Tuesday, June 30, 2009

News in HD: Naked News Korea

There's apparently this Naked News Channel in Korea now:

America the Dangerous?

On a more serious note, I noticed a couple articles in the news that makes me want to explain the other side … the view of the United States as a “normal” nation where the behavior of the nation isn’t explained by how America wants to expand “democracy” or rid “tyranny.”

This is a view I picked up living in Korea and I also hinted before at how shocked I was at the level of Anti-Americanism seen in Korea. How could it be that so many people of the same shared heritage (and, of course, of the same 족(族)) could hate America ? The country gives so many opportunities to so many different countries and is so goddamn beautiful (미국, 美國). On a side note here: One of my favorite lines in Korean, “아름다운 미국을 어떻게 싫어 할 수 있어 ” or “How could you hate Beautiful America?”

There’s a double meaning here and another opportunity to poke fun at Japanese. The Chinese characters used to represent the United States in Chinese and Korean literally mean “Beautiful Country/Nation (美國).” In Japanese, it isn’t (米國). In both, Korean and Japanese (not sure in Chinese), but anyways, the characters for “beautiful(美)” and “rice(米)” are homonyms. So if the Chinese characters that the Japanese language uses were to be pronounced in Korean, it would still be the same (미국 whether it’s美國 or米國). And, if the Japanese language were to call America “Beautiful Country” rather than “Rice Country” as Chinese and Korean do, then everybody in Japan would still be able to understand. Those island savages…

Anyways, to the meat of the post: America is also basically a giant island nation bordered by two much smaller countries to the north and south and an ocean to the east and a “vast ocean (太平洋)” to the west. So, basically the United States has no natural competitors (well, minus a Brazil one day) and dominates an entire hemisphere (half a planet) to herself. And as the Pat Buchanan wing of the Republican Party advocates and has advocated since the birth of this nation, the United States can always hide behind the two oceans with the most powerful navy in the world (Unfortunately, I believe this is why Japan fought a war with the U.S., for the control of the ocean. Consider that Japan has gotten everything the island nation wanted during World War II except for that).

Since the United States controls the oceans and has the most powerful navy in the world and has a string of allies in East Asia, it gives the country one huge advantage: very far-flung borders.
So, the effective border between the United States, and say, North Korea, is the DMZ and the East Sea (Sea of Japan) (For China, it’s even worse. The effective border between the U.S. and China is Japan down to South Korea down to Taiwan – So, that’s why Taiwan is so important to China/U.S.). The United States can attack North Korea from South Korea or Japan or even off the waters near North Korea in the East Sea or (Sea of Japan) without fear of reprisal. North Korea has to launch unreliable missiles over thousands of miles just to hit a Hawaii or Alaska.

But, now, let’s take a look at it from the South Korean perspective:

If you are living in Seoul, particularly Sinchon (신촌), then there’s a good chance a war between the U.S. and North Korea (for a second imagine, that it’s only between the U.S. and North Korea and while the U.S. and South Korea may be allies in name or nominal allies, it’s not in the South Korean or for that matter in any nation’s interest to see her capital destroyed) would not be seen as such a good thing. The reason I mention Sinchon in particular is that there was a study that said a North Korean attack on South Korea would lead to 99% of the people in Sinchon dying in the first fifteen minutes (Of course, I can’t cite the exact study, but hey this is a blog). So, actually, if you’re studying at Yonsei or Ehwa Universities, then there’s a good chance you might be done for. The point is that while a North Korean missile must travel thousands of miles before it can actually hit U.S. territory, the economic and political capital of South Korea is just fifteen minutes away from North Korea.

This can lead to some serious misunderstanding between the United States and South Korea. While the U.S. may think it to be perfectly rational to simply consider an airstrike on a North Korean nuclear facility, South Korea would think it to be utterly crazy. I mean from South Korea’s perspective, how on earth could somebody consider launching a war that would immediately destroy Seoul (half of all Koreans in South Korea live in Seoul and neighboring Gyeonggi province). So, before certain Korean-Americans and other commentators in America are quick to judge South Korea as a disloyal and ungrateful nation, it would also be natural and quite fair to expect that the United States understand and consider South Korea's concerns or else the United States would be the disloyal and arrogrant nation. Anyways, while North Korea has been in the news a lot recently (well up until Iran stole the limelight and the Obama Administration is tackling a real concern -- health care), the United States definitely did respond to North Korean threats by:

1. Upgrading Missile Defenses in Hawaii, which while it may sound ludicrous, it also serves a domestic propaganda function -- President Obama is “taking action” (Ahh, I miss President George W. Bush; well not really, but at least some of his phrases. I am a registered Republican by the way).
2. And, while none of the major newspapers in the United States seems to have covered it, the United States conducted a missile test too. Well, China, South Korea, and, of course, North Korea’s state run news agencies did (American newspapers aren’t state run right?) Basically, while the U.S. president wants Americans to know things are being taken care of (Hawaii), the U.S. wants North Korea to know that "Hey we got hundreds of these missiles that work and isthey are very, very accurate -- to within 6 m? -- and can carry three nuclear weapons at once."

“The Minuteman 3 was fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base during a six-hour
window that started at 3:01 a.m., carrying three unarmed re-entry vehicles that
hit their targets near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, some 4,200
miles (6,720 kilometers) away, the Air Force said” (

Anyways, it's not the type of thing I believed a "good" country like the United States would ever do and maybe it's just coincidental. After all, the United States loves to bomb things. Before the United States gave up possession of Dokdo/Takeshima(독도(獨島)/たけしま(竹島)) and Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the United States used both as bombing ranges (A link for this will be provided one day). Anyways, America at the same time actually does believe she is a force for good.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak is "taking action" as well as South Korea is building up a missile defense system of her own. South Korea is buying a lot of weapons from the United States:
"South Korea plans to acquire 40 new surface-to-air missiles within the
month for its Aegis destroyer, a military source said Sunday" (

Anyways, that's South Korea's view.that is how the United States can be seen as a "normal" nation that takes behavior not based upon what is right or wrong, but what on her interests. Interestingly, and what I believe will and has been a recurring theme in American (and World) History is that the United States and, moreover, Americans genuinely believe that what is in America's best interest is also good for the world. They call it naivete in Europe. I call it optimism and a product of the Enlightenment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Is Korean Culture, Part I : Are Koreans Rude?

I was reading this post at rokdrop.com and the enormous number of comments supporting the notion that Koreans are rude, which originally cites an editorial from the Joongang Daily. The editorial states that Koreans are seen to be rude as

"Compared with other Asians, Koreans in general are known to be temperamental ("Why Are Koreans Rude?," Joongang Ilbo).

Here's my take:

We all know that Koreans are, of course, the most respectful people in all of East Asia (lol, I'm serious here).

My reasoning follows from Confucian Culture, which exerts a strong influence on Korean Culture and, moreover, it does so in a highly developed manner. I'd say it's so strong that Korean Culture is basically Confucianism and vice versa; Confucianism is no where more developed in East Asia than in the Koreas and much more so than in Vietnam, (barbaric, lol) Japan, and, even China, herself, respectively (Note, this follows from the historical fact that as the last truly Han Chinese Dynasty was conquered in 1644 by the Manchurians, Confucianism developed independently of China in Korea for centuries). And, no, I don't think Confucius (공부자, 孔夫子) was Korean. Of course, on the flip side, I'd probably say that Koreans may very well be the most racist and xenophobic people in East Asia as well.

A tangent here: I see a parallel with the United States here. Confucianism in Korea developed similar to how the ideals of the Enlightenment in Europe never really died, but lived on in the United States. And, actually they thrived here as they developed independent of Europe (for example, the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution of the United States).

Well, this my main post on the site there:

"That’s absurd. The only part of what I’ve read that seems somewhat understandable is the gap between how Koreans treat family and then friends and then strangers. There’s a much larger gap between each group than you might find in the United States. And, let me excuse myself first, before I say some very politically incorrect things. But, from a Korean perspective, or at least my perspective – I don’t want to speak for an entire nation, I’ve always found Southeast Asians and particularly the Japanese to be rude. When I mean rude, I don’t mean loud and shouting and emotional. I mean, just inconsiderate in speech and manner in the way they treat others.

When I was in Japan, I remember taking J-line or something (not the bullet train, but the same technology as the KTX train) and I remember giving up my spot to some grandpa probably in his like 80s or so and as coming from Seoul, I didn’t really think twice about doing it. But, my Japanese friend, and he was a very polite guy – I remember both his parents were teachers, thought it was crazy. He said in particular, “50 years ago…” people did that.

So, I feel from the opposite perspective, it’s the case that (and I’m replying in particular to that Filipina “lady”, who was talking about killing some rude Korean girl) from the opposite perspective it’s the Southeast Asians, Japanese, and those who come from societies without a strong Confucian tradition that are the ones that are seen to be rude. I believe a lot of other Koreans, who might not recognize that it’s this Confucian tradition, probably also feel this.

Now, if you said Koreans were racist, I’d agree 100%. The way in which Koreans treat let’s say Filipino/Vietnamese/Pakistani laborers are different than the way they’d treat Chinese or Korean-Chinese (Joseon-jok, 조선족,朝鮮族) laborers. Of course, this is different than the way Nigerian merchants are treated (who I swear to God, especially, when wearing American sportsgear, look “American”), and, of course, the simplest proof though: the way in which African-Americans are treated when compared to Caucasian-Americans. And, of course, there‘s the racism discrimination (i.e. regionalism) that’s practiced on other Koreans as well. In some parts of South Korea, Korean-American English tutors are paid less than Caucasian Americans just because they don’t look “American” (Me).

(The exact thread among the entire list of comments there is posted here: "Why Are Koreans Rude?" ROK Drop)

If you are somewhat sensible you might find some of the comments on that discussion to be extremely disturbing and, if you are a Korean that is native to the Korean Peninsula, then you might find yourself getting extremely upset. A word of caution here though. Don't take these comments too seriously (If you are Korean, or let's say, a Korean native to the Korean peninsula, then it might be safer for you and for those around you to not read them at all).

Friday, June 26, 2009


I had to go up to Northern California on business (yes, students have business too) and have some things I have to take care up down here in Los Angeles before my trip to London (I'm going to attend LSE this summer). No posts until Sunday at the earliest. =/

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Korea is not as cool as Japan.

So, in the summer of 2007, I took an intensive 10-week "intermediate Korean" language course at UC Berkeley -- why I just didn't go to Yonsei University through the study abroad program I have no idea (It's cheaper to study at Yonsei University and financial aid covers the program no differently than if students were to have taken it here). By the way, despite the fact that California is what the Economist calls “The ungovernable state,” California offers her students so many opportunities to receive higher education that I am oh so, very proud to be a "native Californian" and attend a university known as "Cal." More so, after glimpsing overseas into a life as an illegal without a high school diploma in a country that values higher education religiously to the point where on College Entrace Exam Day,

"...while students are taking the listening portions of the tests, planes can't land or take off at the nation's airports" (Wall Street Journal).

I think the system here at California is incredible with its three tier, community college system, California State University system, and, of course, the University of California system, where pretty much, anybody that wants to learn could. By the way, this for me is basically the single best argument against those that argue for a minimum wage that is also a "liveable wage." I'd think raising incentives to go back to school or providing more financial support to those would provide much, more tangible benefits (I'd like to have a link here, but I don't).

Rather than raising minimum wages (and in exchange ensuring that a select few will lose their jobs -- again, akin to what I call the "carpool-lane-syndrome"), make it easier for people to go back to school and give them the financial support necessary to do so. While I am a recipient of much financial support from both government and family, I know a lot of others aren't. I think I will be living proof of that as I obtained my diploma from an adult school at twenty-five and am about to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley at twenty-eight. After that, I hope to be a very productive and contributive member of society.

More so, since as they say Cal is the flagship university of the University of California system (though I think UCLA has a slightly bigger endowment and a better basketball team, which, of course, will and should change over the long run), there are a lot of other schools to choose from in between... And, there's the private schools as well -- which brings up another point about how public universities need to get more financial support from alumni(a parallel argument about Korea follows).

But, anyways, while I was taking that Korean language course at Berkeley, there was only one "American" student in the class with American being used here in what I believe to be a very historical sense of the word, where being "American" meant white and male. Once a week, we'd watch movies or media in a different classroom, where a Japanese language course preceded our course at times -- I noticed that almost the entire Japanese language class was white.

So, I see a problem.

Why is it that there isn't more interest in Korea ? I mean, I understand. Mandarin Chinese is understood to be useful for business since after all China within the next couple decades will boast the largest economy (at least along a PPP measure, number of automobiles sold, internet users, etc). Japanese could also thought to be useful for business as Japanese savings makes up for roughly half the world's savings (I wish I had this link as well). But, more over, I get this feeling that Japanese is seen as cool and, me being, you know, Korean-American feel that it isn't. Some of this I blame on Koreans and their lack of confidence in their own country so far as I doubt those of Japanese descent reading this would take what I just wrote very seriously and would probably take what I just said to be a compliment (Consider South Korean reaction to Korean culture getting some good, quality exposure when Rain (비) was mentioned in the Colbert Report). To those Koreans that still don't agree or haven't seen it yet, watch the video and then read

And, then there's Korean, which I feel provokes, a "Ehhh...." feeling. Japanese, you understand, was an enemy of this country not too long ago and even in sixth grade I remember widespread distrust and angst against the Japanese in popular American culture. Remember the movie/book,
Rising Sun? Well, it was about the Japanese trying to take over the United States by economic means (Although, Sony does own a chunk of Hollywood and Japanese investors did purchase the Rockafeller Center in New York at point. Not sure if that's really taking over the country. I would think this trade imbalance - minus the angle from Americans losing jobs on a large scale - is more of a neo-colonial system where Americans get to enjoy all these great products from all over the world at dirt cheap prices).

Anyways, I think those of Korean heritage that have grown to be rich or influential, such as actors, scholars, and owners of giant conglomerates, such as Samsung, have a duty to advertise the country or at the very least make sure that public univerisities have the funding to provide classes on the Korean language. University of California was about to cut Korean language courses last year at Los Angeles and Berkeley and was also about to eliminate the Korean Studies minor at Berkeley.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Breaks for South Korean President Lee Myung Bak

Incredibly, former President and Nobel laureate President Kim Dae Jung had a lot to say about current President Lee Myung Bak (left photo, source: Agence France-Presse).
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"On Thursday, former President Kim Dae-jung likened some actions by current President Lee Myung-bak to those of a dictator and said Mr. Lee threatened South Korea's progress as a democracy. Mr. Kim made the remarks at an event commemorating the June 2000 inter-Korean summit and stood in front of a picture of himself and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il at that summit" (Wall Street Journal)."

While former President Kim Dae Jung's words about democracy are backed up by a lifetime of suffering that he endured at the hands of South Korean military dictators, he should understand that just because a right exists it doesn't mean it should be exercised recklessly. And, while I'm not a lawyer here, I believe citizens, even past presidents, have a duty to exercise their rights in a responsible manner (for example, pulling the fire alarm only when there's a fire). And, I feel sorry for President Lee Myung Bak. Especially as I feel he is probably not the most astute politician the world has ever seen and compounding to terrible economic circumstances and geopolical realities he inherited, a past president has now come out to give this president a tough time. More on this soon. It is worth noting that the Sunshine Policy is effectively dead.

"After a decade of false optimism, harsh realities permeated the aura of good-will engendered by North-South agreements. The Bush administration, having demanded 'complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement' [CVID] of North Korea's nuclear program, gave up using that term but was not willing to abandon the goal. It became clear that the next U.S. president eventually would have to face the North's refusal to come clean on its uranium program, highly enriched or not" (Wall Street Journal's Far Eastern Economic Review).
As the article notes, two U.S. administrations over four terms (that's sixteen years) have tried to engage North Korea, but to no avail. It really is not President Lee Myung Bak's fault that engagement in the true sense of the word is no longer an option for the United States. I have great respect for President Kim Dae Jung (More so for how he handled the IMF crisis that was forced on him rather than for his unbridled optimism towards a unified Korea). But now, it seems to be a rather petty (and very unpresidential) act for former President Kim Dae Jung to attack the current President as the former president's Sunshine Policy has become discredited.

One aspect of the Sunshine Policy that many people don't mention is that since the Sunshine Policy was first instituted as President Kim Dae Jung took office in 1998 (and, no, it's not the United States' fault that President Kim Dae Jung became president at such a late age) is the divergence in economic performance. One of the key tenets of the Sunshine Policy is that the gap in living standards between North and South is so much that if the economic burden of unification were to fall on Seoul, then the country could not simply afford it. But, supporters of the failed and discredited Sunshine Policy and detractors of South Korea's current president should note that the gap in wealth between North and South Korea has only grown since the Sunshine Policy was first instituted.

Moreover, in defense of South Korea's current president, who once again, I'd like to say doesn't really ooze charisma, but is nonetheless really a victim of circumstances and situations. Consider this with South Korea's limited flexibility and power as a half nation (and here Korean nationlists should take heed that unification should be goal number one). I believe that the Economist put it best:

"That is probably wishful thinking [desirable policies]. For no matter what efforts South Korea makes on the global stage, it is still a shrimp among whales in its own region, and even there the power of its American godfather may decline in relative terms. Only the unification of a divided peninsula might bring South Korea the standing it craves. And given the fearsome problems North Korea would carry with it, even that is far from guaranteed" (Economist).

While this posting may put my blog to the far right for some, my hope is that you the reader can examine my reasoning in its own light and not that of some far right "blogger." My aim isn't to write words to an audience that already might agree with everything I might have to say (as most blogs and news networks are these days).

Other stuff:

1. Check out how South Korea's High School Uniforms have changed on

2. After much thought, I've also decided to make a major life changing decision -- I am going to buy a book to read for fun for the first time in like five years. And, it looks like the book will be:

*drum roll*

3. Also, added a link to both the National Intelligence Committee's 2025 vision which predicts Korea will most likely be united in some form (more on this one day as well) and the special report: "Koreas: The Odd Couple" (Economist).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dangerous Times : Extended Deterrence

I'm very worried that war, yes war, could break out on the Korean Peninsula. I think the chances are still remote, but the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and the United States seems to be more conducive to its possibility than any other I've seen within my lifetime.

When South Korean President Lee Myung Bak met U.S. President Barak Obama, it was clear (while not from the attendence of the press core), but from their joint statement that the meeting was perhaps the most substantive between leaders of the two countries in a very long time.

U.S. President Barak Obama enjoys considerable support among the U.S. electorate, but most importantly, he enjoys support among those left of center or those that have been against the War in Iraq. Thus, when the U.S. President promises extended deterrence and that he will no longer let North Korea be rewarded for lies, these words hold weight that words from former President George W. Bush's never could (for example, remember CVID, or "Complete Verifiable Irreversible Disarmament? I bet former President Bush doesn't want to either). By the way, I cannot stress enough how much of a disaster U.S. "policy" towards North Korea was during the first administration of George W. Bush (Check out "A Long Road to Pyongyang" in Foreign Affairs - Nov/Dec 2007).

So, we have a popular president in the United States who enjoys the support of those traditionally against war. This president also needs to show or prove to those that are skeptical of President Obama's ability to be "tough" in defending U.S. national security interests. The new U.N. resolution that punishes North Korea (UNSC 1874) also includes a provision where North Korean ships could be searched. It is also now in writing for the first time that the concept of extended deterrence whereby the United States would consider a nuclear attack on South Korea to be an attack on the United States. And, the United States would retaliate in kind (the U.S. has thousands of different types of nuclear bombs that work, make much bigger explosions, and, of course, could be sent with pinpoint precision that even the Soviet Union never hoped to match. How Roh Moo Hyun forgot this when asking for a more "independent" defense boggles the mind). The exact phrase is:

"We will maintain a robust defense posture, backed by allied capabilities which support both nations' security interests. The continuing commitment of extended deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, reinforces this assurance. In advancing the bilateral plan for restructuring the Alliance, the Republic of Korea will take the lead role in the combined defense of Korea, supported by an enduring and capable U.S. military force presence on the Korean Peninsula, in the region, and beyond" (JOINT VISION FOR THE ALLIANCE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA).

It should be noted that former U.S. President George W. Bush refused to do this (and only did so verbally). For more, read this interview of Scott Snyder. In other words, we have a U.S. president that has the political power to make war or be aggressive against North Korea and the desire and the political need to do so. Also, Roh Moo Hyun's dream of a more independent -- and, of course, more expensive and less capable armed forces that makes for a more insecure South Korean society lives on. Note the phrase "the Republic of Korea will take the lead role in the combined defense of Korea."

North Korea's situation also seems to favor confrontation. Kim Jong Il's alleged stroke in the past year and rumors of his deteriorating health makes it necessary for Kim Jong Il to demonstrate to both a domestic and foreign audience that he is indeed in charge and able to make bold decisions, such as testing a nuclear device and ballistic missiles (or attacking a ship). Furthermore, Kim Jong Il has a political need to assuage the concerns of the Korean People's Army (KPA - 조선인민군), who seems to be much more politically relevant than the Korean Workers Party (KWP - 조선로동당). This can most clearly be seen by North Korea's recent insistence on being treated as a nuclear power and a halt to six party talks. Other actions include:

  1. Two female, American reporters were given harsh sentences.

  2. The effective end of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

  3. Testing of an ICBM

  4. Detonation of a Nuclear Device

  5. Withdrawal from the Armistice that ended the Korean War

  6. "Demotion"of a senior, trusted army officer to command the naval forces around the Northern Limit Line Or the Demarcation Line between South and North Korea along the Yellow Sea (Can't remember his name).
With the passage of a new security council resolution against North Korea (UNSC 1874), the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) with her new member nation South Korea will at some point I believe board a North Korean ship or North Korea will launch an attack on South Korea (probably a naval attack) sometime soon. North Korea has announced boading one of their ships would also be tantamount to a declaration of war (But, didn't North Korea pretty much declare war when they tore up the Armistice?). Plus, there's the newly annointed successor to Kim Jong Il only adding to the drama (more on this later).

While it's a story that we can follow from the comfort of the United States, I would stay away from South Korea for the time being if I could (and even if I were there, I would take news about North Korean threats more seriously).

But this thought where South Korea believes U.S. to be a warmongering, dangerous country especially under the second Bush administration holds a lot of weight. When living in Seoul, North Korea is fifteen or twenty minutes away. From Los Angeles, North Korea is halfway around the world, across the vast Pacific Ocean.

Forming views on Korea, Part III : Life as an Illegal in South Korea,

I didn’t mention this in the two posts before, but during the time I was in South Korea I was a high school dropout. And, while most people there didn’t know (I would say “I was in college, but I was taking a break”) – Although this wasn’t exactly a lie. I had studied for a couple semesters at a junior college. I now use the line: I lived in South Korea to learn about life (“인생 공부를 하러갔다”). Nonetheless, my educational status had a huge impact on my life there.

It was illegal for me to work as an English tutor as I didn’t possess a four year degree (or equivalent) and that’s why I first began to look mainly for 1:1 private tutoring. Moreover, I didn’t even have the right to live in South Korea as I was an alien (an American citizen). This latter part, I cannot exaggerate how tremendous of an impact this had on my life there. I was a native speaker of English though, but even here there were issues. Without a national registration number, which is akin to the Social Security Number in the United States, but in a country like South Korea where the national registration number is needed to even create an account on a website, even the smallest and most basic aspects of life were difficult to say the least.

I could not get a phone. Also, without a legal job and a national registration number, it was not possible to get a credit card. Coming from the United States where so many financial instruments have been invented to make obtaining credit ever easier, it was a shock adjusting to life without a credit/debit card. For example, I couldn't buy many things: especially items online or from the United States. Also, regarding rent, many Koreans back then believed you to be a fool if you actually paid rent. Most apartments and the like were rented out by huge cash deposits (such as $50,000 or more or so).

When I first got there, I believe they didn’t even have debit cards (지급 cards) and I didn’t know how to get one had they even existed. I had to take frequent trips overseas (I had the old C-2 visa at first or the old 90-day tourist visa where simply re-entering the country automatically renewed the 90 day period).

And, of course, as I wrote in the previous post, my Korean was terrible. So, to sum it up, I was an ethnic-Korean, high school dropout with no right to live or work in South Korea. Moreover, I had little family there. I was barely “fluent” in Korean (My brother never lived in South Korea and I would say have a tough time calling his Korean, Korean). Looking back now, I think if it wasn’t for the great people there, I don’t think I would be writing this blog today. I should also take the time to thank one childhood friend, one brother in particular, who shared many of the same issues; he went to the country a year before I did. Much love, Mr. Cho. I believe the only way I made it through that period was by meeting some very good friends and being the recipient of a huge amount of luck.

My status did change somewhat. As my Korean got better and my knowledge of Korean got better, my standard of living there naturally changed as well. I registered myself in the family tree and was able to receive an F-4 visa, which since I am an ethnic-Korean gave me the right to live (and work) in South Korea. This gave me a national registration card for foreign Koreans and, more importantly, a national registration number for foreigners. Nonetheless, without a four year degree, it was still illegal to work as an English tutor. But, the national registration card did allow me to get a debit card (지급) from Woori Bank and setup a “normal” cell phone account from SK Telecom. I believe I was one of the first customers in South Korea that had one of these 지급 debit cards (2004/2005), which still wasn’t accepted as widely as a visa though.

With these three posts, this is how I “learned” about Korea and Koreans.

Forming views on Korea, Part II : Reading, Korean Language

I wrote earlier that the sheer diversity of people I met in Korea had a huge impact on how I came to form my views on both Korea and Koreans. It’s tough not to stress how large of an impact this has had. Yes, I was born into a family of Korean immigrants and raised in Southern California with her huge Korean community. I was also raised in large part by my grandmother who speaks only Korean. Yet, it would be easy to say that just as English spoken by Kiwis (a term for New Zealanders I picked up in Seoul) is part of the larger English speaking language, Korean-Americans are a rather small (yet very influential) segment of the larger Korean community. For example, there's an article in the New York Times, that says Los Angeles has the highest population of Koreans outside of any city in Korea, but if there are 1 million Korean-Americans in all of Southern California, there are about 50 million in just South Korea where Korean is the dominant (and pretty much, only) ethnicity -- South Korea is more than just Seoul. Some of the things I took for granted that all Koreans might feel was just not there in the Koreans I met in Korea. For example, if I had to single out the most shocking thing I found out after first getting there, then it would undoubtedly have to be the Anti-Americanism. Before going there, I thought, why would anybody in South Korea hate the U.S.?

With all this, I would say the general life experiences I have had as a Korean-American in the United States and in South Korea goes hand in hand with the books I have read in forming how I view both Korea and Koreans.


Unfortunately, I don’t read books in my spare time anymore (most reading I do is done online now). Outside of school, I have not purchased a book since moving back to the States. I’m not sure why I don’t read as much now, but it would be hard not to stress how large of an impact the books I have read have had on forming my views. I’ve created a link that has the books I have read.

All the books I read are in English. My knowledge of the Korean language was so terrible when I first got to Korea; conversational Korean was so difficult such that reading college level books was simply not an option. Even English loan words (of course, now a part of the South Korean variant of the Korean language) were pronounced differently there. For example, the word for “camera” in Korean is just the Korean pronunciation of “camera.” Of course, there are multiple ways to pronounce it, but only one way that’s actually a part of the Korean language and could be understood by Koreans. I pronounced camera Kae-Meu-Ra (케므라 versus Ca-Mae-Ra, 카메라 ) at first, and, of course, nobody would understand. And then, there is an unwritten social rule where you simply can’t say “Camera” in English while you speak Korean in South Korea (and there’s a good chance it wouldn’t be understood either).

So, to put it mildly my knowledge of the Korean language was even worse; I never attended Korean language school when I was growing up. Many words that I had learned from my parents while growing up were also no longer in use (elementary school 초등학교 vs 국민학교, yellow radish 단무지 vs 다광(sp?)). When I took courses at Yonsei University’s Korean Language Institute during the early part of my stay in South Korea I was taking introductory language classes (Level 1).

But, while in South Korea, things were different. Maybe, it was the culture there. A few years back, when a friend from back home was visiting, I remember going to casually grab some coffee only to go to Kyobo Bookstore (Gangnam, Seoul) right after. I remember actually sitting down and reading. My friend found some books on poetry and spirituality and was reading those (Rest in Peace Brother). We sat there and just read. We were there for I’d say about a couple hours, but if we were at the Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun with its much larger selection, I bet we would’ve stayed there longer. The books made a huge impact on my views on Korea.

Back then, there were two major English dailies, the Korea Times and Korea Herald. I almost exclusively read the Korea Herald on a daily basis. The newspaper along with an mp3 player and a book were all essential parts of my life back then. Public transportation in Seoul is very well developed (I remember spending KRW550,000 or about $500 at the time to buy my first i-pod – the 2nd generation one).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Response: U.S./Democracy, Anti-Americanism

Jun brought up some good points that I think a lot of Koreans mistakenly believe in the Anti-American comments. His comments are here.

I believe former President Chun (Shouldn't it be Jeon?) Doo Hwan "gave in" to U.S. demands (by President Ronald Reagan) that S. Korea should hold free and fair elections before holding the Olympics in 1988. This makes sense on a number of levels as you should think about what was going on in 1980-81. The United States naturally wanted to make sure that South Korea at this time was:

1. Prosperous (in 1980(or 81?), Japan under U.S. pressure, gave $4 billion in unconditional aid to South Korea to avert national bankruptcy.

2. Free (Democratic).

With free elections being held in 1987 and Koreans at this time actually choosing to elect another member from the military establishment (and along with the inability of the three Kims to agree on a unified candidate and the dynamics of regional politics in Korea) the U.S. should get much more credit for the establishment of democracy in Korea. I say this as demonstrations by the Korean middle class that led to Kim Young Sam's election was actually the 2nd free and fair election. Nonetheless, it may be hard for South Koreans to accept this, but even as the U.S. military didn’t intervene and only watched as South Korea’s populace was at times brutally repressed (Gwangju), the U.S. had a natural interest to ensure that South Korea was both free and prosperous.

That’s why even as the U.S. military didn’t intervene, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan pressed for democratic elections and pressed Japan to give aid to South Korea unconditionally). As you may very well know, the Olympics in 1988 were a success with boycotts coming only from North Korea and Cuba. Remember, in 1984 (Los Angeles, nations in the Communist bloc boycotted in retaliation for the western world boycotting in 1980 to protest Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan). By the way, a little bit of hometown pride here, it was the second time Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. Imagine that. With all the cities in the world, L.A. was chosen twice. So, I think it’s fair to blame the U.S. (a little) for just watching the brutal repression going on at the time, but at the same time you should also be able to credit the United States for South Korea holding free and fair elections. If that makes sense…


When the Anti-American demonstrations were just starting to get crazy I was in Seoul (fall 2002, 연희동) from where the raging demonstrations/candle light vigils (in 광화문 and 시청) were not too far away. Here, I can sympathize and say there probably isn’t a country in the world outside of South Korea (and perhaps Iraq) where foreign soldiers have a base in the capital of a country, and especially not in the heart of the capital as in Seoul (Yongsan). Unfortunately, though, this isn’t America’s fault. The U.S. military base (picture above) in the Yongsan area in Seoul replaced a Japanese base that was there until the end of World War II. Of course, the Japanese soldiers that were stationed there replaced the Manchurian/Chinese soldiers that were stationed before they were. So, for a proud half of a nation, it must be hard to have foreign soldiers just walking around in the capital, but for many reasons and as history shows – this is not America’s fault. I lived in Yongsan (보광동actually) for a good two years and even I felt this. Of course, I never hear Korean protests against how there’s a high school, college, Taco Bell, Popeyes (American style), etc there. In practice and in the picture above, Yongsan looks like a small American suburb compared in the heart of the capital of South Korea. Though things might have changed I haven’t been there since the last time I was in Korea -- summer 2006. What’s worse though for Korean nationalism and pride is that there’s even a statue of King Gwanggaeto (a Goguryeo king who conquered a lot of land) right next to the base.

Also, I forgot where I read this, but if you take a look at any tourist brochure, and look at a map of Seoul you don’t see any reference to a base that is at the heart of the city. So, I can definitely feel this. I can’t imagine if there were foreign soldiers in Washington, D.C. or even Berkeley for that matter (though I hear the city passed an ordinance/law that makes it illegal for the U.S. army to open up a recruitment office in the city?)

Nonetheless, South Korean anger towards the U.S. regarding the death of the two school girls was irrational, unwarranted, and definitely manipulated by former president Roh Moo Hyun for domestic political purposes. I remember during this time (you also have to remember that this was around the time Iraq was invaded (Mar 2003), so anti-American feelings were crazy high as it was). But, I remember during this time all I had to do was point to South Korea’s own SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with I believe Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan South Korea’s treaty gives South Korean soldiers the same extraterritorial rights that Japanese merchants got in the Treaty of Ganghwa. Moreover, South Korea did indeed get a renegotiation from the U.S. (and the same treaty that Japan has, where you don’t see large scale anti-American demonstrations). I would put money down (as I did on the Lakers game 5, moneyline) that if a U.S. soldier committed rape or the like then he would receive a sentence much harsher than any Korean national committing rape (especially, with rape being such a common crime in Korea unfortunately. I do love Korea by the way, so please don’t take these comments the wrong way). And, I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I believe that as long as a U.S. soldier is not on duty when he commits the crime then he falls under Korean jurisdiction. And, as having lived in Yongsan for a couple years, you see Korean MPs (헌병대s) all the time, particularly in the Itaewon district in Yongsan and they’re not there for Korean soldiers.

But, on an anecdotal level, I agree. I remember this one time I was in a car with all Korean-American friends crossing the Han river by way of the Hannam Bridge and there was one of those stops, where the police check to see if you were drunk or not. Well, the driver of the car, used an id of a Korean-American friend, who was in the U.S. army, to say that he was, well, from the U.S. army and that he couldn’t speak Korean. The police were too lazy and let us pass. I, of course, was shocked to see this, but, things like this made a huge impression on me at the time. Nonetheless, South Korea’s anger towards the U.S. for the death of the two school girls and the SOFA agreement is completely wrong and misdirected.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Forming views on Korea, Part I : People

Last time I mentioned that I met a couple native Koreans who tried to instigate a fight by asking me how much I liked former President George W. Bush.

Well, now that I think about it. In my short time I was there, I think I met an enormously diverse cross section of Korean society the likes of which just arent possible for even someone growing up in a city as diverse as Los Angeles. If I think back, I would say the bread and butter, of how I ate and lived and the like was of course, knowledge of the English language (I see the irony here after criticizing Korea for teaching English before Hanja. I think there is an expression for this in Korean. I talk as if my stomach is full or 내가 배가 불은 말을 하고 있다).

Socially, I spent my time almost exclusively speaking English. But, most days either through work (really, it should be called work. That's how I ate and paid rent) I met a lot of "native" Koreans. Not speaking of the very diverse Korean-American or English-speaking, bilingual population in Seoul, the native Koreans I met there came from such sheer diversity in backgrounds, it's hard not to hyperbole(verb?). I'd say I worked mostly one-on-one with people the most).

If I think back now, some of them were from very privileged backgrounds as they ended up going to and graduating from some very prestigious universities in the United States. Others were of much more humbler means. I remember one girl that lived off of Hoegidong and she worked nights at some garment/fabric store in Dongdaemun. I also remember this grandmother, who was a retired medical doctor who spoke almost perfect English. She hated Roh Moo Hyun's politics, who she thought was aimed at the rich. She had the same view as this one dentist who told me that he stayed in Los Angeles and hated it, making it a "blockbuster weekend" every weekend and of how Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan back in 1993 was too conservative for Korea. He wasn't a big fan of Roh Moo Hyun either.

Of course, there were others as well. There was this one post doc that was going over to UC Berkeley, who was studying lithium batteries I remember. I wonder if he's still on campus. And, of course, I would say I met many, many college and high school students. And, of course, there were all those "Account Executives" that I met when I worked at English Channel. Or, that retired director? (이사) from Nike Korea, who told me that offshoring hits Korea way before the United States (those Korean-owned factories that produced Nike shoes in Korea are still all Korean owned except none of them are or have been in Korea for a long time now). And, of course there was that one director or executive from Samsung Thales the defense corporation who always walked in with an entourage as he was too important to come in by himself.

I remember going to the stores under the ground level in the Euljiro (을지로) district to make business cards and stickers I could put up to advertisemy services as a 1:1 English Conversational Tutor (By the way, I didn't get one student from the sticker thing. Was a complete waste of money. Try Daum Cafe instead). The Euljiro business card, stickers, and flyers thing was probably thee worst investment I've ever made.

There's countless others I'd say that makes it sound as if I''m straight fibbing if I were to say all this and yet also say that Korea's indeed a homogenous country. After all, I was born and raised in Southern California with its nearly 1 million ethnic Koreans. There's the incredibly diverse English speaking Korean population. There's also the incredibly diverse college and high school Korean students. Of course, there's also the incredibly diverse non-Korean population there as well. When I "lived" at Yonsei University (I lived there for an entire quarter), my roommate was this lPh.d candidate from France studying linguistics. He first showed me the obsolete hangul symbol that's just a dot. It was a book I remember that was published in Japan prior to Japanese colonization. And, of course there's the semester I "lived" at Soonchunhyang University in Chungcheong Province.

Anyways, I'd say none of these people I met had even the slightest interest in politics, history, or even tradition (they were more focused on English), but through conversation I some how came to see that I did. And, I think Koreans studying English believe tutors that talk English a lot or just talk a lot are good tutors. And, ask even more questions. So, even if they didn't care about politics or history, as long as we were speaking English, it didn't matter. So, I think I was able to pick up a lot of anecdotal stories in Korea and this helped form the opinion and views I have of Korea and Koreans that I hold today.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Anti-Americanism, Unfair and Unwarranted

I remember one night in Korea a few years back, I was eating at a street vendor(압구정동에 Rodeo길에) with a couple other Korean-American friends. We were of course speaking in English, but there were these two native Koreans there as well. One of them asked me if I liked Bush, the American president at the time, trying to provoke a druken fight...

I like to use the expression that the way in which countries treat each other has not quite matured to the same fashion as that of how people treat each other. Diplomacy between countries hasn't quite gotten there yet. But, I'd say America is an exception. In fact, I'd like to think that America is the only country in the world that actually does things because she believes she's doing something good for the world (well, actually, it's like a bi-polar thing, but that's been at the heart of American politics since the nation's birth).

A long time ago, but not that long ago, there was a country that actually believed that alcohol and problems caused by alcohol could go away just by passing a law. Very idealistic, you might say right? Well, this is the United States of America. During this time the Prohibition of alcohol gave rise to organized crime (yes, more crime and lots of corruption) as well as an entire genre of movies that have romanticized this period). But, I bring this up, to point out how idealistic and optimistic America is. Imagine that, alcoholism and drugs and broken families and the like can all go away just by passing a law. That's the United States of America.

These principles can still be seen in the War on Drugs. Most countries in the Western World have already de-criminalized the usage of illicit substances, such as marijuana. They believe it's just part of human nature that there will always be a select few that will be addicted to drugs and, people, if educated and then given a choice, will choose not to do drugs. However, in the U.S. things are different as the country follows a different morale compass (in that the country actually has a morale compass. Compare with the realpolitik eagerly practiced by China. Or the attitude with which Europe scolds American foreign policy.).

If you do drugs, you're doing something bad. If you do something bad, you should get punished.

Take the twenty or thirty year War on Drugs. While there may be huge industries that have and are benefiting from the War on Drugs, the War on Drugs continues as the U.S. has no problem shipping helicopters to Columbia or even trying to pass a free trade agreement in an effort to rid the supply of Cocaine, but the country can't come to accept that legalizing drugs is the "right" thing to do. Even now, the country still hasn't legalized Medical Marijuana (at the federal level) and it will probably take a fairly conservative Republican administration to demonstrate the limits of states rights... (Ron Paul would not be happy).

It's this idealism and perhaps naivete that also shows in America's foreign policy. America is indeed a country that believes she does things out of what is good and right rather than because that country is strong or this country is weak and America is big and powerful, etc etc.

Of course, you can also probably see this to explain why America has a death penalty and its penal system is more about meting out punishment rather than rehabilitating those back to a normal life in society. I forget which country had more executions last year, China or the United States. But, I do know that China has 1 billion more people than the United States and, oh yeah, China's still a communist dictatorship (not too optimistic about Democracy with Chinese Characteristics taking hold anytime soon)...

There are also these lanes in California, carpool lanes that the state continues to build. Yet, research has shown that carpool lines add to traffic congestion, but the idea that, carpooling makes so much "sense" that even as these lanes continue to make traffic worse in the state, these lanes keep getting built.

So, I say, it definitely would not be fair to say America is an evil country. I'd say the country is just very idealistic. I realize that the U.S. government stood by as military dictatorships crushed demonstrations and violated civil rights left and right in Korea, but nonetheless, to blame this on America is not fair nor is it just

But, also consider, and I might get shot by some Koreans here, that America saved Kim Dae Jung's life by bringing him to Japan, made former president Chun Doo Hwan promise to hold free elections in 1987 when the olympic were to be held in seoul (hodori, 1988), as well as of course guarantee the security of a nation for half a century so Korea could basically get all the security benefits of America's love of purchasing guns and nuclear weapons and missiles, not to mention get Japanese financial and technological aid at America's urging, and, of course, buy Korean products as the country openly practiced Mercantlism). By the way, no where is it written that developing countries should get special treatment from developed countries (you're invoking morality/ethics when you bring that in)...

So, definitely, America doesn't deserve this Anti-Americanism that seems so pervasive in America.

But yeah, I definitely do miss Korea and would love to go back. In fact, I signed up to study at Yonsei University this summer before backing out at the last moment (I've never been to London or Europe for that matter). I went to Yonsei for a quarter to study Korean and also lived in 연희동 for like a half year. And, Jesus, my sleeping schedule is a bit off.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why do Korean kids learn English before Hanja?

I read (maybe heard) that nowadaysCan you believe this?

"Hannas 1997: 71. "A balance was struck in August 1976, when the Ministry of Education agreed to keep Chinese characters out of the elementary schools and teach the 1,800 characters in special courses, not as part of Korean language or any other substantitive curricula. This is where things stand at present."Since 1976, it is common practice for Hanja not to be taught until middle school.

Yes, Korean doesn't have as many homonyms as Japanese, so the absolute need isn't there to struggle through the absolute mess that Japan has to (3 written languages, five vowels?) ... but still, a country (South Korea) that rarely used Hangul until the Japanese colonized the country or a country during ancient times that would traditionally be known to pompously send Chinese manuscripts to Japan in arcane Chinese characters so that the Japanese would have a tough time understanding it would one day come to ignore the importance of Hanja is ridiculous.

For anybody that's ever read the book, American Tragedy, this seems to be just like it. In a rush for Koreans to get rich as soon as possible all sense of traditional values (or any values for that matter) are ignored...

such as the plight of half of a country or a written language that's been used for all of recorded Korean history...

Well, all that's unimportant when your children can speak English as they have a better chance at leading more "successful" lives...

Koreans invented Chinese Writing?

Or was it just Chinese Government Propaganda aimed for domestic Chinese consumption.

A couple days ago, I found out that my aunt also thought Chinese writing (漢子) was invented by Koreans. So, I did a little research and came to believe that it was simply Chinese Government Propaganda. As the video above shows, I couldn't find a professor from Seoul University that holds this view (or did any research on it).

The only view in favor of the view that Koreans actually invented Chinese writing is here:

I personally found it to be ridiculous and watched the Japanese video over and over again. Nonetheless, it's quite scary that people such as my aunt and perhaps countless other Koreans could actually come to believe that.

I think the point that makes it sound convincing for Koreans is that they believe that the Dong Yin (East Shang) dynasty was composed of ethnic Koreans as the leaders of Gojoseon supposedly came from this kingdom. Nonetheless, even if this were true, Koreans should remember that along genetic lines Koreans and Han Chinese are different (Korean haplogroup vs Chinese haplogroup). So, at most, a leader or a noble came from China (and Shandong Province to me can't be anymore Chinese).

Plus, I'm not a calligraphy expert, but that one book that purports how Hangeul is a perfected version of Hanja (漢子), but if you look at different sources on the web, it talks about how even when two symbols look nearly identical the order in which the brush is used to write the characters is different seems to point to a different system. Anyways, it seems to be the most reasonable that the Hanja/Kanji that Koreans use today come directly from Tang China and are probably more "pure" than the simplified Chinese characters mainland China uses today.

Purpose of the blog

I'm not sure if this is going to be something I'm going to use for the coming semester's decal (if there will be one), but it definitely was where I got the idea for this blog.