagine it is a relic of anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea. I ask people where and when they first heard of this explanation and not many people could tell me exactly when. It seems to have been rooted in their childhood. Thus, even when I offer a counter explanation, some find it hard to divorce themselves from the old take. Perhaps it was designed to disparage the Japanese, and in doing so, boost Korean nationalist sentiment. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. In the 80s, children in the Philippines were taught that Armando Lite invented the ArmaLite (M16), Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent lamp, and Eduardo San Juan invented the Lunar Rover. There’s a possibility that Eduardo San Juan did exist as an engineer, but there is no record that he was the chief engineer for the Lunar Rover. And as for the other two, they are nothing but clever puns. But why make up the lie? They were designed to boost national pride, encourage children to take up science and engineering, and instill a bit of anti-American sentiment since all inventors were said to have had their inventions stolen and their credits removed, thus making the lies unprovable. I suspect the Japanese kimono lie was created in the same vein, especially since the Koreas were occupied by the Japanese the same way the Philippines was occupied by the Americans.

I believe this is an early attempt at “fake news” or propaganda. Unfortunately, with me trying to disprove the old “fake news,” I could be labeled as “fake news” as well. I’m not sure if propaganda had the same vicious back and forth cycle back then as well. I figure some lies just faded after people saw the light of truth and reason. But maybe I was being naïve in thinking they are not as persistent, after all, what was my friend spouting? And to bring it back to the modern era, I had my wife look up some of the anti-Japanese sentiments my friend was spouting including the kimono explanation online. True enough, she finds them in a Korean anti-Japanese site. Old “fake news” makes it to the modern age.

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Is that a YOLO?

Infant

I learned this week that partying with kids, while still doable and fun, can ultimately be uncomfortable and sometimes awkward. I’m at a point in my life now when I can finally “feel my age.”

My work got featured in the arts magazine Wake Up Screaming. Thanks to Matt Witt. The edition’s theme is “In My Town” and it features my move from Winnipeg to Seoul, and how my old Winnipeg no longer exists.

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Shaking Hands

Skull

Living in South Korea, I think it would be a bit odd if I didn’t comment about the historic event right now regarding North and South Korea. Honestly, I’m very optimistic about the first steps towards a friendlier relationship with North Korea; however, I really don’t know what that friendly relationship means for the country going forward. But whatever it is, it is still better than the North Korea a few months ago that was testing nuclear missiles and insulting its neighbors.

First off, I worry about John Bolton’s comment that they are going to use the Libya model to denuclearize North Korea. This model has been looked at negatively by the people in power in North Korea, especially since it eventually led to the ouster and death of Colonel Gaddafi. As friendly and as willing North Korea may seem to be with denuclearization now, I’m not sure how far those talks would go and what true denuclearization would lead to. Also, factory jobs and the military are the biggest way out of poverty for many North Koreans. If you don’t have a need for a military, you have millions of men potentially on a crisis to transition to other industries. North Korea needs to maintain a perpetual sense of threat in order to justify its bloated military. Also, without the west to fight against, why would North Koreans need Kim Jung Un to save and protect them? It’s a disconnect in the cult of the Kims’ dogma which I’m not sure if Kim Jung Un would survive politically.

So yeah, shake hands with Kim Jung Un, take photos, and make promises. But remember that the North also just decimated a mountain due to their nuclear tests and that Kim Jung Un has killed relatives in order to save his skin. Optimism with a grain of salt is in order.

A friendlier North Korea would do well for the South Korea. I don’t imagine open borders anytime soon, but as I mentioned in past posts, with South Korea relatively meager and stagnant GDP growth rate, a friendlier North could help companies in the South by opening its population to commerce. It would also ease tensions with China and prevent issues like the THAAD missile crisis from harming companies that do business in China and South Korea.

What annoys me, however, is the extremely partisan atmosphere in the country. Just last weekend, there were street protests from the hard right calling the president a traitor and accusing him of selling the country to North Korea. This is insanity. How does that even work? Last time I checked, South Korea is far richer than its northern neighbor. But the problem is the left can be just as toxic with their tribalism as well. I don’t lean on any Korean political parties nor do I subscribe to any particular Korean publication (which can be terribly partisan). I will read anything and I also read/listen to analysis from foreign publications and commentators.  But the minute I say anything negative or express a bit of concern regarding the current president’s actions, I get accused as being brainwashed by the right. And  sometimes this is my wife accusing me of partisanship!

What’s also annoying is Donald Trump taking credit for any headway into North Korea’s denuclearization. I could forgive him for taking some credit. Despite him name calling and trying to compare nuclear buttons with Kim Jung Un just a few months ago, he is still the leader of the United States and he did send Mike Pompeo to meet Kim Jung Un. I don’t know what they talked about and I suspect Trump only sent Pompeo to the North in order to boost his credibility as a Secretary of State nominee, but he still sent him there to presumably open a dialogue. But what’s annoying is Trump taking 100% of the credit to the current North and South Korean situation. What an annoying gnat! He just dismissed all the work of his allies in the South. What’s worse, I suspect if the talks don’t result in meaningful progress, he would gladly throw South Korea under the bus without even remembering President Moon Jae-In’s name.

As for President Moon Jae-In, he should really calm down with saying “Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize” for his work in the inter-Korean talks. I know he’s just trying to be gracious, but Trump will take that graciousness and use it as a cudgel.

I wasn’t in the country during most of the Sunshine Policy of previous administrations, but this feels similar to that attempt to a more peaceful coexistence between the two countries. What’s mostly missing from that previous policy is the North acting in good faith. They were occasionally aggressive during the period and have failed to return much of the goodwill shown to them by the South. I certainly hope things will be better this time around. I personally don’t care so much about nuclear disarmament, especially since North Korea still has thousands of traditional weapons aimed and could destroy Seoul should it ever choose to (I live and work in one of the busiest parts of Seoul), but it would be a great first step at easing tensions in the region. However, I suspect that the song and dance following a true denuclearization, i.e. claims of not following agreements, accusations of hiding nuclear facilities, misleading inspectors, etc., would long be used by political actors to scare each other long after the last rocket has been decommissioned. I’m optimistic, but it will be a long time before people truly no longer see North Korea as a nuclear threat.

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