Thursday, April 19, 2012

Top 10 Things I love About Korea Redux

It looks like Top Ten Lists are back in... so I thought I'd throw in my bit.

What A Waygook has "Ten Things I Can't Live Without in Korea"

and ESL Chronicle has "10+ Things I Love About Korea"

Back in the middle of the Jon Huer... thing..., I polled hub of sparkle readers and compiled this list of ten things we like about Korea for the Korea Herald. I think it's a pretty good list.

Well, here's the top ten list I put into What A Waygook's comments: (totally off the top of my head -- favorite thing about Korea is like favorite Beatles songs -- every time you ask me I'll rattle off a different list...but a few mainstays will keep coming back)

Things I… I won’t say CAN’T live without… but things that make me love love love living here:

1. soup dishes in the winter — seolleongtang, galbitang, samgyetang, kalguksu, sundubu jigae, kimchi jigae, dwenjang jigae, budae jigae… warm the soul.

2. covered markets – those semi-outdoor, traditional bazaar-style markets you find in the older parts of the city or town, where old folks give you great prices or freshy freshness, or just a taste of how things used to be.

3. restaurants with one thing on the menu… and old people lined up out the door to eat there. Lots of restaurants get lines out the door, but if OLD people willing to wait, you can be sure it’s not because the place is trendy, or was featured on a power-blogger’s food porn blog… but because the food is soul-food, cheap, delicious, and generously portioned. Best of all is Gwangjang Market by Jongno 5-ga station on the dark blue line.

4. the public transportation – especially in the city, but even if you’re traveling around the country, if you’re handy with a transit card, good at reading bus schedules, and not above hailing a cab from time to time, there’s no need to own a car here.

5. the tourist help lines here’s the place to find all the local numbers: – Korea’s really made an effort to become more accommodating to tourists who don’t speak the language, and this is one of the absolute best initiatives they’ve come up with so far.

6. Broadband speed.. EVERYWHERE. Every time I’m streaming Youtube videos on Subway line 5 deep under the Han River, downloading bus arrival times out in the countryside, or making a video skype call from a motel out in the boonies, I should blow a kiss at the nearest visible Korean flag.

7. Chats with taxi drivers and friendly old people – the better your Korean is, the more fun these are, and the more varied the conversation becomes.

8. The everything festival of everywhere always: there are a whole buttload of fantastic festivals celebrating everything from seasonal phenomena (flowers blossoming etc.) to traditional arts (masks and dances and foods), to the newest of the new developments in Korean culture… and if it’s not a festival yet, it’s probably a street party (world cup soccer games, flash mobs, flea markets, random live shows)

9. Jongno/Gwanghwamun/Bukcheon/Myeongdong – I’ve lived in this area for about 2/3 of my time here, and it’s absolutely inexhaustible… partly because there’s so much to see and do, and partly because it changes so quickly that even if you’ve tried everything in the area, two weeks later there’ll be something new to try again.

10. People-watching (and eye candy) everywhere – old people playing baduk in parks, little kids splashing in public water fountains, couples speaking in goopy voices in coffee shops… or breaking up loudly on the steps to a subway station…, little kids wearing hanbok on festival days… and at every crosswalk, whether you dig XX or XY chromosome sets, there’ll be at least one person coming the other way who’s an eyeful of style, beauty, handsomeness, high fashion or immaculate grooming, to give your eyes a treat as you pass.

better leave it there, not that I couldn’t go on…
So, readers: lists in the comments: what are YOUR top ten? Or put a link to your own blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dear Ahn Cheol Su 안철수: Please Do Not Run for President

So this was in the news. From here.
Ahn Cheol su has been running the biggest political tease I've seen in a while. Here's what I think:

Dear Ahn Cheol Su: Please Do Not Run for President

Mr. Ahn, you are very famous, and very accomplished. These days, it seems like everybody loves you: simply indicating you are interested in politics vaulted you ahead of Park Geun-Hye in speculative polls, and your support carried Park Won-soon into the position of Seoul Mayor. The idea that you might consider running for president, makes a lot of people shake with excitement.

But please don't.

Let's look at this logically:

We've seen the outsider before:

Why are people are so excited you might go into politics? Because they are tired, and cynical, about the current system, and current politicians. Yes, you have your own impressive qualities, intelligence and talent, but part of the reason for your popularity is not really about you: it is an expression of people's discontent with the other options, and with the general climate of politics in Korea: nothing intrinsic to you at all. People have been betrayed too often by the politicians running the country, who abandon their principles when white envelopes change hands under the table.

I am sure you remember the sad story of Roh Moo-hyun: he was a political outsider (like you) and he said all the right things (like you). People voted for him because he seemed to promise a fresh start and a change from the ugly way politics were done until then (like you). Roh really meant something to a lot of people - I still have students and friends who speak passionately, with eyes shining, about the promises he made.

Then what? Once he entered office, all those high principles were hidden from view, blocked by political squabbling inside and outside his party, as he was attacked by everybody who felt threatened by his promise of a new way to do politics. His presidency started with a bloody fight that nearly led to his impeachment, and ended in allegations of corruption and disappointment... even though those pointing fingers at him were at least as corrupt as he was.

Is it possible you could become Korea's president, and start a new era in Korean politics? Perhaps. But I think it is more likely that the Korean politicians who have gotten fat abusing their power, and benefiting from their corruption and connections, will (for once) come together in their mission to either remove you, destroy you, or worse: to drag you down into their mud pit, and make you just as dirty as they are. This would leave Korean voters once again heartbroken and disappointed, and even more cynical than before. Like ex-president Roh, I fear that your ideals will disappear under the pile of garbage other politicians will throw at you, to protect their privileged way of life, and distract people from their own corruption.

The important question:

The important question is not "Could I be elected as president if I ran?" The question is, "If elected, could I fill the promise that makes people vote for me?" And I don't think you can. I don't think anyone can. The system has been in place too long, it is too savage and ugly, and there are too many people in powerful positions with reasons of self-interest to keep it in place. The political process is too slow, and too easily derailed in Korea by childish gestures from politicians, like tear gas bombs and secret sessions, for one person to actually change it, during one five-year presidential term (five years is really short for such a huge change!), while all the seasoned politicians work (in self-preservation) to undo him and his efforts.

But if Korea's people truly are sick of Korea's corrupt, unchanging system, one where corrupt officials favor the moneyed rather than the common citizen, there is something you can do instead, with your fame and influence: something that keeps your reputation for integrity pure, and something that will, over a long time, even create a better political atmosphere in Korean politics.

A different idea:

Rather than running for political office yourself, I ask you to use your influence to become a name all politicians, from either side, fear and respect: a name that causes them to reconsider accepting a bribe or using their influence to benefit their friends and connections.


The prizes named after Alfred Nobel and Joseph Pulitzer have lived on long after the men who founded them, and the ideals their awards honor and promote are a legacy that has become greater than any of their lifetime accomplishments. The achievements of other humans aiming to win the prizes named after Pulitzer and Nobel, have led to countless other achievements in many different fields, that have benefited all mankind.

If you really want to change politics in Korea, let me suggest the Ahn Chul-soo Integrity Award. Use some of your money (you've got plenty!) to establish a foundation to provide award money, and every year, with your bipartisan or non-affiliated selection committee, give out two Ahn Chul-soo Integrity Awards: one to the politician who has behaved in a way that brings the most honor to Korean politics, through honesty, transparency, and dignity, and one to the journalist, blogger, citizen-reporter, or whistle-blower who uncovers the act of corruption, cronyism, or dishonesty among politicians and business leaders, that is most damaging to the reputation of Korean politics, and Korean democracy. Establish a committee with representatives from different age groups and political beliefs, with a transparent procedure (for accountability), who choose among nominees. Publicize the nominees, both for good, to praise those who fight corruption, and for bad, to shame those who are corrupt. Every ambitious young journalist in Korea will focus their attention on exposing corruption, in hopes of winning your award, and every politician will fear to engage in dirty dealings, knowing that Korea's most ambitious reporters are searching for ways to expose them.

Rather than join the mud fight of South Korean politics, and run the danger of beginning to look like just another pig twisting in the mud, I encourage you to use your influence and popularity to shine the brightest spotlight possible on Korea's politicians, so that if the private shame of dishonesty and indignity is not enough to dissuade Korea's politicians from acting corrupt in secret, and childishly in the National Assembly, perhaps the fear of discovery and public embarrassment will motivate them to change their behavior.

I firmly believe that this is the best way you could use your fame and influence to truly improve the political atmosphere in Korea, and give Korean citizens and voters the fresh start they long for.

Please consider my suggestion.


Rob Ouwehand

(if you like my idea: tweet it, post it, share it... translate it)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why the North Korean rocket launch failed.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hears a Who"

 Kim Jong-eun's intelligence agency is now hunting for the one citizen who was not cheering the missile on.

A very small, very small shirker named Jo-Jo
Was standing, just standing, and bouncing a Yo-Yo!
Not making a sound! Not a yipp! Not a chirp!
North Korean Intelligence grabbed the small twerp

"This," cried the chief, "is the leader's dark hour!
The rocket named Eun-ha took off from the tower
If the children of Kim Il-sung don't raise a cheer,
That rocket will crash in the ocean we fear...

If the launch is a fail there will be consequences
All your uncles and brothers will live inside fences
To the prison camp with you and three generations
Of family, for causing our humiliation!"

(image source)

And so little Jo-jo joined in with the praise
In the hope with his voice, greater ruckus be raised
That the satellite (or so-called) Eun-ha take flight
And escape from earth's gravity to orbit that night

But the rocket splashed down somewhere out in the sea:
Rockets don't fly by cheering, but technology!

They didn't clap loudly enough.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

JFNK, KUMFA: Two Worthy Causes

I've received emails from a couple of cool people I know, who have asked me to share the news about a couple of worthy causes which I believe in:

Justice For North Korea is a group that raises awareness of the North Korea human rights crisis. They have weekly meetings, and they also have events where people can help out with planning and organization... or where they might be interested in showcasing your talents, if you're an artist, a musician, or some other kind of performer. If you've been looking for a stage for your contortionist juggling act (or your band) it might be worth looking into this.

You can reach them, and learn more, through their Facebook Page:

As any longtime reader knows, I care a lot about womens' issues in South Korea, and in that vein, Korean Unwed Mothers' Family Association is having an event on April 27, in Hongdae. If you frequent Hongdae on the weekend anyway, think about adding this to the itinerary, and dropping the price of a few long island ice teas on some people who could use it more than you could use a bad hangover.

Again, find out more about it at the Facebook event, and mark it in your calendar.

Expect posting at Blogoseyo to be light, as presentation and midterm season is coming up at school, and then term papers.

And if you can... vote. It's election day in Korea, and a lot of Koreans went to jail or died in the late 70s and 80s so you could.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lecture on North Korea and China... LANKOV!

Hat tip to Matt from Popular Gusts.

Andrei Lankov, probably the North Korea commentator/analyst I like/trust the most, is giving a lecture on North Korea and China. If you're in Seoul, and able at all to go, you should.

More info here.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Here is a baby. And some hard questions.

Here is a baby to entertain you until I have time/passion/bile to write up another full length post.

Among the things on my mind:

How does one distinguish a discourse from a national narrative (for example: the developmental discourse in Korea, and the national narrative of the Korean success story).

Is it possible for Lee Myung-Bak's attempts to "brand" Korea and position Korea as a "world leader" to be any less in step with the idea of "soft power" as theorized by Joseph Nye?

How much can op-ed columns in major Korean newspapers be taken as representative of/trusted to reliably frame major national discourses on various?

Why doesn't every news publisher have easily searchable archives?

And one more time: Baby:

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Greener Pastures...

[UPDATE] OK then....
since it's no longer April first anywhere in the world...
And for those of you who didn't notice the date... this didn't ring any "Too good to be true" bells?

Hi, readers.

I'm not quite sure how to start this post... but I've got some news that's really exciting, but perhaps a bummer for a lot of my readers.

Most of you know I've been doing graduate studies in Korean Studies lately, and this has led to an interesting opportunity: through a connection I made at the Canadian embassy with the consultative group there, I've been invited to join a Vancouver-based think tank on migration, multicultural policy and identity politics across the Pacific Rim. They're looking for someone with extensive experience in writing and Korean culture, with a balance between Canadian perspective and boots-on-the-ground experience in Korea... which is pretty much exactly me. After a few interviews, I was offered the position in March, and after mulling it over with Wifeoseyo and our families, I've decided to accept it.

Not only will I get a full-benefits government-funded job, the think tank has long-term corporate backing from a number of Pacific Rim import/export companies who have a whole line-up of research projects they'd like us to develop. On top of that, the company will support my Ph.D. studies while I work for them... so long as its focus is in line with the institute's research goals... and they are. I don't know how many people are lucky enough to get offered positions where they're paid to study the topics that fascinate them.

It's hard to say goodbye to Korea -- it's been a pretty sudden, shocking change for Wifeoseyo, who'd been expecting to live in Korea pretty much indefinitely... but when we looked at the package they were offering, which included training to help Wifeoseyo pick up her line of business over in Canada, and the schools we'd have access to for Babyseyo, and the chance to be closer to my two sisters... in the end it was a no-brainer.

The amount of time they're asking, and the kinds of research tasks I'll be organizing and executing, pretty much preclude anything but work/research and family time -- I've enjoyed writing Roboseyo, and for a long time, I've told anyone who listens that the best thing about writing this blog has been the AWESOME people I've met -- I'll be in touch with you personally -- and if you're in the Vancouver area, the Roboseyo email will stay open.

I'm glad I stayed with blogspot now, because the free service means that I can keep the blog online in perpetuity -- Blogoseyo isn't going anywhere, but it just won't be updated anymore -- but the blogosphere has never been in better shape, and I'm sure, between this sidebar and the sidebar links of the other bloggers and blogs you like, you'll easily find other sources of insight and entertainment... but it won't be me.

Unless you see some of my publications here or there.

Thanks again, all my loyal readers and commenters, for your contribution to the awesome experience that Blogoseyo has been... I'm sorry I won't be able to engage with you the way I have... but then again, if I'm not living here anymore, it's for the better: I've seen what happens to those who try to keep a Korea-blog running after repatriation, and it just doesn't work.

Love you all:


And one more, because successful trolls are really funny: