Wednesday, December 30, 2009 8 comments


So, this whole 'graduate school' thing has a little test called the GRE standing in my way. I'm a pretty confident test taker but like any good student I should study. So for the uninitiated such as myself:
I know I'm still a few years away from the actual admissions process but I see this as a great advantage - plenty of time to get my Korean language up to par, brush up on my Chinese and Japanese history, research possible programs, work on that undergrad student debt as much as possible and study for and take the GRE.

This is great because 새미 is also getting excited about grad school so it looks like I'll have a GRE study buddy. So, my next step is to pick up some study books like this one from the Princetown Review and Barron's Essential Words from my wishlist.


Why isn't Korean Studies as popular as Japanese Studies?

How many times has this been asked? Hell, I've even asked it. Plenty of people asked it before and a possible answer has been posed. I also tend to agree with what the Overthinker wrote. Oh, I should explain about that.

Recently, I have been going through all the old archived posts at Frog in a Well. I've been following a few years in the steps of some insightful people. I wish I could contribute in some way in the future.

Anyways, this question as to why Korean Studies are but of a shadow of Japanese studies is brought up and I wanted to quote from it (Original SourceUPDATE: scratch that. just read it and be sure to read the comments, too.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 0 comments

Book Review: 50 Famous People Who Helped Shape Korea

Title: Koreans to Remember: 50 Famous People Who Helped Shape Korea
Author: Richard Saccone
Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Hollym International Corporation (June 1, 1993)
ISBN-10: 1565910079
ISBN-13: 978-1565910072

I'm torn about how to review this book. On one hand, it's a very approachable reference for anyone looking to get their feet wet in the Korean history waters. It surely covers fifty memorable Koreans and provides a brief summary of their accomplishments and where you might have heard them from. For that, I applaud that author.

However, there are three major flaws that detract from the book's appeal. First, the author awkwardly introduces the birthdate and birthplace of each subject. He curiously makes such a simple task into something that turns into "So-and-so was placed upon the grounds of Earth on the fourth day in the ninth year of the calendar we use". Clearly I'm exaggerating but it's a consistent flaw. Read the book and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's just weird.

Secondly, the book is poorly marketed. The book's target audience is clearly a English speaking group yet this book is largely only found in Korea. For that matter, it's a bit out of date. Originally published in 1993, the modern presidents mentioned are sorely lacking despite an early 2000s republishing.

Lastly, and most importantly, is the cataloging of the subjects. The author breaks the book into politicians, scholars, freedom fighters, and the like. This wouldn't be an atrocious mistake had the author not listed the people in alphabetical order, too. Why on earth would he do this? The chronological order is completely out of order. A book such as this depends on a reader who can pick up the book read it cover to cover. Organizing in an topic and alphabetical-order instead of chronological order is just clumsy. This book isn't an encyclopedia and thus shouldn't try to emulate this style.

For example, in order to properly understand what made 김대중 fight for democracy and freedom, one must understand the 박정희 and 이승만 presidencies. However, since it's organized by last names, you'll have to just flip chapter to chapter to find the right order of political progression. This is assuming that the reader already has a knowledge of those three former presidents. In which case, they are probably not the target audience of the book.

Flaws aside, I enjoyed the book and it introduced a few new names and some insights that I hadn't considered. I respect the author's work but I question his editing preference. As he has penned a few other books on Korea and lived in Korea for well over a decade, I appreciate his insight and thank him for his contribution to Korean history. Just please, for the love, reorganize this book.

- - -

Here's the thing. I love how this book is designed to help those with little or no knowledge of Korean history get into the subject. It's such a well-needed type of book. However, why on earth is it printed the way it is? Despite this and a few small historical inaccuracies (such as who actually murdered Queen Min) I liked the book. I hope more of these easy-to-pick-up books get printed.
Thursday, December 24, 2009 0 comments

RASKB and other associations

Time to get in or get out.

I've been curious as to how other historians stay in contact or get in contact in the first place. A few searches and word of mouth has motivated me to become members of the following groups.

Well, in the process, at least. I already applied for and got my little card from RASKB and I'm excited.

In other news, The Academy for Korean Studies hosts a little scholarship every year to attend four weeks of lectures, field trips and classes. Only problem is that my Korean isn't good enough to qualify, I imagine. Still, it's tempting to read about it.
Thursday, December 17, 2009 0 comments

Book Review: Korea Unmasked : In Search of the Country, the Society and the People

Title: Korea Unmasked In Search of the Country, the Society and the People (New Edition)
Author: Won-bok Rhie, Jung Un, Louis Choi
Paperback: 234 pages
Publisher: Gimm-Young New Edition (January 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 8934917717
ISBN-13: 978-8934917717

For what it is, it's wonderful. One must take into consideration that this is a non-fiction comic book and as such, it takes some liberties for the sake of brevity. We are talking about summing up a whole culture into less than 250 pages. Comments such as "this book is too general" or "it takes too many liberties" failed to see what this book is intended to be - a general overall for people with virtually no background knowledge of Korea. To that end, this book excels.

I also commend this book in its comparison with Japan, China, and America. The author has taken a vast amount of information and condensed it into very approachable subjects such as cultural identity, leadership and economic growth.

Let's not forget that this book is driven by it's artistic style which is quite pleasant and not distracting the least. For an animator, the script is well written and translated which includes very native-English references and subtle jokes that demonstrate his dedication to the project.

All in all, it's a great non-academic read that is recommended to anyone looking to take an introduction to Korea without having to dig through countless volumes of ancient history and poorly translated, nationalistic rhetoric.

- - -

I must re-emphasis this point - this is a comic book slash graphic novel. It's goal is to introduce Korean culture and history through humor, generalization and comparative analysis. I urge anyone reading this book to stop viewing it as a doctoral dissertation. It's a comic book for crying out loud. It does what it's supposed to do - entertain and educate.

I like the author's interpretation of geographic disposition on how it helps define cultural identity. he makes a convincing argument for Koreans to feel as ethnocentric and nationalistic as they do. We can all agree that Korean nationalism is no simple matter and Rhie offers one explanation.

For what it's designed to do, it's great. Buy it, giggle, learn a little about Korea and it's neighbors and then return to academic studies. Don't use this as a reference for anything but a commentary. It's a fun read. Hands down.

Book Review: The History of Korea (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations)

Title: The History of Korea (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations)
Author: Djun Kil Kim
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: Greenwood (January 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0313360537
ISBN-13: 978-0313360534

A Korean history book written by a Korean scholar. Finally. A breath of fresh air into the small niche Korean history genre, this finely written text is free from fluff, striking biasedness and needless rhetoric. The author knows his stuff and acknowledges his faults and viewpoint up front preparing the reader for an in depth look into Korean history and how it shapes the present.

This text isn't free from faults, though. It is completely devoid of graphics and illustrations save for a small handful of old kingdom maps. It also scantly covers the modern history; a possible oversight seeing as the series is titled "The modern nations..." Although it doesn't imply a modern history, one can see how a casual reader might pick up the book looking for a modern history only to find medieval and japanese colonization as it's focus point.

All in all, it's a great read and follows a similar flow of Micheal Breen's "the Koreans...". I would recommend this read for anyone looking for a brushup in general or a closer look at the Japanese colonization period.

- - -

My goal was to hear more history from a Korean historian's perspective and I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. A scholar in every sense of the word, Kim writes wonderfully and without the dryness commonly found in people in the field. Quite the contrary, this book holds some shocking accounts and breath taking moments in history that are surely not to be missed.

For some reason this book flies a little low on the radar but I encourage anyone looking for a properly edited Korean historian's account of history in the English language to check this book out.

Book Review: A Short History of Asia, Second Edition

Title: A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
Author: Colin Mason
Paperback: 332 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; Second Edition edition (October 20, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1403936129
ISBN-13: 978-1403936127

For anyone looking to get more than just a glance at some gorgeous history, this is a great starting point. Although the book claims to be a short history, one should already have a decent understanding of at least one of the countries in which to weave this intricate web of history around. In my case, my focus is Korea.

Allow this book to be the launching point in which to study a specific region or country. It lays the groundwork for future study by being brief yet detailed. The author holds your attention just long enough to paint a beautiful portrait.

Speaking of the author, if anyone should be qualified to write this book, it's Colin Mason. His journalistic approach to writing is elegant, thoughtful and diplomatic. Not to mention his personal stories that accompany some of the most interesting moments in modern Asian history. He keeps his opinions fairly grounded and objectively presents a striking history.

The book's faults include a horribly messy map, a small handful of unrelated photos and an occasional reference of huge importance that gets only two sentences. Otherwise, this chronological look at Asia is well worth your time.

- - -

A perfect intro into Asian history. I couldn't imagine a better primer for Asian history. It's got me ready to tackle Chinese and Japanese history. It taught me what I always wanted to know but was either too lazy or uninterested to discover.

The book is no frills but plenty of what counts. The early history section is a bit dry but the modern nations section is well done. Make this one a part of your collection. Comparative history? Done right.

Book Review: Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture

Title: Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture
Author: Mark James Russell
Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press (January 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1933330686
ISBN-13: 978-1933330686

For an English language resource, this is a gem of a book. Keeping in mind that Korea has a relatively short (but very interesting) pop culture, this book covers all the bases quite nicely. It features a variety of tidbits and little known facts sprinkled throughout the book.

I applaud the author for pioneering an English language legitimate published text - a fresh break from the bloggers who dominate this field of interest. The information is as up-to-date as a book can be (pub 2008) but a slight out-of-dateness is to be expected for a text about the ever-changing pop culture. However, since the majority of the book covers the upstarts of each industry, the lack of 2009 material is unavoidable and easily forgiven.

The author's writing style is both a pro and a con. The writer seems to be comfortable in his knowledge of the subject but sometimes has too much of a conversational tone - almost to a fault of sounding uneducated. However, I really don't want that to sound too harsh because I believe one of his strengths is his ability to both inform and also entertain. He's got a great sense of Western humor that appears amongst this Eastern pop culture history.

I was also disappointed by the lack of photos throughout the book. The beginning has plenty of color pictures to prepare for the in-depth look that's coming ahead but the book itself is lacking accompanying photos. It would have made the biographies of Lee Byung-Hun and Lee Soon-Man more easy to follow.

My biggest complaint is the lack of Korean text. How hard would it have been to include Hanguel in the chapters? All movies, songs, TV dramas, and actors have either transliterated or romanized names which is frustrating when searching for the original source material. The least that could have been done is to include the original Korean names in parenthesis. A careless oversight.

However, I do want to conclude with saying that the author knows his stuff and has written an excellent primer on all things Korean. His background history on the PIFF (Busan International Film Festival) is impressive as is his approach to Korean movies in general (and why there is so much more to the Korean wave than 1999's Shiri). All in all, this book is well worth your time.

- - -

Like mentioned in the review, the book really shines on the chapter about Korean movies and especially the Pusan International Film Festival. Buy the book if for no other reason to read about that.

No joke though this book is an oddity in that it there is no other book that rivals it's quality and readability. I own a few other books on the subject but they are academic paper compilations and other analytical texts. This book is what you want it to be - a book that covers Korean media and it's history.

Other than the lack of 한글 this book is well worth your time and money. Buy it and find out just how turbulent the history is. The author has a blog that also might be of interest.

Book Review: The Korean Presidents: Leadership for Nationbuilding

Title: The Korean Presidents: Leadership for Nationbuilding
Author: Choong Nam Kim
Paperback: 438 pages
Publisher: EastBridge (October 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1599880032
ISBN-13: 978-1599880037

This comprehensive study on the South Korean presidency might escape your radar easily but it should be given more attention. What this is is a wonderfully detailed and easy to follow timeline of each President, to include their biographical background, political career, and post-office activities. Dr. Kim has done the Korean academic community a favor by employing a skilled editor to elegantly translate this work into fluidly understandable English - a task likely not usually taken for such specified pieces of political history. In this case, the narrative is so moving that one almost forgets that it's nonfiction.

The author writes from a well-educated and truly insider Korean perspective. Dr. Kim served three South Korean presidents, and as such, graciously points out common comparisons held by various generations of Koreans. Each protagonist's interweaving story is truly appreciated for its complexity and depth. The sheer amount of Korea's political and social history revolving around the presidency is astounding. The reader gains an invaluable appreciation for the roles that each president played in their country's development.

The only perceivable faults are the curious omissions of second and fourth presidents Yun Bo-seon (윤보선) and Choi Kyu-hah (최규하), respectively. The author rationalizes that those two presidents, due to their painfully short terms and/or ineffectiveness, did not leave behind appreciatable legacies and thus, not generally regarded as having contributed to nation building. Also, the cover isn't much to look at but do not allow that to that fool you into thinking that the book isn't a verifiable gem in its own right. Lastly, the book is in need of an recent update. As it is a 2007 publication, controversial current president Lee Myung-bak (이명박) is not mentioned as is also the unfortunate passings of former presidents Kim Dae-jung (김대중) and Roh Moo-hyun (노무현).
Overall, if you are interested in Korean democracy, its history, and its people, you've found your book. Highly recommended.

- - -
I love this book like a fat kid loves cake. It's that awesome. The timeline and picture that the author paints is detailed and thorough. I encourage you to read other comments and reviews by others who have completed this incredible book. As mentioned, the author is a native Korean who had first-hand knowledge of the Blue House and is more than qualified to comment and compile information on the office of the President.

Actually, my previous entry on the Presidents of Korea is essentially a summary of this book. I wrote that article as a sort of self-imposed homework assignment. If you're thinking of picking up the book, check out that entry first. Ultimately, this book is a must have for any native English speaker looking for definitive material on the Korean Presidents.

I'd like to get in contact with the author but I can't seem to find much about him online. The only data I can seem to find on Dr. Kim is from linear notes from a pamphlet describing a lecture he gave at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii:

Choong Nam Kim is the POSCO fellowship coordinator at the East-West Center, which he joined in 1997. He was formerly a professor in the department of social sciences, Korea Military Academy, and then a professor in the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. He served three Korean presidents as an assistant for political affairs. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota.

Book Review: Culture Shock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette

Title: Culture Shock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette
Author: Sonja Vegdahl, Ben Seunghwa Hur
Paperback: 262 pages
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Corporation; 3 edition (July 2008)
ISBN-10: 0761454896
ISBN-13: 978-0761454892

For being an introductory read, this book rocks my socks. I highly recommend this book for beginners of the language, expatriates, Koreanists, people with Korean travel plans and anyone doing business in any form with Koreans. It's that good. I've read my share of culture books and resources but I feel that this book (namely, this edition) demystifies several Korean cultural idiosyncrasies in a clear way that is easy for anyone to understand.

I applaud the authors for including a do-and-don't list. I feel that this helps clear up some questions left by other resources. It's true, most things Korean-related (as with any culture) usually aren't cut-and-dry and objective enough to make a list but I still feel that the authors were tasteful and appropriate in their advice.

This book kind of reminds me of a cross between Moon Handbooks: Korea and Culture Smart!: Korea rolled into one. There's useful info on holidays, work ethic, psyche, travel destinations, and living abroad. This book deserves a look. It's a quick read with pleasing aesthetics and well-divided topics.

You'll thank yourself later for this one.

This is by far the most helpful teeny tiny book you can buy for Korean culture. Period. It's blazingly simple but accurate and applicable. Buy it, read it and pat yourself on the back for such a small investment. As a absolute first book for anyone wanting to anything about Koreans, start with this one and move on from there. Even for those who have been here for a while, there is surely bound to be something useful. Buy it now you fool.

Book Review: Culture Smart! Korea: a quick guide to customs and etiquette

Title: Culture Smart! Korea: A Quick Guide to Customs & Etiquette
Author: James E Hoare 
Paperback: 168 pages
Publisher: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company (January 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1558687912
ISBN-13: 978-1558687912

For being so small, this little book is the best book on Korean culture I have read in a long time. It contains so much, so quickly that I read it twice in just one week. It provides an insight not just as a traveler, but as someone who interacts with Koreans. It provides bits of knowledge, trivia, and tips that is well worth the modest cover price. There are several "crash course" books like this, and take it from someone who owns them all practically, this one is the by far the best.

Seeing as how it is designed as an overview, you get more than your money's worth (less than ten bucks including shipping). Want to give a friend something to read on the airplane ride over before they meet you in Korea? This book fits the bill quite nicely.

I'm honestly surprised that this book gets over-shadowed by the "Lonely Planet" series. Ignore the hype and pick up this book.
Certainly not the best book on the planet but respectable for such a small little text. Although the amount of history is negligible, the simplicity of the book for the everyman is what I envy. I love how plainly it's written. It appeals to a wide audience. Hopefully, this inspires others to pick up academic texts later as it did for me. For a small culture book, it gets the job done.

Book Review: Looking for a Mr. Kim in Seoul: A Guide to Korean Expressions

Title: Looking for a Mr. Kim in Seoul: A Guide to Korean Expressions
Author: Sang-Hun Choe, Christopher Torchia
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Infini Press (April 2, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1932457038
ISBN-13: 978-1932457032

Man oh man is this book hard to find. If you have the chance to pick it up, buy it and don't think twice. I have no clue why it is so rare but I know that Amazon is the only major online retailer that I can find it on. Moving on.

This book has much to laugh about. It ties in language, culture, and storytelling. You might read this book cover-to-cover and only take away a few memorable stories. I can guarantee you that some Koreans won;t even know the etymology of some of their own words/phrases but you sure as hell well.

It's endearing, funny, and entertaining. It's not exactly appropriate for language study as many of the proverbs and idioms don't exactly make their way into everyday conversation but the history behind these expressions will make you smile if nothing else.

The authors know what they are talking about and are not afraid to share some quirky information with you. Well done!

- - -

This book is a tricky little devil. See, it's already been published in Korea as How Koreans Talk: A collection of Expressions. Like a moron, I bought it here in Korea at 교보문고 (Kyobo Bookstore) thinking I got this awesome book that's similar to one I already bought before. Turns out, I bought the same book.

Normally this wouldn't be too big of a deal, but I already bought this book before - making the red-labeled How Koreans Talk the third time I bought this book. The second time was just a case of I lost the original book but found it right after I bought the second. Ugh.

Anyways, it's a great resource and plenty interesting. Buy it. It's somewhat hard to find and certainly the only type of book of its kind out there.

Book Review: Korean Business Etiquette: The Cultural Values And Attitudes That Make Up The Korean Business Personality

Title: Korean Business Etiquette: The Cultural Values And Attitudes That Make Up The Korean Business Personality
Author: Boye Lafayette De Mente
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (September 15, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0804835829
ISBN-13: 978-0804835824

Not bad at all. Chapters are broken up into sizeable chunks that are insightful and easy to read. My biggest complaint stems from the fact that despite the author's extensive knowledge of the Korean language, he refrains from using any 한글 in the book - only romanization of key terms. This makes for a sloppy glossary.

Don't let this questionable editing mistake steer you away from this book - not only does it contain nugget after nugget of valuable information, it also contains a fantastic summary of ancient and modern Korea wrapped up in about 12 pages.

The author does well to tie in his knowledge of Japanese culture and business as it plays a big role in Korea. However, I would have liked more taboos and "do-not-do-this-you-impatient-foreign-businessperson" tidbits - although the book has plenty. I suppose the best feature of the book is it's instant pick-up-and-read aspect however, if the proper context isn't taken into account, I'm afraid that some of this book might be forgettable - which is a shame.

Perhaps it goes without saying that this book is applicable to anyone living in Korea and has thousands of applications outside the business world. A great read.

- - -

My first business culture book and certainly a memorable one. I've always been told of the mystery and enigma that is Korean business etiquette. Although it's still a frustrating business culture, this book certainly does demystify it and put it in an approachable manner.

The author is no lightweight to commercial media on all things Korea and he does what does quite well. He's a respectable pioneer and has made some progress for countless foreign businesspeople. This book isn't the answer to everything but it does prepare you for a typical Korean work environment, although first hand experience will undoubtedly make what the book is trying to convey more clearly. All in all, if you would like to avoid most misunderstandings and misinterpretations, this book is a great introduction. Cheap, concise and widely available, there's no reason to have read this at least once.

Book Review: Korea's Place in the Sun

Title: Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, Updated Edition
Author: Bruce Cumings
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton; Updated edition (September 19, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0393327027
ISBN-13: 978-0393327021

Selectively detailed almost to a fault. Korea's Place in the Sun is an incredibly long read that I was hungry for but unfortunately, it's also overwhelmingly subjective at times. I strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with ancient and modern Korean history prior to reading this book because Cumings doesn't slow down for the casual reader. Recommended for anyone interested in more than a intro course on Korean history. However, be forewarned that this particular author is controversially subjective in his selective (mis)interpretations of Korean history.

His obvious North Korean apologetic stance aside, Cumings makes especially moving descriptions of the Korean war and demystifies the so-called Miracle on the Han economic movement into practical terms. His coverage of the Korean War is eye-opening and certainly the highlight of the book as it is one of his strengths. Ironically, though, I prefer his coverage of the Korean War in this book rather than his most recent title.
However biased it may be, this book is exactly what it claims to be: a one volume course on Korean history. it just may not be the most well-agreed upon history out there. Get ready for a level of detail that borders so much on muck-racking that might scare you. Take notes because Mr. Cumings is not afraid to cite his sources, although you might be wondering where the balance is in his arguments.

- - -

Some five hundred pages later, I finished the book. I liked it, don't get me wrong, but it was heavy. Not for the faint of heart or casual reader. Or for fact checkers for that matter. Better than his most recent effort.

Book Review: The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies

Title: The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies
Author: Michael Breen
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (January 17, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0312326092
ISBN-13: 978-031232609

One of the most fascinating, concise history texts available. Its curiously long title might come off as zealous but chalk it up to poor marketing because the book itself is a valuable piece of work that is far easier to delve into. Breen breaks each chapter down into manageable pieces that impressively read like page-turning newspaper articles and less like dry scholarly papers.

An obviously brilliant writer, Breen's journalistic fact-then-opinion approach helps to identify what is interpretation and what is generally understood to be factual. His sprinkled personal anecdotes are appropriate and charming. He's also humbly modest when he claims that ancient Korea is not his field of study because he does a fine job at covering the important aspects of ancient Korea and her vast history.

All in all, this is a must read for those wanting to gain a well-educated and experienced look into Korea.

- - -

Ahh, the memories. My first Korean history book. I read this one summer in college by my apartment's pool. Good times.
Monday, December 14, 2009 0 comments

The IMF crisis of 1997 - a brief history

originally posted elsewhere

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is essentially the world's loan shark working to stabilize international exchange rates and provide temporary financial relief.

It actually reminds me of that Korean monthly lottery that some older women play: Everyone donates something like 50$ every month to a pot and a random name is drawn until all names have been drawn. Whoever's name is drawn gets everyone's money for that month. I mean, technically, no one wins or loses anything - the money is just shuffled around indefinitely - but it seems like you win the lottery for that month.

The IMF works kind of like this (read: not at all like this) but just make all participants spread throughout the world, level out the exchange rate, and make the pot available for those who only really need it on a temporary basis. So instead of winning the lottery, it's more like a handout in times of need. You repay the pot by getting back on your feet and get back to contributing to the group as a whole. The idea is that if all participating country's economies are doing well, it reciprocates down the road by improving everyone's economy (Keynesian economics).

Let me tell you, this sounds like a treehouse club that I want to be apart of. So why is this worldwide organization share it's name with one of the worst economic disasters since the Great Depression? Moreso, why haven't most Americans ever heard of it?

All countries who are members of the United Nations participate in the IMF with the exception of few countries including North Korea and Cuba. That still leaves 185 contributing countries working together for over 60 years. It also works by a weight system (much like the U.S. House of Representatives). The higher the quota, the higher voting power a particular country has. For example:
  • United States - 17.09% of the total quota
  • Japan - 6.13% of the total quota
  • United Kingdom - 4.94% of the total quota
  • South Korea - 1.35% of the total quota
Let's set the stage for the 1997 crisis: Confidence in the Thai baht dropped during the summer of 1997 and the resulting scare reminds me of something that happened in WoW. Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea eventually followed suite. However, Bangkok didn't share the sole responsibility for the problem as other East Asian countries were borrowing funds to invest locally without exactly paying back what they borrowed. On top of that, the projects and investments chosen weren't exactly cash cows which further devalued the local currency. This rapid drop in value of baht affected the ringgit which in turn affected the rupiah which in turn affected the won. Ever read If You Give A Mouse A Cookie...? In this case it stemmed from poor management from governments and ever worse advice from the IMF. opps. Isn't there like a reset button?

So where does Korea fit in during the 1997 crisis? After Korea suffered from this hit in the collective wallet of millions, it was in dire need for help - and like the Ultimate Warrior coming down the ramp to enter the ring - the IMF popped in and gave Korea a 57 billion dollar loaner. Crisis contained. The countries highlighted below were most affected. Wikipedia is great, isn't it?
Countries Affected by 1997 crisis
So to answer one of first questions posed, the main reason why most Americans didn't pay attention was for four main reasons
  1. we were still a little freaked out over Dolly
  2. Hong Kong went back to the Chinese
  3. Titanic premiered and jumped-started teenage obsessions with Leonardo DiCaprio
  4. South Park debuted
Our minds were elsewhere - sorry.

So, why should anyone care about a currency crisis that happened 12 years ago? If anyone has ever been overseas for an extended period of time, they know first-hand that the currency conversion rate is one of the first things in their mind once they get a paycheck (second only to the quickest and cheapest route to inebriation). Typically, one can usually insta-translate Korean won (원 ₩) to United States dollars (USD $) by simply subtracting three zeros from the end. So, if a beer at that bar that we were gunning for costs 2000원, then we can insta-realize Wow, that is a two dollar beer. This understanding comes at the common knowledge that 1000원 usually means 1$. But of course this isn't always the case. In the case of the 1997 crisis, the rate was 1700원 to 1$. That's almost cutting your wallet in half. Similarly, if the won is closer to 800원 to 1$, then people entering the country with a fistful of American dollars will be losing a slight amount in the conversion. Good for the won but not so good for the dollar. As of January 4th 2009,  1 USD = 1312 원. ouch.

However, here's a situation that Americans hope to run into:

An American enters with a cash amount around, say, a few thousand dollars, converts it to won, stays for a period of time, plans to leave the country later with a comparable amount in won, converts it back to dollars before leaving to find out that the rate has changed in his/her favor. You passed "Go" so collect 200 dollars. Thank you for doing nothing. Can you believe that people do this (currency conversion) for a living?

Anyways, to wrap things up, it would be cliche of me to point out that South Korea and the rest of the world are globally linked and dependent on each other for stability. However,  it's important to hope that in the future such events like the crisis in 1997 won't go unnoticed by the rest of the world (read: USA). Sure, currency stability sounds about as fun as watching paint dry but it does affect more of us than we like to admit. Here's to a future of prosperity!


March First Movement - 삼일 운동

삼일 운동 (만세운동).

Two days ago was a very important holiday for Korea.

Like most nations, many historically important holidays mark a day that symbolizes a particular feeling or thought. In Texas, we have the Battle of the Alamo. This was a tragic military loss in every sense of the word during the Texas Revolution. Yes, a failure - the well-trained Mexican army outnumbered the beleaguered defenders 10 to 1. In fact, Mexican Army General Santa Anna even gave the defenders a chance to surrender. If you know Texas, then you can guess which finger the defenders raised in response. Essentially, the Mexican army ended up slaughtering just about everyone inside. However, this seemingly foolish decision to fight the organized Mexican army ended up inspiring others to take up arms against Mexico and eventually led to Mexico's defeat and Texas's independence a month later.

This battle is studied today because it represents Texans' courage, determination, and pride - even though it was a bloody loss that had a snowball's chance in hell of ending in victory - not to mention that plenty of people who defended the Alamo weren't even from Texas.

I bring up this comparison because 삼일 운동 represents something similar to Korea. On March 1st, 1919 Korean underground fighters declared themselves independent of the Japanese colonial rule. In response, a combined Japanese force made up of police and military killed approximately seven thousand unarmed protesters. Japanese rule would continue for another 26 years (1910-1945).

This day helps to represent Korean nationalism. It was a revolt started primarily by students inspired by a speech by American president Woodrow Wilson. With or without the speech, this was a long time coming as the tension had been mounting for years. Like "Remember the Alamo" after the original 33 protesters were arrested it sparked support in ordinary civilians nationwide. A month after the initial protest, a provincial government was setup in Shanghai to carry out the wishes and desires of Koreans seeking independence from Japan.

This day was linked to anti-Japanese sentiment years after the fact but was originally designed to be a peaceful, nonviolent movement. Unfortunately, its brutal suppression is what likely makes it so famous now. It is now regarded as one of the most important events in Korean independence history. Since then, efforts have been made to restore native Korean architecture set in place prior to Japanese occupation.
Protestors - circa 1919
I wonder if events like the March First Movement are taught in school the same way that the Alamo is taught. I have to be honest, in Texas, the Alamo story is told fairly biased with a heavy emphasis on the bravery and courage demonstrated by the defenders. In the case of March First, at what point in a student's academic career is it taught in Korea? Is the March First Movement even taught in Japan? Does the everyday Korean  student even care anymore about events that transpired almost one hundred years ago? I understand that it's a fairly sensitive subject even to this day but I'm curious in a academic sense how Korean history is taught.

Friday, December 11, 2009 1 comments

Presidents of South Korea - an overview and timeline

It's been a few months since I wrote this summary of the Presidents of South Korea. It's got me thinking to write something about the two interim presidents that I left out. Surely 윤보선 and 최규하 have a story to tell, too. See here for a full timeline of all presidents. Anyway, in the meantime, here's the original posting.
originally posted elsewhere

The Presidents of the Republic of Korea. 대통령.

This can be a hot topic because people of different backgrounds and age groups differ heavily on how each president is remembered. Moreso, with each new president, former presidents are remembered somewhat differently. For that matter, there are criteria for judging presidents.

Korea has a relatively short democratic history and an even shorter "real" democratic background. In just sixty years, there have been over 200 major political parties come and go. Also, one of the obstacles democracy faces in Asia stems from long-standing authoritarian tradition. Add to the mix Korea's not-that-far-behind agrarian and colonized history and you've got a recipe for political instability. But, far from impossible, many politicians have been up to the task. According to Kim, democratic Presidents have three fundamental, sequential tasks while in office. The third can't successfully be obtained without the second, and the second can't exist without the first:
  • national security (internal, external war)
  • economic welfare (infrastructure development, public services)
  • political development (freedom, individual rights)
Keeping these tasks in mind, I want to refrain from placing myself on either standpoint but I do want to try to at least give a brief overview of this important office and why you should care nowadays. Also, in an effort to be impartial, I will make an effort to provide equal amounts of criticisms and achievements. Keeping the mudslinging to a minimum, let's take a look.
Korean President Timeline
이승만 대통령 Syngman Rhee Korean president
이승만 - 1948-1960
Syngman Rhee held a provisional post before the creation of what we today know as South Korea. Although he succeeded the popular and tragic political figure 김구, Rhee was quite accomplished in his own right and was an obvious candidate for the newly created Republic of Korea. As a young politician, he was a political prisoner for five and a half years before being released. He is best known as the first president of Korea and for carrying the country during the Korean War. His fresh new ideas and staunch anti-communist platform came at a crucial time in Korea. His relationship with the United States was vital to American involvement in the war. In addition, his academic career was equally impressive. Graduating from both Princetown and Harvard is not a bad thing to add to one's résumé. Although he was democratically elected, he altered the constitution to remain in office quite a bit longer than the usual seven year term (now five year single term). In addition, after successfully leading South Korea before, during, and after the war, his politics soon fell out of favor was eventually forced to step down by a sweeping majority and subsequent student uprising. He lived the rest of his life in exile and died in Hawaii five years later.
박정희 대통령 Park Chung Hee Korean president
박정희 - 1963-1979
Park Chung-Hee took power in 1961 in the form of a military coup. He held much more power than 윤보선, the figurehead president who took over after Rhee's departure. A former general, Park ruled with an iron fist and a well-defined agenda. His anti-North Korean stance was well received; he believed that the best way to demonstrate superiority and security from North Korea was through economic strength. Thus, his main policy was economic independence through exports and heavy industry. Park is fondly remembered for his well-executed economic reform. His policies helped modernize Korea into better shape than before the war that left it in a state of poverty. Unfortunately, his presidency is equally remembered as authoritarian and heavy-handed. His censorship tactics were brutal and often inhumane. He left little room for professional criticism and democratic thought. His Yushin Constitution led Korea in a war-like state of emergency which granted Park with excessive political power. He survived two North Korean assassination attempts, one in 1968 and another in 1974. The second attempt missed the president but instead hit the first lady. His wife passed shortly thereafter. Regrettably, Park was assassinated in 1979 by the head of the Korean CIA. His legacy has often been the subject of great controversy.
전두환 대통령 Chun Doo Hwan Korean president
전두환 - 1980-1988
Chun Doo-Hwan seized power from the former prime minister who became president after Park's death. Like Park, Chun was a military general who ruled with a similar economic agenda as Park but with a focus on stability instead of growth. He also spearheaded a major advancement in research and development in the fields of technology and telecommunications. He is pleasantly remembered for his role in hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics. This event eventually had the support of the entire country and resulted in numerous infrastructure improvements such as the Han River Development Project and the 88 Olympic Expressway. Although not as physically imposing like his predecessor, Chun had big shoes to fill but still held his position effectively. He improved Korea-Japan international relations and repeatedly stressed that he would step down once his single-term was up. However, like Park, he was the target of an assassination plot that went sour and sadly resulted in the death of his wife and several other officials. Most unfortunately, he was among a group of politicians who were held responsible for the military's brutal role in the Gwangju Democratization Movement (also known as the Gwangju Uprising). This event is still regarded as the most tragic lose of civilian life in Korea since the Korean War. After his term, it was discovered that Chun and his family had embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars while in office. In addition, in 1996 he was found guilty and sentenced to death for his role in suppressing the Gwangju Uprising. He was later pardoned and has since been out of the political limelight.
노태우 대통령 Roh Tae Woo Korean president
노태우 - 1988-1993
Roh Tae-Woo succeeded his mentor and close friend, Chun. They were both high school friends and eventually served together in an elite paramilitary force. His temperament was decidedly cooler than his predecessors. During a particularly violent student riot in June of 1987, Roh, then just a presidential candidate, addressed the nation on national television with an eight point agenda to fix the country. Almost immediately, the rioting ceased. Unfortunately, the arranged election time for the National Assembly coincided with an unfavorable time for the government and resulted in the dissident minority party gaining a majority of seats. What did this mean for Roh? His legislative goals were stopped at the National Assembly floor because they came from the other party. Ouch. Also, he was not particularly interested in the economy, a policy that the Korean people had long been expected to be maintained. However, Roh was greatly interested in improving relations with North Korea. His Nordpolitik was achieved via trade relations with Beijing and Moscow. Although he promised a lot in his campaign to a lot of different people, he reported carried a black notebook around and once quoted from it when questioned about his effectiveness "I made a total of 459 promises...of these...a total of 175 have been completed and [an additional] 273 are in the process of being worked out." Even though Roh was the first president to usher in a peaceful democratic transfer of power since 1948, both Roh and Chun were of the same political party and the legitimacy of the handoff has long been questioned. Also, like his predecessor, he was found guilty of accumulating a 650 million dollar massively illegal slush fund and was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. He was later pardoned but his legacy was forever tarnished.
김영삼 대통령 Kim Young Sam Korean president
김영삼 - 1993-1998
Kim Young-Sam came into the political scene as a young and ambitious dissident. At 25 years old, he was the youngest elected assemblyman to ever serve in the National Assembly. A dynamic man, prior to becoming President, he was put under a two year house arrest and then went on a 23 day hunger strike in protest of President Chun's policies. Stricken with 대통병 (President disease) he soon set his sights on the office of the President. He would be come the first civilian president in thirty-two years. He charged to create a new Korea although he lacked any real administrative experience. Also, his cabinet appointments were less than qualified to lead the country. If that weren't enough, he "borrowed too many brains" by frequently reshuffling cabinet members. Stressing mass political reform, he led by example; he swore off golf, replaced fancy Blue House meals with simple dishes, and ordered the Presidential guest villa to be demolished. At the peak of his popularity, he pushed a new open and transparent banking system that relied on real names. This act resulted in over 1000 public officials throughout the country resigning from their post or forcibly sent to prison for various related illegal activities. His anti-corruption campaign spread to the military further forcing resignations from another 1000 or so officers in addition to revealing the 142 names of the secret paramilitary force 하나회. Unfortunately, for all of his crusading, he was alarmingly inexperienced in economic matters. Instead, he pursued OECD membership. His passionate demeanor sometimes worked against him as in 1994 when North/South Korea relations were at an all time low. A thick air of mistrust and possible nuclear war was on the brink until a joint North/South meeting was arranged with former American president Jimmy Carter as mediator. In fact, a historical North/South summit was set to take place July 25th 1994, but North Korean leader 김일성 died on the 9th. Regardless, Kim's economic negligence came to an apex with the 1997 IMF Crisis. He stepped down as one of the most unpopular presidents.
김대중 대통령 Kim Dae Jung Korean president
김대중 - 1998-2003
Kim Dae-Jung did not have it easy. He was placed on house arrest several times by President Park. He was imprisoned by President Chun. He was kidnapped by the KCIA in Japan and brought back to Korea. He has been referred to as the Nelson Mandela of Asia. A life-long freedom fighter, at age seventy-three, he finally became President by a skim 1.5% margin of victory over 이희창. Kim had studied and lived in the United States, an experience that served him well as President. He cleaned up the IMF mess by insisting on 재벌 (corporate) restructuring, government reorganization, and a labor/management compromise. His DJnomics shook things up all over the country with little regard for the long-term effects. Furthermore, Kim insisted that he would help break down a long standing tradition of regionalism. Most notably, his Sunshine Policy aimed at amicable trade and cultural exchanges between North and South Korea. Emotions ran high on June 13th, 2000 as Kim flew to 평양 for a historical summit meeting which resulted in a five point agreement between the two neighboring countries. For his efforts, Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, his popularity in Korea was quickly deteriorating as juicy scandals and ineffective policies came to light. His Sunshine Policy was angering many South Koreans as it seemed one sided tilted in North Korea's favor. In 2003, it was estimated that one out of every five families could not pay their credit card debt - a result of his short-term and short-sided economic policies. Also, his administration is widely believed to be the most corrupt in modern Korean history. He left quietly office amid serious doubts about his legacy and passed away in August of 2009.
노무현 대통령 Roh Moo Hyun Korean president
노무현 - 2003-2008
Roh Moo-Hyun - the self-made human rights lawyer who climbed his way up the political ladder. His meager upbringing and underdog political status did not exactly pave the way for his future as President. However, he was known as a man of transparent good character and an all-around upstanding citizen. At the time of his election, the public wondered if he could be as effective in the inside as President than when he was on the outside as a dissident. Roh represented the 386 generation of Koreans and promised change and reform but soon his policies were questioned. His controversial and extravagantly expensive proposal to move the capital was not well received. Roh was also quite possibly the most Anti-American President ever - coinciding with one of the most Anti-American protest movements in recent history. Overall, his job performance wasn't exactly regarded as effective, though it's far to point at that the cards were stacked against him in some ways. Regardless of his politics, he tragically shocked the nation by committing suicide this past May. His passing closes a possible chapter in Korean political history - an ex-president who could achieve more out of office (arguably much like former American President Carter) or at least live out post-Presidential life in dignity. He remains an enigma.
이명박 대통령 Lee Myung Bak Korean president
이명박 - 2008-present
Lee Myung-Bak was the former mayor of Seoul before making his mark as President. The "bulldozer" also holds the distinction of being Korea's youngest CEO at age 35, just eleven years after starting work for the Hyundai group. Recently, President Lee donated approximately 90% of his accumulated wealth to set up a scholarship fund. Well done. As mayor, 2MB initiated a rather controversial revival project that, $900 million dollars later, is known as 청계천. After his stint as mayor, he campaigned on his 747 economic plan which was met with hope and caution by the voting public. Even more skepticism was aimed at his Grand Korean Waterway - a project that would link 한강 (Han River in Seoul) and 낙동강 (Nakdong River in Busan) at great financial and environmental cost. Surprisingly, Lee recently dropped all plans of building the canal during his term. As if to really change things up around, his foreign policy, known as the MB Doctrine, is rising eyebrows on at least two continents. Furthermore, Lee has limited freedoms of assembly and press on more than a few occasions as well as having a rather extreme religious stance of both anti-Buddhist and borderline fanatically pro-Christian. He's not exactly liked by the Korean gay and lesbian community, either. President Lee is controversial and conservative at best and Korea's answer to Dubya at worst. Only less than two years into his presidency, Lee has plenty of time to make either great strides or costly mistakes.
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I know that politics can sometimes seem to be about as fun as calculus, but I can't help but be fascinated with Korea's history. It's dynamic, dramatic, and riddled with broad achievements and epic failures. It shows so much promise and so much growth in such small amount of time. I'm impressed how far Korea has come politically since my grandfather's generation (Korean War). I certainly welcome any dialogue about this subject as it is of great interest to me.