Andrei Lankov on the Importance of Pyongyang

Politics 7 comments!

By Andrei Lankov

Stalinist regimes love their capitals. A capital is usually a very special place. It is extolled by court poets in their lengthy odes. Its cityscapes (well, what is supposed to be their cityscape in the ideal world, imagined in the works of propaganda arts) are depicted by the nation’s best painters. And of course, a lot of money is spent in building this perfect place. Capitals tend to be most affluent and sophisticated cities of most countries, but in a Stalinist state, this tendency is taken to extremes.

Pyongyang is no exception. Strangely enough, for the first few decades of North Korea’s history, Pyongyang was not officially considered the capital of the country. The regime in the North positioned itself as the sole legitimate government of the entire Korean peninsula, so until 1972, the North Korean Constitution designated Seoul as the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name). According to the official discourse of the time, Seoul was considered to be under the occupation of the American imperialists and their South Korean stooges. Pyongyang, in this scheme of things, was merely the provisional headquarters of the peninsula’s sole government, to be used only until the eventual liberation of Seoul.

How the North Korean Missile Failed and What’s Next on Kim Jong-un’s List

Art, Politics 1 comment.

Toon by Lee Scott, words by Iwazaru

After the embarrassing failure of North Korea’s Unha (the galaxy) 3 missile last Friday morning, officials in the North waited four hours to inform the journalists inside the country to cover the event, and others surrounding the 100th anniversary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth, that the reports they’d gotten from contacts outside the country were in fact correct. The estimated $450 million rocket broke up into some 20 pieces less than two minutes after take-off and fell into the Yellow Sea.

What South Korean intelligence experts estimate to be an $850 million experiment resulted in a fireworks display and particles floating in the sea, all of which haven’t been, as of yet, recoverable by 10 South Korean vessels scouring the sea 150 kilometers off the west coast.

‘Hello, do you know the Jesus Christ?’–Meeting People in a South Korean Gym

EXPAT LIFE, From the Scene 3 comments!

By The Expat at Expat Hell

I recently changed gyms. The gym that I used to frequent was fairly close to my house so it was quite convenient. Due to the relatively small size of the gym, I had to plan my workout times carefully to avoid the morning, noon and evening rushes. I also found that I was accosted frequently for spur-of-the-moment English lessons, which has started to bother me more than it initially did during my first few years in Korea. After all, I doubt that stock brokers are as frequently stopped on the street and asked for free investment advice. In addition, the crowd at the old gym left a lot to be desired. The main clientele were mostly ajummas on the wrong side of 45 sporting almost exclusively leopard print spandex workout suits.

The new gym is about nine subway stops from my house. This allows me to wake up a bit before arriving at the gym. It also allows me to leave my area and workout in an area that is predominantly occupied by young people. The scenery at the gym has improved by leaps and bounds, and I have yet to be accosted for free English lessons while trying to work out. I wake up at 5 a.m. every day and head to the gym at 6 a.m. I arrive around 6:45 and begin my stretches.

Funky Seoul Corner 15: Dee Edwards’ ‘You Say You Love Me’

Art

By Scott Freeman

Now it’s time to turn the clocks back to 1962 and go to Detroit, Michigan,USA. Dee Edwards, born Doris Jones, records her first single as a solo artist, “You Say You Love Me,” at the young age of seventeen. It would be the only single she records for Tuba, just one of the many Detroit record labels at the time; and like many of the local labels, Tuba managed to survive for just a short time, releasing about a dozen 45s in its lifespan.

Very much a ballad, “You Say You Love Me” is one of those tunes that just seem to float along. Although not strictly a doo-wop song, the listener can hear elements of doo-wop, especially with the vocals of the backup singers. While I love the tune, I never have an opportunity to play it out because it is just too mellow for most of the venues I play at, which is why I feature it here for your own perusal.

Police Fail to Save Murder Victim Despite Seven Minute Phone Call, GPS Tracking–Police Commissioner Resigns

Featured, Korean Life 7 comments!

By Iwazaru

According to developing reports, the man, Wu Yuanchun, 42, an ethnic Korean from China, was on his way home from a store when the 28-year-old woman bumped into him. He responded by threatening her life and forcing her back to his home where he intended to rape her. Reports say that when he entered the bathroom, the woman locked the door of the room she was in and called the police number, 112. Initially, according to the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency–and this article in the JoongAng Daily–the call only lasted a minute and 50 seconds during which the woman provided information about her location and, reportedly, allowed for GPS tracking. Yet the police did not locate the scene until 13 hours later at which time they found Wu cutting the woman’s body into pieces. One report cites the mortician:

“A forensic expert who conducted an autopsy on the woman described the condition of her body as ‘too horrific for words.’ The National Forensic Service received 14 plastic bags filled with altogether 280 body parts. ‘He butchered her,’ the official added.”

Street Art and Escapism in Busan: down the Rabbit Hole at Taeguk Village

Travel 6 comments!

By Ben Cowles

After canning it up the hill at what must have been record speed, I couldn’t get off the mini bus fast enough. The nausea eventually subsided as I peered down at the sloping, vibrant neighborhood of Taeguk Village*(태국마을). The colors and short stature of the buildings were a stark contrast to the grey tides of the city we left behind. The necessitous of the town only added to its charisma. Wandering the narrow alleys between the brightly colored, tightly packed shabby homes of the hillside village, I felt as though my girlfriend and I had been transported to the third world.

The brochure/map for Taeguk village likened itself to the picturesque Greek island of Santorini. However the sloping view of the sea was where the similarities ended for me. I thought it typical of Korea to big up this village by comparing it to the exclusivity, luxury and pretensions of Santorini. I reckoned a more honest comparison would be with the slight less marketable favelas of Rio. But then, who’s going to slam “Shanty town” on their tourist paraphernalia?

Working China’s ‘Soft Power’ as A Western Journalist in-Country

From the Scene, Politics 1 comment.

By Tom McGregor at China Daily

Some Westerners incorrectly assume that China should only be viewed according to its political doctrine. They raise fears over its rapid economic development by claiming Beijing is pursuing sinister motives. China seeks peace, not war; alliances, not enemies; so it seems apparent that the nation must promote “soft power” to overcome commonly held misperceptions.

The four great classics of Chinese literature – Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Nai’an, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en and A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin – hold the key to a more comprehensive understanding of the Chinese mindset. The characters and plot-settings were written centuries ago, but the themes of love, conflict, family, crime, business, justice and politics remain relevant even today.

Your Two Cents: Korea’s Election Campaign Circus

EXPAT LIFE, Korean Life, Politics 5 comments!

By Lee Scott

As many of you may know, a major election is coming up on Wednesday, April 11. Not only is it a day off for many of us, the election itself is something that the often-times frenetic campaigning makes us aware of even if we don’t care about the vote. How does Korean style election campaigning differ from the style you are accustomed to in your own home country? What do you think of the early-morning speaker trucks blaring music and campaign slogans in your neighborhoods, or the mobile stages parked at major intersections with rival candidates’ platforms being presented simultaneously, often accompanied by middle-aged (and sometimes older) ladies, decked out in their candidate’s colors and doing “that dance” that they all seem to know? How about those same women parading around the sidewalks in packs?

Korea’s Jjimjilbang: Baring It All in the Bathhouse (or Not)

Art, EXPAT LIFE, Korean Life 12 comments!

By Jen Lee

Living behind Bars as a SOFA Inmate at Korea’s Cheonan Prison

From the Scene 26 comments!

By John M. Rodgers

Some 90 kilometers south of central Seoul in South Chungcheong Province not far off of Interstate 1 at the end of a narrow, winding road sits the Cheonan Correctional Institution surrounded by tree-covered hills and 3-meter-high concrete walls. Here is where foreigners convicted of crimes under Korean law—more than 700 of them from some 40 different nations—have resided since February 2010 when the South Korean government decided to put all the foreigners in one place to simplify procedures and assuage the loneliness felt by foreign prisoners locked up in far flung prisons among all-Korean populations.

And this is where Pvt. Andre Fisher now passes his days. For more than three months he has called the sprawling collection of 49 buildings on 4.5 million square feet of land home after the Supreme Court of Korea dismissed the appeal of his conviction for aggravated robbery and upheld his two-year sentence. Fisher was first handed over to the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for detention on June 21, 2011 and will soon be approaching the 10-month mark behind bars.

Asia’s Territorial Disputes: Ieodo and Korea’s Short Man Syndrome

Politics, Rant

By David Wills

A few weeks ago, a couple of articles popped up on Google News that brought the name “Ieodo” once again to the attention of the world. Although admittedly there wasn’t much substance to these articles and they probably only went to print because it was a slow news day, it was enough to bring a collective groan from Korea’s expat community, and doubtless there were a few mentions of the “new Dokdo”, as yet another pissing contest continued between South Korea and one of its neighbors.

It appears South Korea has the national equivalent of Short Man Syndrome (this despite its population being taller than people in either of its big neighbors – China and Japan). It is sandwiched between powerful countries with bigger populations, more military might, and who’ve always had a greater influence over matters of global importance. The same can also be said of North Korea, whose brash actions and needless aggression are a painful cry not just for attention, but to inform the world that it has power and should not be ignored. History has not been kind to the Korean civilization, and it has been invaded and isolated for most of its existence. Yet in a remarkably short period of time, the southern half hauled itself from war-torn poverty to astounding affluence; and not just that, but it has become one of the richest nations on earth, sending its much vaunted Wave around the world to spread word of its new position. Koreans can be justifiably proud of their country’s progress.

Doing Business in South Korea–The Straight-Shooting Guide

EXPAT LIFE, Korean Life

By 3WM Consultants

Type ‘Doing Business in South Korea’ into a search engine and you are hit with an avalanche of largely the same responses. There are pages upon pages of ‘Must do’ lists of ten to fifteen points, or private business consultancy firms willing to set you up in your chosen field on your behalf, offering a wealth of knowledge in exchange for a wealth of cash. The ‘Must do’s’ invariably and repeatedly revolve around informing the reader that Korea has long been a Confucian-based structure and that elements like age, respect and adhering to one’s superiors are the way forward. The consultancy firms will inform you that the market can be hard to penetrate, but sure enough they know and have the how-to.

Then there can be found entries into wide elaboration on social customs all about how to pour a drink and the kind of subjects to talk about.

Whilst you can find both books and websites that explain an ‘Understanding of a country’s business’, ‘information about business culture… to help you interact more effectively’, ‘Social Culture training courses’, and a ‘guide to… key aspects of undertaking business’, the advice, as previously mentioned appears to be largely the same thing on repeat.

Funky Seoul Corner 14: The Beginning Of The End’s ‘Funky Nassau’

Art

By Scott Freeman

The Beginning Of The End was one of those early to mid seventies bands from, you guessed it, Nassau, Bahamas. One of the many sounds that was going down during this time period was island funk, music from the Caribbean that was making waves on the U.S. mainland. The Beginning Of The End was a supreme example of island funk.

The core of this group consisted of the Munnings brothers—Raphael, Liroy, and Frank.
They recorded two LPs: Funky Nassau in 1971/72 and The Beginning Of The End in 1976. (I do have a copy of the Funky Nassau LP, but alas it is only a reissue. An orginial copy would go over $100. But the whole album does kick absolute butt and is worth tracking down!!!) Several singles were also released, mostly from their first album. “Funky Nassau,” the 45 you see here, was a hit single in the U.S., reaching #15 on the Billboard Top 100 and #7 on the Billboard Black Singles Chart.

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