Category Archives: Politics

North Korea shoots South Korean Tourist, demands apology.

Doesn’t this headline feel like it should be coming from theonion.com?

But this is real. North Korean soldiers did shoot a South Korean tourist and North Korea is asking for an apology from the South.

This, my friends, is what the laymen refer to as “Balls.”

This just a few months after North Korea threatened the South with an attack, then blamed South Korea for escalating tensions by simply responding that the South is prepared to defend itself.

Did I mention North Korea threatened the South in the first place because South Korea refused to send food aide in exchange for promises that North Korea never kept.

I maintain my stance that the world should simply ignore North Korea until they apologize and send us fruit baskets, but part of me admires their utter irrationality when dealing with the rest of the world.

If the world was a South Park cartoon,

Then North Korea is Cartman.

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Of Road Runners, Frying Pans and Beef Protests

The beef protests are a subject I’ve generally tried to avoid. They’ve been covered enough by people much more capable and knowledgeable than I. What unique viewpoint can I really add? However, today’s announcement that the Korean government will start to require a healthy food mark to products got me to thinking.

I’ve always thought health and calorie information on food items was a good idea. It probably stems from my creepy fascination with Teddy Roosevelt who started the FDA. Look it up, Teddy was a beast in every sense of the word. Also I think he boxed Kangaroos…or perhaps I’m simply mixing up my U.S. History with a Looney Tunes Cartoon.

Either way, I thought the announcement was odd as a quick survey of the food items in my refrigerator revealed that they all had health information on them. This leaves the very real possibility that the announcement is another in a series of government tokens granted to those who would protest U.S. Beef. Let’s call this a small win for the protestors. Looking at the bigger picture however, reveals a larger loss.

It makes sense. Through all of this I thought there was a simple solution to it all. Basically, if the Korean people in general were uncomfortable with U.S. Beef then they should simply choose not to buy it.

If there’s one lesson the American people have learned it’s that protests are only effective when they are backed up with their pocket books. Today’s announcement that U.S. Beef has been selling at high rates tells me that either Koreans have not learned this lesson or that not enough are really worried about the potential health risks when compared to the very real economic benefits.

It’s a harsh lesson in “Common Sense” economics. Money talks, protestors walk…down the streets of Jongro. Besides, the U.S. has absolutely nothing to gain from sending hazardous beef to one of its strongest Asian allies. The protests were definitely about something more than just beef.

A characteristic of the protests has been the youthful make up of them. You could argue that a younger generation has been influenced by the opposition party and you might be right. But these protests seemed larger to me. They were a coming together of a younger generation that is just starting to find its collective voice. There’s no way it was just about beef. There’s no way it was just about anything. A month long protest isn’t a single issue protest it’s a cultural protest. Organizers could not have kept support if it had been anything less.

Which is why the harsh lessons learned from this protest frighten me. In its modern format the Korean democracy has only been around for 20 or so years. Each lesson comes fast and without mercy. It’s like the time you first grabbed a hot pan off the oven and decided then and there to never do that again. Money talks is a lesson in disillusionment and Korea has too much spirit to simply decide to never grab the frying pan again.

Without the spirit they will simply become a caricature of themselves and someday in the future some blogger will confuse them with a Looney Tunes Character…the Road Runner perhaps. Which would only be suitable if they were turning the tables and using the frying pan to get back at that Coyote.

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Weekly Blog Roundup

About this past weekend from N-Bomb (hope you don’t mind I’m quoting your facebook wall, but it’s just too good)

your phone is broken, matt’s phone is lost, leslie’s wallet and camera are lost, one of my shoes is lost, joe’s memory of last night is lost….what a night! it’s a good thing joe only has one birthday!

That about sums it up…onto the good stuff

– Kind of an older post, but probably slipped under the radar of the Korean/Foreigner population. Did you know that Kim Jong-il is an NBA buff? He even went so far as to invite some NBA people to come run some basketball camps in his country. I guess that makes two things I have in common with Kim Jong-il, the NBA and knowing how to say “Hello” in Korean.

– The president of South Korea decides to donate his entire salary to the poor. True, he’s already pretty rich…and stands to get richer…but a cool gesture none the less.

– A couple really cool picture sites that give you a good view of Korea. The first is a search engine so it would come in handy for multiple uses, but the pics of South Korea are really nice. The second is a collection of Panoramas from around Korea, you might need to use Internet Explorer to view these, but well worth it.

– A website dedicated to the removal of American G.I.s in South Korea. Not sure how accurate it is, but it raises interesting questions about how negative media is filtered to foreigners. If anybody has any information on this that is more credible send me an email or leave a comment.

– Via EFLgeek, an interesting conversation about the practices of those doing the hiring of EFL teachers around the world.

Korean Pop Wars does the heavy lifting and translates the top ten movies in Korea for the past week or so. Interesting how many foreign movies are on the list.

– Without the usual aide from the South, North Korea will be experiencing a massive food shortage. I wonder if this would finally be enough to break the spirit of Kim Jong-Il? (I think we all know the answer to that question) My real question I guess is; “How long will the people of North Korea put up with being oppressed by a madman?” Maybe, not long. For my extended thoughts, check out my post earlier this week.

– Antisemitism sells in Korea. A new ad features Nazi symbols and Hitler bars are not uncommon. Hardly an antisemitic people, I would argue that most Koreans are too wrapped up in their own history/lives to care about the underlying messages of the ad. Besides, Nazis were so stylish.

– Another example of Koreans not really caring. Just like with Nazi ad campaigns, or t-shirts that say blatantly stupid things in English, heres an ad that asks if it can suck on your banana. There has to be a sociological reason for all of this? Hasn’t there?

– I’ve linked to this before, but I felt it deserved a second run. A cool animation that displays that past thousand or so years of Korean history.

– Recommended places to visit during the spring months.

– This weeks “we really needed a study to tell us this” study.

– Finally, nothing to do with Korea but a really cool album I heard recently. Remember the “Gray Album” where Dj Danger Mouse took Jay-z’s Black album and mixed it with The Beatles White Album? Well, Dj extraordinaire Mark Ronson and currently “bum rushing the stage” mc Rhymefest team up to give us “Man in the Mirror.” An album that has Rhymefest rapping over Michael Jackson tracks, cleverly put together by Ronson. Because of sample clearances and the kajillion dollars it would take to buy these tracks from Michael, you can download the CD for free here. Definitely worth the time, I haven’t listened to anything else for the past 4 days. Even the skits in between songs, where Rhymefest talks to old Michael interviews, are genuinely funny…how often do you see that?

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Bitch Slapping North Korea

North Korea expels South Korean diplomats. They fly fighter jets within ten miles of South Korean airspace. They threaten to “not merely plunge everything into flames, but reduce it (the South) to ashes.” Just another week in North vs. South Korean politics. Really, I don’t care.

As an American I’m used to being threatened. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t want to smite me in some sort of Jihadist hell storm. I’m over it. I’ve even gotten over the fact that I most likely am not eligible for those 77 virgins I would get if I were a good Muslim boy.

This is the first time, however, that I’ve been threatened in such a way and also happen to be within mid-range striking distance of said threatener. You could see how the circumstances of this situation are different. I am not worried.

Countries that typically make demands have two ways of getting what they want: guns and money.

North Korea has no money. South Korea does. North Korea is upset that South Korea has stopped giving them money. Hence the recent flap. North Korea has threatened to attack South Korea if they do not start giving them money again. This sounds like old fashioned bank robbing to me, but with bigger guns. This brings us to guns.

North Korea has guns, which is the only reason they have any relevance in the world. Maybe North Korea will attack the South, but I’d doubt it; at least, not until the next Summer Olympics when China would be more likely to back them. For all their human rights violations I think even China realizes that while the West might not care about some dead monks enough to boycott the games a nuclear war right on it’s doorstep might be enough to warrant a phone call or something.

“President Hu! The Americans are calling. I think they want to cancel the games!”

“Don’t pick up, pretend we are not here.”

People keep saying this is a delicate political issue, but it feels like a case of the trees blocking the forest.

I guess I just don’t understand what North Korea has to gain by all it’s posturing. It’s not like Iran or other Middle Eastern countries that at least have oil and religion to protect. North Korea literally has nothing. They don’t even have the saying “beggars can’t be choosers.” I know this, because they are choosy ass beggars. Supposedly, that’s what makes them so dangerous. They’re the beggar with the gun. Not only that, they’re a crazy beggar with a gun. A sane beggar would take the hand outs given to them, drop their gun and shut their mouth. You can’t deal with crazy people, guns or not. So why try? What have we accomplished or changed so far?

What does the South, or anybody, have to gain by helping them? Couldn’t everybody just collectively decide to ignore North Korea until they give in send us all fruit baskets and apologies? That makes much more sense to me than anything else that has happened. If China wants to take care of them, then let them. They can have North Korea, we’ll take Palestine. At least Palestine makes some sort of sense to me.

While I appreciate the new South Korean Presidents hard line against North Korea, I really think that no line would be better. It’s like when my little sister was bothering me as a child. If I responded in any way, good or bad, she continued to bother me but if I ignored her all together then she left and I could get onto more important things, such as who would win in a giant war between my GI Joe figures and my Ninja Turtles? A mystery that is unsolved to this day.

Everything I need to know about North Korea, I learned in Kindergarten.

I suppose there’s more to it than just that, but what? Reunification? Nuclear War? Human Rights Abuses? Nothing anybody has been doing for the past 50 years has changed any of these issues in regards to North Korea. So can we please try something new? Ignore them, let me know if the war starts and, until then, let me get back to my Ninja Turtles.

 

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Your Daily Shot of Soju: I bet Barack Owns a Really Nice Cell Phone

“You Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

All Hail Big Brother:

Does anybody remember this video I posted, back before the Daily Shot became the Daily Shot?

At the time the Orwellian undertones were striking, but I pushed them to the side and instead decided to focus on the media itself. At first the video left me with no revelation outside of “wow, this is a really long commercial.”

But the song stuck with me. Something about it never seemed quite right. At the time I wrote “I don’t think Orwell saw his savior in big business cell phone companies.Cell phones, in my mind, are in opposition to the idea of revolution. What better way to keep the common folk in line than with a mobile device that can be tracked from anywhere in the world?

This is not the whole story, because the cell phone is a revolution in its own way. But the revolution is limited.night.jpg

In the video the cell phone is painted as the end all, be all, of the grand revolt but the lyrics paint a different story. The words “Everywhere you go I’ll be there,” don’t scream ‘revolution’ so much as they scream ‘replacement.’

And that’s what the video is truly about, replacing the cold government entity with a fun and playful government entity. Somehow this fits with South Korea. While America is all about power for the sake of power, South Korea is about power for something else.

If America is ‘1984,’ then the South Korean/Japan conglomerate would be ‘Brave New World.’

In the states, voices of dissident are squashed by the powers that be. Here in South Korea, voices of dissident are simply neutralized because everybody is too wacked out on Soju and K-pop to care. Even the names Soju and Soma share similar linguistic principals.

Perhaps it’s a reaction to the cold war created societies of China, North Korea and other South Eastern Asian countries, but it seems like something more. South Korea/Japan stand out because not only have they bucked the societal trends of the countries around them, but they have defined themselves apart from their closest ally, the United States; who, it could be argued, share more similarities with the cold dictatorship seen at the beginning of the video, rather than the fun filled world of cell phones seen at the end.

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I think this is ceramic poop.

Piece of Pop Culture I’m Missing Today:

Elections.

I guess this follows up to what I was just talking about. In 2004, after the elections, I was despondent. It was not so much that Bush had won, rather that each party seemed hell bent on destroying each and completely clueless as to what any of the electorate, outside of Pat Robertson, wanted. In 2004, 49 percent of us tricked ourselves into thinking that Kerry would have made a better president, when in reality he would have fallen flat on his face and we would not have the shining beacon of hope we now have in Obama.

This election feels different. For the first time that I can remember there is more than one candidate who I think would make a decent president. I’ve always been a McCain fan, and although I don’t really like Hillary we’ve obviously done worse than her. But then there’s Obama. Obama doesn’t feel so much like a presidential candidate as he does a revolution. Elections aren’t important for what people are elected but rather what they represent.

Obama is a tearing off of the old guard, the oligarchy and blood lines that have ruled America for so long. Forget whether he’s the most qualified, because resume wise, he isn’t. That’s the point.

The closest historical parallel I can find to Obama is Kennedy. Who bum rushed the presidency, on illegal mob money, after 8 years of Eisenhower conservatism and brought with him hope for the future. It’s no coincidence that the decade that brought us hippies and civil rights is the same decade that started off with a president who had no ties to the political pasts of his peers.

If Obama wins, and meets the lofty expectations that have been placed upon him, could this signal a change in the way American politics are run? If the Golden State Warrior win the NBA Championship with their ‘two legs into their pants at one time’ approach would NBA teams change the way they constructed themselves? I don’t know the answer to either question, but I imagine that the answers are the same. Let’s just say I’m holding my breath.

If Obama can not save America from itself then I’m not sure anything can. Save a cell phone revolution.

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Piece of Pop Culture I’m Diggin Today:

In Michigan we have this thing I like to call the “Eff you snow.” It occurs in Mid-April, and usually after a week or so of fairly warm weather. Basically it’s the gods way of telling us ‘Eff you, we run this show.”

For the past week or so it was getting warmer in Seoul, until Monday. On Monday we got our “Eff you snow.” This did not make me happy at the time but it’s important to remember, it’s February, not Mid-April. I’m hearing that this is the coldest winter Seoul has had in a while. I have never been warmer during the winter.

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Your Daily Shot of Soju: Korean English Education Wrestles With a Fundamental Flaw

“Your Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

I am a dancing tape recorder:

The other day I linked to a series of articles discussing the incoming administrations desire to fully integrate English into all classes. This includes Science and Mathematics courses. Not surprisingly this move his controversial at best and heavily opposed at it’s worst. You can place me in that latter group. In fact, I do not think the incoming administration even believes that this will happen. The entire thing sounds like the first high bid in what will be a very interesting, to say the least, negotiating process.

I understand the desire for Korea to update it’s English education system. After nearly ten years of being taught English most still can not hold basic conversations. Although they do fairly well on tests.

What I believe, will most likely happen, is that English classes will be required to be fully taught in English (probably a good idea) and the government will train the existing Korean, English teachers to speak and teach more completely in English (also, probably a good idea).

Another move, that I am unsure about, is the hiring of more Native English speakers to teach English here in Korea. One of the biggest problems with the hiring of foreign teachers is that many of us significantly lack teaching qualifications. We may have a degree (in something other than education) and some enthusiasm but those two things do not a teacher make. It does not take a mathematical genius (luckily) to figure out that hiring more Native English teachers would further dilute an already thin talent pool.

This is where I realize the basic flaw surrounding the Korean theory on teaching English, and that is that EVERY student should be taught English. What this results in, then, is over sized classes that meet only once every two weeks. So while every student is taught English, every student is taught English fairly poorly.

In this system, I think it is actually a benefit to not have prior teaching experience. With current time and classroom logistical constraints the Native English Teachers aren’t really teachers at all, we are more like English salesmen. We try to excite kids to the possibility of learning English…from someone else. We would do it ourselves if we didn’t have 1,000 other students to see this week.

As someone who has teaching experience I know what good teaching is. I know what good teaching is not. I know that good teaching is not having 36 students repeat every word you say or playing games for 40 minutes. I know that if they only do this once every two weeks they will remember and retain absolutely nothing. I know that having 22 different classes, some coming with full knowledge of the days lesson and some having no idea what the sentence “how are you,” is makes it impossible for teachers to know their students or plan for their abilities. Finally, I know what a trained teacher is capable of given the proper circumstances, and that these are not proper circumstances.

So instead of having MORE Native English teachers we should have LESS students. Turn the English curriculum into an elective program where students, who actually care to learn English, work in smaller classes 2 to 3 times a week, getting the individual attention they need. Give the Native English teachers a full hour to teach this lesson. Allow them to assess their students. Allow them to create tasks that work with multiple intelligences instead of constantly hammering pronunciation into the larynx of an ill-prepared student.

True, less students would be taught English but those who are would end up more prepared. Additionally, those parents who send their students to private institutions (Hogwans) would be given another, cheaper, alternative to a pricey endeavor. A classroom system that is woefully dependent on rote memorization, completely out of conversational context, has the potential to truly enhance students abilities and us teachers who came here with the hope of actually teaching can put our skills and education to use. At the very least it will provide sufficient English education until the government can train it’s current Korean teachers to teach English more effectively.

If you want to continue exposing every student to English then schools can still use their Native English speakers to teach full classes in addition to the elective classes. Only with the expectation that this is more of an English presentation rather than an English class. At least then everybody is being honest with themselves.

Making English an elective class would be the first baby step in a journey that Korea has deemed absolutely necessary. Turning the entire curriculum on it’s head would be a huge step…off of a cliff.

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Your Daily Shot of Soju: Snow, Sudoku and “Woman! Get me my Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich!”

“Your Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

Something for you to read:

So I’m back after a few days off to update the site and collect my sanity. Expect the “Daily Shot” to return, from here on out, to it’s regular schedule of Monday-Thursday.

It snowed the other day. One thing I have been impressed with lately is the lack of snow. The latitude of Seoul is similar to that of Mid-Michigan, where I grew up, yet there is almost no snow here where as there is tons of snow in Michigan. It might snow for a bit, but not much, and the amount that does fall is gone in a day or so. Right now I’m blaming it on the city’s air pollution and the heat that comes with 13 million or so people crammed in such a small space.

I’ve never been a huge fan of snow. It’s really too cold. But here it’s so sporadic and actually warm enough that I enjoy it when it comes.

So, imagine my delight when I walked out of my house (read: apartment) on Monday to see snow falling.

During my winter camp we usually give the kids a ten minute break in the middle. 3 hours of learning anything is difficult. I can imagine that learning a foreign language, taught by someone who only speaks the basics of your native language, when you’re a 9 year old boy, is especially difficult. So we give them a break.

On Monday I decided to give them a longer break so that they could go outside and play. On their way out some of the kids asked me to promise that I would come out eventually and play with them. They even made me pinky promise. They didn’t need to though, I was already planning my attack the moment I first saw the snow.

So after the children leave I waited for 5 minutes. I grabbed my coat. I forgot my gloves. I headed out the back door of the school. I collected a barrage of snow balls and I wished that I remembered my gloves. I turn the corner. I am pelted by 20 snow balls by students who were already waiting for me…lil bastards.

Luckily I’m really good at intercepting snow balls in mid flight and throwing them back at those who originally threw them. After the initial barrage of snow balls I took control. I’m faster, I’m smarter and I have better aim. Also I was now determined to make up for being the one caught off guard.

I left the kids wishing that I only gave them the regular ten minutes of break time…suckers.

Visual Stimulation:

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Groups of students play outside in the snow. Little do they know the fury of snow balls that later awaits them.

More Visual Stimulation:

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Think that’s a playground here in a park? Think again. Koreans will work out anywhere and outside facilities are found in the most random of places. I took this photo while walking through a park dedicated to outside sculptures.

Piece of pop culture I’m diggin on today:

The soduko game on my phone. Whip out a sudoku, anywhere and everywhere. Stuck on the sub for 30 minutes? That’s about one hard level and one medium level game. Ten minutes to kill between class? One medium level game and an easy one.

I pull this out all the time. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve started to run into people while I walk. I now understand how people are constantly running into me when I’m standing still in a completely open area or why they never walk in straight lines.

Piece of pop culture I miss today:

Being able to call a sandwich a sandwich. The Korean language has come to include the word sandwich, however the definition of sandwich is limited to club type sandwiches. In order to be a sandwich is has to have vegetables, meats, cheeses and fruit (which is actually really good). However, this leaves out some of my favorite sandwiches such as tuna fish and simple ham and cheese. They don’t even recognize Peanut Butter and Jelly as a sandwich. Instead, if I were to tell someone I ate a PB&J I would have to describe the sandwich as two separate pieces of bread, spread with peanut butter on one side and jam on another and then placed together facing each other. Just call it a SANDWICH damnit. Much easier.

I tried to make the argument that anything between two pieces of bread constituted a sandwich, but was told “Not here in Korea” by the Konglish speaking store clerk at the local ‘Buy the Way.’ To this I replied that the sandwich is an invention of the west and that Korea didn’t even have bread until they came into contact with Europe, therefore our definition should hold true. They were having none of it.

Regardless, I continued to argue until they finally said “Fine, call it whatever you want!”

I consider this a victory for all foreigners living in Seoul.

How bout a nice walk along the river…and a bench press or two:

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Walking along a river trail, bench presses and stationary bikes hug the sidewalk.

Your Korean News of the Day:

North Korea suspends international talks with South Korea. The article cites how the President-Elect is planning on being more stern with the north, even going so far as to with hold aide unless they comply with nuclear compliance demands.

Along the same lines, an interesting article discussing the feelings of moderates in South Korean politics about the new, conservative regime. Where as previous regimes catered to North Korean interests, avoid human rights issues in discussions, to gain ground on Nuclear weapon talks, Lee (The President-Elect) is so far talking tough…it remains to be seen if he can walk the walk, or even if he should.

“And never tell him what to do…” This is advice from the master:

A school for teaching traditional Korean values to young women in preparation for finding a husband. While women have made tremendous gains many still view them/themselves as second place in the marriage contract.

Another fun piece of advice: ” For example, saying, ‘on the way home, go to the supermarket and buy this, this and this, and don’t foget’ – you mustn’t do this…this is giving an order.”

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