Saturday, December 18, 2010 0 comments

December Link Dump

- Perfect timing. Just as I email Charles over at Korean Modern Literature in Translation for a request, he publishes this excellent newbie's guide to Korean literature. Read. Absorb.

- Psst. Knock it off already.

- Ah the Gapsin Coup. Always an interesting topic.

- Learned a lot about the Tokyo Rose the other day.

Happy Holidays. Miss you, Korea. Here's a laugh for you.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 0 comments

AAS 70th Annual Conference

Who's got two thumbs and going to be in Hawaii from March 31st to April 3rd?

This guy.

I somehow convinced my loving, supportive and incredibly pregnant wife to let me go to the 70th Annual Conference put on by the Association for Asian Studies (AAS). Not only does 2011's event plan to be the biggest it has ever been boasting three times the amount of presenters, it will also be jointly hosted by the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS). What does all this mean for an aspiring Korean historian? History Nerd Overload. I can't wait.

This will be an especially memorable event for me because my new job has taken up virtually all available time to do the things I'd like to do. This is a real treat. I know that AAS will have other conferences in the future but this one really seems like it'll be one to remember. Sure the flight ticket is unnecessarily expensive, I have to take off quite a chunk of work to attend and the conference just happens to be taking place roughly two weeks after the birth of our daughter, but hey, why not, right?

If you'll be there too, shoot me an email or a comment and let's meet up.

UPDATE: Thoughts on conference.
Friday, November 12, 2010 0 comments

Statistics on Foreigners in Korea

*This is actually a few year-old post from my personal blog migrated here for keepsake.

I ran across a Marmot's Hole entry that finally gave me the data I have been looking for. I have been super curious as to the actual teaching credentials held by in-service English teachers in Korea. The results weren't surprising, but I was hoping the for the best. Anyways, here's the situation:
20.5% are classified as certified teachers
37.4% hold TESOL certifications
5.4% hold both TESOL and teaching certifications
16.8% hold degrees related to English education
12.6% hold education degrees
48.0% hold a degree not related to teaching whatsoever
I understand that I am a minority in believing that teachers of any subject should be qualified; and by qualified I mean hold educational degrees. I also recognize that some teachers who hold education degrees shouldn't be teaching at all while others who hold a non-related degree are great in front of kids. However, I still stand by my opinion that children in any country deserve the best possible education.

-Thanks again to the Marmot's Hole, here are some numbers of current E-2 holders as of October, 2008:
15,238 Americans
10,111 Canadians
3,021 Britons
1,412 South Africans
1,162 New Zealanders
1,158 Australians
1,051 Chinese
978 Japanese
626 Irish
56 French

-per Galbijim

Only about half of native English speakers working at Seoul schools have renewed their contracts for 2009.

According to Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, Tuesday, 144 of 273 foreign English teachers who were eligible for a renewal of their contract have signed to stay on another year.

Last year, the city education office also saw about half of its foreign teachers renew their one-year contract, however, it had only 11 who had more than three years teaching experience.

-per Marmot's Hole

"There are an estimated 30,000 foreigners teaching English in Korea. Only 16,000 have E-2 visas, making most of the rest illegal. The problem is that authorities find it difficult to crack down on the illegal teachers, and rely primarily on tips."

-per Korea Herald

The city government information office (서울시 정보화기획단) announced on the 19th that the population of Seoul has increased for the last five years consecutively, reaching 10.45 million people at the end of last year. On December 31st, 2008, there were 10,456,034 citizens and holders of alien registration cards in the city, 34,252 more people than at the end of 2007. 76.3% of the new residents are foreigners, of whom 23,204, or 88.7%, are either Chinese or Chinese of Korean descent (조선족). With the global economy having fallen in the fourth quarter, the growth of the foreign population also paused, decreasing some 3,689 people.

There were 96,241 births in Seoul last year, 3,866 fewer than the 10,107 in 2007. The falling birth rate has thus reversed after increases in 2006 and 2007. 2006 saw a boom in marriages and births after being called auspicious by astrologers and 2007 was a golden pig year, but the effects of those years have disappeared and the birth rate is following suit, the report said.

-per Galbijim

The Ministry of Justice announced Sunday it will allow only nationals of countries including English as an official language that have signed an agreement with Korea to work as assistant English teachers from next year.

The Justice Ministry is currently working on the agreement with India and expects it to be signed next year. So far, only the nationals of seven countries whose mother tongue is English — Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States — have been eligible to work as native English teachers.

With the new measure, member countries will be expanded to include the likes of India, the Philippines and Singapore, where English is one of their many official languages. Currently, there are 4,332 native English assistant teachers in elementary, middle and high schools nationwide.

However, nationals of such countries will have to meet tougher qualification requirements than those from the countries where the mother tongue is English. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has decided to make both a teacher’s license and a bachelor’s degree in an English-related major as prerequisites. Nationals of the seven countries whose mother tongue is English have much more lenient requirement of having graduated from a two-year community college or having finished at least two years of a four-year university course.

A qualification to teach in private English institutes will continue to be limited to nationals of the seven countries.

-per Chosun Ilbo

As of April last year, 63,952 foreign students were studying at Korean universities -- more than five times the 12,314 registered in 2003.

Foreign students studying in Korea are overwhelmingly Asian, accounting for 92 percent of the total. Chinese students number 44,740 or 70 percent, Japanese 3,324 (5.2 percent), Mongolese 2,022 (3.2 percent), and Vietnamese 1,817 (2.8 percent). In contrast, American and Canadian students take up just 3.3 percent of the total and European students 2.4 percent.

-per Chosun Ilbo

Children from multicultural families are becoming a common sight in many Korean neighborhoods, with the Ministry of Public Administration and Security finding last May that there were 140,000 foreign spouses here, accounting for 16.2 percent of the total of about 640,000 foreign residents. Most, or 120,000, were women.
The number of children under 18 from such families was about 58,000, soaring from only 25,000 in 2006 and 44,000 in 2007.

Chinese Koreans accounted for the majority of foreign spouses, followed by Vietnamese, Japanese and Filipinos.

According to the National Statistical Office, foreign-born women accounted for 71.5 percent of spouses from overseas and men for 28.5 percent in multicultural marriages between 1997 and 2007. The majority of children or 57.1 percent were under six, and 32.2 percent were between six and 12, meaning children under 12 accounted for 89.3 percent.

Many of them find it difficult to fit in, often because they do not speak Korean well, are uncertain of their cultural identity and come from poor families. Most Korean men who marry Asian women are from rural areas, and the marriages often do not last.

-per Chosun Ilbo
The law requires those wishing to obtain the E-2 visa to submit a police certificate of their personal criminal history issued in the country of citizenship or residence and stamped by the Korean embassy. The new version also requires the applicants to hand in a health certificate to show the person has no infectious or sexually transmitted diseases, and a transcript from the last educational institution attended in a sealed envelope.

-per ROK Drop

The number of international marriages between South Korean citizens and foreign nationals increased from 12,188 in 1998 to 38,491 in 2007.

-per Korea Beat
...The number of foreigners registered in our country has quadrupled over the past eight years, and the number of intermarriages between Koreans and foreigners has increased 250% over the past six years...

-per Chosun Ilbo
...There are now more than 120,000 foreign wives who are married to Korean men and living in Korea. International marriages accounted for 11.1 percent of the country's total matrimony in 2007 -- one in nine couples being multicultural. Over 58,000 babies were born into multicultural families. Korea has briskly become multicultural...

-per the Marmot
"The number of foreigners based in Korea has exceeded one million for the first time, up 24 percent, or 215,543, from the previous year, a survey said Wednesday.
According to the one-month study conducted in May by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, there are currently 1,106,884 foreigners residing in the nation, accounting for 2.2 percent of the nation’s entire population of 49,593,665."

-per ROK Drop

The number of foreigners based in Korea has exceeded one million for the first time, up 24 percent, or 215,543, from the previous year, a survey said Wednesday.

According to the one-month study conducted in May by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, there are currently 1,106,884 foreigners residing in the nation, accounting for 2.2 percent of the nation’s entire population of 49,593,665.

“The double-digit increase is attributable to the inclusion of overseas Koreans who have lived in Korea for an extended period of time,” a ministry official said. Previously, they were excluded from the survey.

More than 60 percent of the foreign population live in Seoul and its vicinity ? 30.3 percent reside in Seoul, 29.3 percent in Gyeonggi Province and 5.6 percent in Incheon
Friday, October 29, 2010 0 comments

October Link Dump

- This is just stupid. Don't they teach you to ignore gossip in Stanford?

- Henry Savenije in the Korea Times. Well deserved.

- What is going on in Seoul these days? Stop the madness, people. Violence here and here. (Update: there's more to the G.I. slash 노인 fight than originally thought. hint hint - he wasn't a G.I.)

- North Korea's future dictator and I are 동갑? Really?

- Hey goober. Where's the meat kimchi?

- And just in time for the blog pressings, an Orlando 한국학교's total lapse in judgement - in song version. A genuine must-see.

Book Review: We Married Koreans

Title: We Married Koreans
Edited by: Gloria Goodwin Hurh
Softcover: 212 pages
Publisher: Llumina Press (March 2009)
ISBN-10: 1605942154
ISBN-13: 978-1605942155

Gloria Goodwyn Hurh's book is a unique collection of twelve lifelong journeys of American women who married Korean men in the 1960s. Aside from having the current distinction of being the only of its kind, this book is a curiously telling hodgepodge of women who have stories that many will be interested in reading. However, is it just history repeating itself twelve times over or will there be enough to keep you flipping pages?

As described in the introduction, the undertaking for publishing these personal stories came about naturally but incredibly slowly. However, the final product stands as a social history for those to read in the future; much like the oft referenced 1953 inspiration "I Married A Korean" by Agnes Kim. Although three of the stories were written anonymously, most follow the same pattern of candid exposition and the entertaining frankness that only a seasoned soul can affectionately deliver.

Despite the hopelessly bland and colorfully mismatched cover, I was more than happy to discover that most stories had accompanying photos; usually one from the wedding and another taken decades later. The international appeal to the story and couple really came alive with the photos which were a very welcome addition to the already fascinating stories.

My only gripes are aimed at the somewhat narrowed scope of the book and demographic samples. The limitation of American women writing the book of their Korean husbands is one thing but the age limitation is another seemingly pointless requirement. I would have liked to have read more stories from all ages groups. Another puzzling constraint comes from a somewhat lack of diversity in the backgrounds of the groom's family. Most of the stories involve well-to-due Korean men who came to the states to study at universities on official government grants. Furthermore, regarding language, most of the groom's family members spoke English which was likely uncommon and unrepresentative of the population even for today's standards let alone for the post-Korean War era. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to be an upwardly mobile bilingual Korean, but it seemed a bit of an elitist sampling.

All in all, though, despite the deceptively similar backgrounds of the people involved, We Married Koreans is an enjoyable easy read. However, you might feel like once you read one you've read them all which is a real shame because each couple is clearly a source for their own incomparable story. Anyone married to a Korean might find these anecdotes worthwhile.

- - -

Okay okay, so this is hands down the gushiest book I've ever admitted to reading let alone reviewing (and yes, I still deny that I ever read any of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books because for all you know, I didn't). Yes, this collection of stories is a dedication to Agnes Kim's old school I Married A Korean (which Gusts of Popular Feeling covered quite nicely a few years back if you'll recall). Yes, it was interesting. Leave me alone about it

It's been a while since regular posting and I apologize for the wait but the book title should sum up what I've been up to recently. Since getting married in June, we;re getting ready for the baby next year. Becoming a father might place a bit of strain on free time for the blog, to say the least.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 2 comments

September Link Dump

- It's been said, but I still think it pertinent laughable to post that North Korea now has facebook, twitter and youtube accounts.

- LiNK posted a new documentary titled "Hiding" about North Koreans trying to defect to China.

- The Grand Narrative is one of my favorite blogs. Two of James' most recent posts highlight his proficient sense of research and presentation. As always, well done.

- Cao Cao's tomb is fake. How about that?

- She's making rounds again. The grandma who tried 960 times to get her driving license.

- U.S. says thanks but no thanks to the sale of leftover rifles left over from the Korean War. Keep in mind these were to be sold to private collectors. Still, am I the only one who was surprised that "...87,310 M1 Garands and 770,160 M1 Carbines..." were left behind? That seems like quite a cache to leave behind.

- Not that it should be considered news but an increasing number of men in Korea are getting plastic surgery.

- Near and dear to my heart - Texas and Korea together at last. Too bad I was fifty plus years too late.

- Lastly, two new blogs/forums came across my radar: Korea's Information Society and the Korean Sentry.

Apologies for the light posting. New job and a move back to the states has hampered my free time. Hope to get back to reading regularly. In the meantime, here's a delightfully random article on ten lost technologies.
Sunday, August 29, 2010 0 comments

Book Review: Ewha Old and New: 110 Years of History 1886-1996

TitleEWHA Old and New: 110 Years of History 1886-1996
Author: Ewha Womans University Archives
Hardcover164 pages
PublisherEwha Womans University Press (October 10, 2005)
ISBN-13: 978-8973006557

For such an important university, it sure has a boring history; or so this book would lead you to believe. Although not as dynamic a history as Yonsei or long as Sungkyunkwan, Ewha does indeed deserve a better book to tell its trailblazing and controversial story. This official book printed in gloriously predictable self-appreciating pride from the university's own publishing press. Ignoring the inevitable patting on the back, it lacks character and is riddled with grammatical mistakes. Is this the supposed definitive source pulled from their own archives?

To say nothing of flair or voice, the entire book barely reads like clinging flesh to a bone; the bone being a dry timeline and the flesh being an obligatory sentence or two. The school's nearly 125 year history is reduced to following the opening of departments, dorm hall dedication dates and university presidents and their political platform. Little is said of the financial and social turmoil of the early days or the politically charged demonstration activities of the students. Taking no chance, this book leaves out all the good stuff.

It can be said that there are some nice photographs and the layout is pleasant to look at but ultimately I get the feeling that I'm reading a slapped-together non-natively translated Korean to English transcript with minnimal heart and no more information that couldn't already be found printed en masse on a trifold pamphlet found in any one of the school's building. Disappointing.

I was expecting at least a tour guide's level of insight but could not have been more bored while reading Ewha's supposedly important history. Knowing full well that the school does have a notable history worth publishing, this book does it no justice. It does have a nice cover and pictures but sorely lacks in content, though. An embarrassment that looks pretty, I suppose.

- - -

It's no secret that I like Ewha. I formally studied Korean there on and off since 2007 and I have very good memories of the campus. I studied under wonderfully talented Korean language teachers and found peaceful solitude on its beautiful campus many a day. I've been on a few campus tours and learned more and more tidbits along the way through a book or two here and there. I wished that there was more out there.
So imagine my shock and surprise when I saw this book sitting on a bookstore shelf waiting for me just days before I left Korea. I thought that I'd have a great little travel companion on that long plane ride to Texas; only to find out that it has less personality than the rock my mom keeps outside of the front door of the house I grew up in.

Oh well. Moving on.
Saturday, August 21, 2010 1 comments

August Link Dump

- Obviously the month's biggest news comes from the Japanese Prime Minister's apology to South Korea for forced colonization. This is one the most recent of a sporadic series of carefully worded apologies by Japan. AAK has commentary. Highlight of the article can be found in a recent correction:
Correction: August 15, 2010
An article Wednesday about Japan’s apology to South Korea for its colonial rule contained information from The Associated Press that incorrectly stated that officials in Seoul had accepted the apology. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said that the government had ‘‘paid attention’’ to the apology.
- ROKDrop has a wonderfully concise writeup on the Korean DMZ. Nicely done.

- Bone up on your history of fake Asian cinema and delve into Yellowface.

- A 7000 year old wooden oar was found in 경상남도.

- Part one of a promising story on Mt. Halla's first foreign climber.

- Statues older than the terracotta warriors discovered in Hunan province.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 1 comments

Book Review: Syngman Rhee: The Prison Years of a Young Radical

Title: Syngman Rhee: The Prison Years of a Young Radical
Author: Chong-Sik Lee
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Yonsei University Press (May 2001)
ISBN-10: 8971415363*

This pleasantly surprising text about the early life of Korea's first president is everything it claims to be and much more. Instantly readable for a wide audience, Professor Lee beautifully weaves Rhee's story into world happenings of the time with brilliance. In addition to providing a personal look at Syngman Rhee's budding career in journalism, the book delves into the lives of prominent figures around young Rhee including King Kojong, Yun Ch'i-ho and Seo Jae-pil. The author fills in some blanks left by other notable biographers on the fascinating backstory on one of the most complex politicians in modern history.

In essence, the book follows Rhee's early childhood education and finishes on his trip across the Pacific Ocean to start his formal education in America. As the book's title suggests, though, the bulk of the content surrounds his five year, seven month-long life in prison dating from January 9th 1899 to August 7th 1904. However, we also get to see sufficient progress he made as a student of the English language as well as a writer for progressive-orientated publications. Considering his yangban upbringing and remarkably impressive strides made as a boy studying classical Chinese, Rhee's time in prison, including his conversion to Christianity and numerous self-imposed writing projects like an English-Korean dictionary, was productive. His undeniable fame in his mid-twenties was enough to grant him plenty notoriety. Such a man of this caliber simply did not exist in Korea elsewhere at the time save for the aforementioned Yun Ch'i-ho or Seo Jae-pil. Rhee's story is done justice here.

Quite refreshing is the author's tendency to provide meaty footnotes for nearly every page. Also noteworthy is Professor Lee's candid admission of Rhee's hot-headed nature and his painfully naive early viewpoint of Japan and her intentions with Korea as well as Lymon Abbott-inspired Christian doctrine. Despite Rhee's final legacy being that of disgrace and shame preceding nation-wide protests, his early career is objectively covered.

What does stick out as possible faults to this otherwise unblemished book is its obvious short length and a predictably negative interpretation of King Kojong's legacy. Suitable examples of Kojong-bashing include a comment on the space of time between the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War: "Through his diabolical ignorance and stupidity, Korea's ruler had idled away the precious decade reducing it to no more than a prize to be plucked by the victor" (p.82). However, when considering that the book's subject was a staunch independent activist bitterly angered by a corrupt, rotting government that not only squandered a centuries-old dynasty by financial mismanagement and domestic complacency but also fell victim to foreign dependence and eventual forced colonization. Of course, this is also the same government that was responsible for his extended incarceration. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the author supports Rhee's own disdainful thoughts on Korea's king: "Rhee regarded Kojong to be 'one of the weakest and most cowardly emperors of a 4,200-year old succession of sovereigns.' The record of his reign speaks for itself" (p.115).

Overall the book is one to pick up for anyone with an interest in either the beginnings of the Korean presidency or Korea's early modern time period. For the story it has to tell, it's certainly worth picking up regardless of Rhee's debatable legacy. What's most important to note is how closely Rhee's life story follows Korea and her struggle for independence from foreign powers. For that, it's a no-brainer. If you can find it, buy it.

- - -

* For one reason or another, this book's ISBN gets confused with the 1983 reprint of Underwood of Korea. Not sure what's going on with it but even Amazon's got a mess of a listing for the book. Perhaps the problem lies with the publisher.

Having only a relatively minimal knowledge of the Korean presidency I can say that this book answered a lot of questions I had about 이승만 as an activist. Moreso, it has has piqued more interest about his life. I suppose it's the stark contrast from his upbringing, education and goal only to have to dishonorably step down from a dream position for gross unethical conduct and all around political tyranny. I was also intrigued to read that Seo Jae-pil served as a kind of role model for young Rhee. Must follow up on this one.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010 1 comments

Book Review: The Five Years' Crisis, 1866-1871: Korea in the Maelstrom of Western Imperialism

Title: The Five Years' Crisis, 1866-1871: Korea in the Maelstrom of Western Imperialism
Author: Yongkoo Kim
Hardcover: 170 pages
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (November 25, 2001)
ISBN-10: 8989443016
ISBN-13: 978-8989443018

With a name like that, how can it not be a lopsided look at the opening of Korea? Despite a well-meaning disclaimer that the author "...has tried to maintain a balanced view on this unfortunate period in history by guarding against chauvinistic interpretations of Korean diplomatic history that impute all the mishaps to foreign powers, as well as against so-called colonial versions which deny the autonomous capabilities of the Korean people" this brisk 170 page book falls flat on its bold claim as is about as unbalanced as it could be in such a small amount of space. Not that early encounters with Korea from Western powers weren't decidedly all from unsavory people relatively unrepresentative of their respective countrymen in general, the book clearly takes a defensive and anti-foreign stance against foreign interaction. Earliest examples include the persecution of Catholics which prompted French intervention in 1866.

Don't let the subjectivity of the writing to lead you to think that the book isn't worth your time because it most certainly is. It's a concise read full of embedded translations of proper nouns into 한자, helpful notations and good footnotes. In its original form, the book was the first chapter of a much larger Korean language work titled "세계관 충돌과 한말외교사 1866-1882". In the current English language form, it's just enough to entice interest and provide an excellent primer for the events surrounding the eventual opening of Korea. It's a bit lacking in some details such as the details of the Oppert incident. However, regarding the curiously inept Oppert, we do learn that "Once again, the Korean government was assaulted by international predatory imperialism." (p.90) and that "this extraordinary incident was planned by hooligans who dreamt of making a fortune at one stroke, their financial backers who willingly bankrolled these hooligans, and a corrupt Catholic priest." (p.91) While I can't say that Ernst Oppert was anything less than a naive would-be thief, the rest of the book follows this slanted viewpoint hinting of piracy, nativity and western ethnocentrism. For some cases, this prejudice is warranted but it's a bit gratuitous to paint events past as a whole in this color.

Despite the obvious nationalistic stance, the book does have other minor flaws. The most curious of which is the indiscriminate abbreviation for all Western first names. For example Father Stanislas Feron reads as S. Feron. This pattern seems to be almost uniform regardless of each person's historical preference or title. The other minor issue regards another abbreviation this time in the footnote section. Supposedly long winded titles like British Documents of Foreign Affairs are reduced to BDFA possibly to save space. It's purpose is clearly lost on this reader because after each footnote, I'm left with no other choice than to return to the beginning of the book for the code breaking abbreviation guide. Hurray for brevity.

However, as far as where it counts, I feel this book, while lacking in length, stands up as credible. Professor Kim poignantly claims that "it was because of this [Oppert grave robbing] incident more than any others that the Korean government further sequestered itself from the Western world." (p.91) which I feel is more historically relevant than the usual finger-pointing inciting occurrence of the General Sherman. Furthermore, the author's inclusion of French and American sources including private letters should help give credibility to the man's work as it is indeed a well-researched book despite a few literary slaps in the Western face from time to time. It's got the content where it matters and the biasedness is easy enough to spot.

Professor Kim has produced a very readable English translation of his 2001 Korean work "세계관 충돌과 한말외교사 1866-1882" albeit in peacemeal form. It's inviting enough to pick up the second installment hinted in the conclusion of the first book; tentatively titled The Kyorin Order and Korea but was actually published as Korea and Japan: The Clash of Worldviews, 1868-1876 six years later. With the first installment's 15 dollar price tag and somewhat disappointingly lack of detail, even the extraordinarily helpful appendixes, glossary lists, Hanja-to-English definitions, world timelines and such make this one a toss-up. I'm glad I read it but you might want to spend your money elsewhere if the subject isn't your thing.

- - -

Courtesy of Robert Neff, we recently were granted an up-close look at the grave robbery site in its present day form as well as a more fleshed out back story of the players involved.  For more on the incident and Oppert, the somewhat dated yet still accessible Korean History Project has a nice writeup. I look forward to getting into the next book.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 0 comments

Book Review: Korea Bug: The best of the zine that infected a nation

Title: Korea Bug: The best of the zine that infected a nation
Editor: J. Scott Burgeson
Softcover: 374 pages
Publisher: EunHaeng NaMu; 1st edition (September 8, 2005)
ISBN-10: 8956601097
ISBN-13: 978-8956601090

Too much hype and not enough substance. The curiously titled compilation of the best articles from the author's self-published zine that supposedly infected a nation largely lets down despite claims of being representative of the underground expatriate community. What the almost four hundred page long book amounts to is being mainly a collection of translated interviews with albeit interesting people in Korea though it lacks a certain credible charm.

Granted, the source material for the book is rather dated, much clocking in at over ten years since originally published, yet the interviews still hold some insight into admittingly rarely untouched realms of published content. Burgeson should also be held in high regard for being a good writer, which he most certainly is despite the bulk of the book being essentially a transcription of taped interviews. Also worth prasing is the book's meaty introduction most of all for its fascinating and amazingly detailed look into the history of zines in Korea. Lots of good history to be found which he admirably and thoroughly covers with careful attention.

However, the occasional personal references to drug use and the like are off-putting and distracting. Burgeson also comes off as surprisingly old hat in his discontent for the internet and its new wave of expats who self publish effortlessly on blogs and forums. A trailblazer like himself would seemingly welcome the new addition of expat writers to the scene if not it threatened by his own niche on writing about Korea, it seems.

Bug is a decent read worthy of a quick glance at best. For those who care, his best form is found in his ability to research, dissect and write about obscure topics in a delightfully deadpan manner. However, having had read the best of his old zine, I don't feel like I've missed much of the rest. Taken with a grain of salt, it's an alright read at best. Frankly, I've seen better on blogs.

- - -

As much it seems I'm ripping apart this final project of a seemingly long dead zine, I don't mean to say that it's garbage; it's just not this mind blowingly infectious like the back of the book praises leads it on to be. Perhaps I'm one for humility but then again maybe his style just rubs me the wrong way. How else am I supposed to revere the musings of a guy who hocked the original source material on the streets of 인사동 and smoked pot with the best of them? Maybe I got the guy wrong but such candidness seems inappropriate; but then again, maybe writing about irreverence is what the author intended and perhaps therein lies the appeal. Actually, I'm pretty sure that is his angle and for that, he plays the angle quite well.

I will say that while his introduction might be a bit longer for other readers' tastes, I found it to be very agreeable. Of course, it's about a topic that very much interests me so objectivity be damned. Burgeson's guided tour into short lived self-published zines put out by Peace Corps volunteers is surely nostalgic for those who remember such times. Burgeson truly is a good writer; something that no casual but negatively inclined book review can deny. This is especially true of his first chapter exposing five strange books written about Korea by "honkies". A job well done in combining truly perplexing books and cleverly aimed commentary.

As mentioned in the review, his glaring weaknesses outshine the possible informative and entertaining writing style. Of course, seeing as how this review is written electronically on a blog, I have a natural biasedness towards embracing the internet and blogs in particular. However, I do acknowledge that internet anonymity will likely never take over the centuries-long tradition of written print, but that's exactly my point. Electronic media is still in relative infancy and thus to do anything but at least recognize it for its potential and future is to be automatically labeled as old school. I have no false notions that the iPhone, Kindle or Blogger writing platform will replace the feel and respectability of a hardbound text anytime soon but the future is uncertain. What can be said for sure already is that self published print zines are a dying, if not already, dead media along with more resource laden and ad revenue-driven magazines who haven't adopted or adapted to an electronic delivery business plan. But then again, perhaps I'm jumping the gun a bit. After all, the book that I just got around to reading was published five years ago.

Just my two cents. Having never met the guy, I can't really say I understand where he's coming from but I do commend him for having pursued something that he believed strongly in. If only my Korean was good to read his newest publication 대한민국 사용후기, I could get a better look at the author's intent. For what it's worth, the man seems to be able to balance quirky controversy and witty intellect with the best of them as evidenced by his promotional video. Whether it's your style of humor or not, I get the distinct feeling that Burgeson's got tough skin and is plenty happy with his work.
Saturday, July 17, 2010 0 comments

July Link Dump

- the U.S. Capital Building is deteriorating. Anyone have 216 million to spare?

- Coinciding with reading a great memoir, here's the Underwood house that was bombed.

- A great piece on Namdaemoon's reconstruction.

- Treason? Interpretors? Frogs stuck in wells? Count me in.

- AAK's got a guest post about the 1997 IMF Crisis. I attempted the same subject a while back.

- Nixon wasn't the only one thinking about nuking North Korea apparently. Remember how tense it was back in 1994?

- So, let me get this straight: laughably low salary and tragically high suicide rate? why on earth would anyone want to be a Korean celebrity is beyond me.

- The news in Korea this month is depressing as all get out. Proof in English here and here and here.

- Japan might be doing something to compensate Korean forced laborers. Might.

- Floodwaters got you down? Song dynasty China fixed that problem a while back.

- Korea's Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has closed the book on the 노근리 incident it seems. I think we can all agree regardless of who is to be blamed, it was a tragedy.
Monday, July 12, 2010 0 comments

Book Review: Korea in war, revolution and peace: The recollections of Horace G. Underwood

Title: Korea in war, revolution and peace: The recollections of Horace G. Underwood
Editor: Michael J. Devine
Hardcover: 370 pages
Publisher: Yonsei University Press (2001)
ISBN-10: 8971415622
ISBN-13: 978-8971415627

The personal recollection of the grandson of easily one of the most famous foreigners in Korea, this memoir contains his own personal accounts of all the major events surrounding his equally famous life. Absorbing and easy to read, Underwood's family history hardly needs any introduction outside of Korea. Originally published in 2001, just three years before the author's passing, H.G. Underwood and Michael Devine sat down to finalize a collection of audio interviews, email correspondence, and privately published childhood recollections that have coalesced to the publication that can be found today. The third of out four generations of Underwoods to be named Horace, H.G. Underwood lived a most fascinating and fulfilling life fit for any Hollywood movie script. From his precociously innocent upbringing as a mischievous child in Seoul to his teenage life on furlough in the States for high school and college, his astoundingly well-rounded career in the Navy and subsequent vital contribution to translations and peace negotiations during the Korean War, to heading one of Korea's most prestigious private universities, H.G. Underwood did us all a favor by writing his memoirs. Devine surely should be applauded for spearheading the editing process.

As discussed in the introduction, the Underwood family isn't exactly the most creative or original in terms of naming of children. First up on the table is the author's place in the hard to follow Underwood family tree. Horace Grant Underwood (1859-1916), grandfather to the author, was among one of the first Protestant missionaries to come to Korea in 1855. His only son Horace Horton Underwood (1890–1951) was also involved in missionary and educational work, especially with Yonhi University, predecessor to Yonsei. The oldest of five children, Horace Grant Underwood III (1917–2004) shares his legacy as in countless ways including translator, negotiator and educator and was an avid boat and ship enthusiast. Frustratingly enough, the oldest of the author's own three children, is also, yes, no joke, named Horace Horton Underwood (1943- ) and was also a Yonsei English professor as well as a successful business consultant. It should be said that of course there are members of the Underwood family that don't fit the predictably cookie cutter naming convention but the ones that are named Horace are the most difficult to trace in common conversation. Not to mention that the eldest Horace also interacted with former missionary turned businessman and politician Horace Newton Allen (1858 - 1932). It's easy to get your Horaces mixed up.

Without delving too much into detail, H.G. Underwood's story is mildly uninteresting in the beginning and end and is delightfully detailed and fascinating in the middle. His life was full distinct prestige but he wrote quite humbly which as a reader, I appreciate. Sprinkled throughout are thoughtfully placed photos enhancing the fireside chat style of his tales. Oratorically moving, his prose is concisely to the point and leaves little room for bird walking. His attention to fine detail combats the curiously high number of minor spacing and marking errors present.

I encourage those who have heard of the Underwood family but are a bit confused as to who did exactly what in Korea when and where to pick up this book. Through this memoir, a good footing can be grasped to better understand this immensely influential family and their achievements. If for nothing else, it follows a unique perspective trace of Korean history from the end of Japanese colonization to modernization and everything in between. It's well worth your time.

- - -
Ever since reading his awe inspiring contribution in the final chapter of Richard Harris' Faces of Korea, I have been interested in the Underwood family and H.G. Underwood in particular. His memoir was refreshing to discover and I can't help but hope that other pillars of the foreign community follow suit and publish their own memoirs. Those needing another reason to pick up this book can read a light but glowing review by longtime Duke physics professor M.Y. Han.

H.G. Underwood's funeral was one to notice for Koreans let alone the foreign community. After reading, I can't help but be even more curious as to why the Underwood family left Korea. Anyone caring to fill me in out of my own personal curiosity is encouraged. It didn't have anything to do with 양화진 by any chance, did it? Was it a decision made without hard feelings?
Friday, July 2, 2010 0 comments

2010 RAS Garden Party

The Royal Asiatic Society - Korea Branch annually holds a garden party alternatingly at the American and British Ambassador's residence. This year's meet-and-greet at the American residence featured an entertaining yet surprisingly short traditional Korean musical performance from a group whose name I didn't catch as well as the annual RAS book sale. A historical site of its own, Ambassador Stephens' residence, known as the Habib House, is located just behind 덕수궁's back gate.

The original house long demolished, the property that housed that housed the original American legation was purchased in 1884 by Lucius Foote for approximately $2,200 at a time when his annual salary was but only $5,000. The American legation whose famous low ceilings caused understandable discomfort to six foot plus tall Horace Allen. Decades later during the Korean War, the grounds were occupied by North Korean forces in 1950. Despite enemy presence, surprisingly not a single item was reported to have been stolen. Years after the war, due to its age, countless add-ons and general poor upkeep, there was only so much dried mud that could hold up the building. Then current Ambassador Philip Habib insisted that a new building be built in the traditional Korean style. Completed in 1976, the house that stands today was never inhabited by the man who oversaw its inception. The house was dedicated in Habib's honor upon his death in 1992. The plot of land that houses the Habib House has many more stories to tell; some of which that I am butchering now. I encourage those who have access to either visit it one day or research it.

Finding the way-too-nice-to-be-an-ambassador's-residence was painless and after being greeted by the friendly security guards, a serene locale is discovered amongst downtown Seoul's depressingly numerous concrete block buildings. A true oasis in the desert, the Habib House is one of many spectacular views on the premises.

Shaking hands with people that are way out of my league and certainly more distinguished than I felt both surreal and pleasant. Some in atterndence were young ones like myself and others are complete rockstars in my world in terms of books written, lectures taught and decades spent studying and teaching Korea and her history. Makgeolli flowed lightly but steadily as the early evening fortunately moved on rain-free. I regret that I didn't take enough pictures but it was a predictably entertaining get-together. Other than buying way too many books from the book sale as I did, the event was free of charge to members; nice considering the locale, catering and spirits. If you didn't go, you missed out.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 0 comments

Book Review: Korea's 1884 Incident: Its Background and Ok-kyun's Dream

Title: Korea's 1884 Incident: Its Background and Ok-kyun's Dream
Author: Harold F. Cook
Softcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch (January 1, 1982)
ISBN-10: 8993699089
ISBN-13: 978-8993699081

The late Harold Cook did the Korean academic world a favor with his painstakingly detailed monograph surrounding the 1884 coup d'état known as the Gapshin Coup. Not betraying its 1972 original pressing, this gem of a book continues to enlighten, educate and inform its readers decades later after its first publication.

Born into an influential family linage at a time when their collective power was well into decline, Kim passed the high civil service exam with flying colors at the age of 22, an impressive feat for the time. A promising career ahead of him combined with close personal contact with King Kojong and a disillusionment with the rising conservative party primarily consisting of members of the Yeoheung Min family, Kim became one of Korea's foremost reformists. His dream consisted of several country-wide changes including autonomy from China and embracing open foreign trade. Kim and others felt that this could be achieved by selective Japanese assistance. This dream was secretly shared by others and manifested itself into a lofty plot that resulted in a three day failed turnover that, following the murder of prominent officials, prompted Chinese military intervention. After its failure, Kim fled to Japan.

Throughout the text, subtle hints at true leadership, if not shared leadership, of the plot's framers are supported by several sources indicating that while Kim Okkyun certainly had a role, and quite a big role, his was not likely the source of sole leadership. Park Young Hyo (朴泳孝), Hong Young Shik (洪英植), Inoue Kaoru (井上馨) and others also had their vitally prominent roles that were arguably more important than Kim's. Those looking for an insight into what Kim and his cohorts did prior to the attempted turnover will be happy to know that his visits to Japan prior to the plot were adequately documented.

Cook compiled the contents of the book from a number of English, Korean and Japanese language sources. Needless to say, this was done prior to the internet age and should be taken in such repected context. Remember that his research was limited to whatever he could personally find in libraries and thus didn't benefit from modern digital categorization as well as subsequent files discovered since original publishing. Therefore, historical inaccuracies are bound to appear in such older texts. Cook was thorough enough to chronologically arrange the story around his own objectively accurate commentary and conjecture. Humble in his conclusions and gracious in his admissions at being at a loss for solid evidence at times are among his more admirable traits. Furthermore, his writing style gently prompts the reader to draw conclusions that may or may not agree with his disposition; something that I find especially refreshing.

Unfortunately, it's not as smooth a read as one would hope for. The level of detail in the weeks and days before the December 4th plot feels drawn out and sluggish to this reader. He also builds up the plot's preparation but leaves the actual plot's sequence of events and immediate consequences surprisingly not well covered. One might finish the book asking if there was an additional chapter missing. His presentation of this tantalizing story is sweetened to almost enormous detail that it might actually scare off the casual reader; which is a shame because the story is one to share with the world. What's important, though, is that Cook presents a story that, while sometimes hard to follow due to the large cast of characters and their intricate power struggle for control over the promising hermit kingdom, is both fascinating and appealing still to a modern audience. However, lacking in any illustrations whatsoever, the occasional grammatical error, too, is undemandingly forgivable.

For what it is, it's good. Not great, but most definitely not bad. This book presents an English-speaking audience with a stunning biography and delves into one of the turning points in Korean political history. For that, it certainly succeeds. For the casual history enthusiast, it is missing in detail of the good stuff but has plenty of the stuff that you might not care about. The appendixes help to make up for these shortcomings by filling in some questions readers might have such as seating arrangement at the post office dinner party and the new government's proposed first order of business. Take it for what it is. Slightly disappointed, I can at least walk away feeling a bit more informed.

- - -

김옥균 was a bad writer. Not because he compiled his apologetic "Journal of 1884" after the fact whilst hiding in Japan and not because he wasn't a learned man; he most certainly was. He was a bad writer because he left no daily diary during which most conjecture is being made in modern times. Bad reformist. Bad.

When we're gone, how will history remember us? A great way historians determine the thought process behind a person of historical interest are by primary sources such as a journals and diaries. Okkyun left no such authentic thing. Therefore, we are left to assume on many aspects of his life. Cook did what he could with what he had at the time and produced a work that does his legacy proud. I look forward to reading his book on Walter Townsend.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 0 comments

June Link Dump

Complicated Currents: Media Flows, soft Power and East Asia (edited by Daniel Black, Stephen Epstein and Alison Tokita) is online for free. Good reading.

- Michael's Breen walks us through the 13-month-long Second Republic. A great writeup.

- How does one exactly talk about a non-traditional family in Korean? Asadal Thought candidly shares his experiences.

- What gives? I'm still waiting for a part four of ROK Drop's fascinating look at Korea's ghost airports. To be fair though, a fourth installment was never actually promised....but still... Read Parts I, II, III on your own or to get an idea of what's going on, BBC has a short video about the curiously abandoned airports.

- Laura and Lisa Ling's book is out.

- In more important news, AAK has an excellent primer for what's going on with this whole sinking of the ROKS Cheonan.

- Matt over at Gusts has some good stuff about Korea during the Japanese protectorate period.

- China unearths more Terracotta Army soldiers. Any luck of getting inside Qin Shi Huang's tomb anytime soon?

- Hye Cho's travel journal is going on display.

- China admits North Korea started the Korean War. Am I wrong in thinking that 이승만 was preparing to invade?

- The Colosseum is opening up the gladiator's waiting pit for the first time for the public. Good to know seeing as how the outside is falling apart.

- A well preserved shoe older than Stonehenge was found buried in sheep poo in Armenia. Great archeological find with a great photo.

- Amelia Earhart might have survived for months on a desert island.
Monday, June 28, 2010 1 comments

Words I don't know and other writing woes

Writing is an entire language of its own. There's beauty to be found in a few written phrases over the cacophony of spoken word. However, I'm not a phenomenal writer despite a short, illustrious and unpaid career as a blog writer. Oh the trailblazers who write for free. However, I dream of a world outside the electronic realm of publishing. I long for a collection of words bounded and printed on the deceased flesh of a dozen bleached and pressed infant trees. I want to cherish my name which has been carefully crafted upon the binding which contains stories of the past all contained in the comfort of thinly sliced bark that I ordered to be slaughtered. Yes, a relic of my upbringing, I dream of writing a book. Realistically, to receive the recognition required for a ragamuffin of my rank, I must resolve to remedy and remove reins that restrain my resounding rapport for writing about the past. That last verb counts too, right?

See? There's the problem. I get going and then I unexpectedly run into a wall. Call it a lack of functioning vocabulary but sometimes I'm searching for a word that just might not be in my head. I try not to let it get me down but it's frustrating to find myself recycling the same words. Thankfully, I seem to have some obtainable options.

There's lots of good tips out there but what I hear most from writers that I personally respect is two major tips 1) just write and 2) keep good footnotes. DailyWritingTips also has a great  many resources written in layman's terms that any writer person would benefit from. Tips include basics that I should remember but don't like how  to properly write numbers and what does [sic] mean to middle-of-the-road problems like redundancies  and even a great Latin  prefix and suffix primer for those that care.

To be a better reader, I take notes and write all over my books when I read. I underline with a pencil, write references and questions in the side margin and occasionally write a few cuss words in the header. From time to time, I come across words or events that I don't recognize. In which case, I flip to the front page before the title and make a note if the page and title of the event. Therefore, most of my books have really ugly inside cover pages. I also write down any new words in English that I am unfamiliar with or, more commonly, that I've heard, I kind of understand but would be hard pressed to produce on my own in my own work. I am a little hesitant to admit the following words but I suppose we all have room for improvement; that's just what I'm telling myself when I feel your judgmental stare at the screen. The following list is from the insides of as many books I can find laying around:

persona non grata
mea culpa
ad valorem
and my personal favorite out of the bunch: verisimilitude

First step: find an opportunity to use gauche in a sentence.
Next step: look up "gauche" in the dictionary.
Friday, June 4, 2010 0 comments

Book Review: The Foreign Destruction of Korean Independence

Title: The Foreign Destruction of Korean Independence
Author: Carole Cameron Shaw
Hardcover: 315 pages
Publisher: Seoul National University Press (April 25, 2007)
ISBN-10: 8952107705
ISBN-13: 978-8952107701

One can't help but raise an eyebrow simply over the title of this project published from decades-long respected member of Korea's foreign community Carole Cameron Shaw. A few pages into the first chapter reveals a particularly developed voice that possesses an alarming amount of indignation directed at American indifference in the events leading up to the Japanese colonization of Korea. The title alone will catch your attention but is it enough to keep you interested till the end?

A truly intricate dance of characters, the lengthy cast includes President Theodore Roosevelt, Korean Emperor Kojong, Secretary of State Elihu Root, Scholar-Diplomat William Woodville Rockhill, Japanese Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi, American Ambassador Edwin Morgan and missionary-turned-journalist Homer Hulbert among others including John Hay, Horace Newton Allen, George Kennan and Durham W. Stevens. Each played his part in the events that led up to the Treaty of Portsmouth, subsequent Eulsa Treaty and eventual colonization of Korea by the hand of Japan five years later. Each had a side to belong to; essentially one pro-Japanese and the other pro-Korean. While some stuck to their guns, others wavered in their opinions; still others failed to come out of the whole ordeal alive. The events these individuals played out beg the reader to question one of many things. For example, didn't Korea have twenty-plus years of internationally recognized independence prior to Japanese occupation? Why did Japan display such keen interest in Korea's development?

Chinese and especially Russian checking of power comes to mind. A possible takeover of Korea from supposed land-hungry Russia could threaten Japanese expansionism. Although we will never exactly know what may have unfolded had no one intervened, Shaw dutifully points out that Korea might have dealt with any upset in the balance of power in her own terms. Present-day historians continue to debate the significance of Kojong's self-imposed set of sweeping modernizations known as the Gwangmu Reform and whether they would have been enough to modernize the country without Japanese intervention. Shaw touches on this subject but spends an extensive amount of time demonstrating America's major players' indifference to Korean issues in the name of illegally improving relations with Japan. Consistent themes include America's lack of diplomatic action, Roosevelt and company's apathy for all things Korean and deliberate violations of the U.S. Constitution.

The almost cynical narration continues throughout the book and occasionally emerges seemingly louder than before where logic and fact would fit far better. Those with varying levels of interest in Korean history may perhaps question the book's validity simply based on the writing style and the far-too numerous questionable wordings such as " would soon dawn on him (Kojong) that Miss Roosevelt's visit was a trick among many, to disguise America's true intentions towards her old friend (p.143)" and "Of course Roosevelt knew this, and his refusal to meet with Hulbert can only be characterized as cowardly (p.172)". Statements like these hurt Shaw's argument not because they are factual inaccurate but because they beg for objective balance. The whole text just feels way too one-sided for anyone's benefit.

The book does contain plenty of redeeming material such as a fantastic English bibliography of personal correspondence by not just ambassadors and statesmen but also to and from President Roosevelt and a detailed account of events from 1882-1908 including the second Hague Peace Conference. Curiously though, the famous assassinations of Stevens and Hirobumi are only but briefly covered. There's also a decidedly lack of non-English language sources. However, if nothing else, the book's against-the-grain approach takes on a different perspective that might have gone unnoticed. Indeed, historical apologists seeped in Japanese doctrine have written unflattering tales of King Kojong and the corrupted yangban for their faults in driving Korea into lax submission to the Eastern emerging superpower known as the Empire of Japan. This book tells a very different story of a Emperor trying everything in his power to save his kingdom but is ultimately betrayed from neighbor to the East for her lies and deception but moreso from her ally across the ocean for just sitting and watching as the Korean voice is forever silenced.

Shaw's rather outspoken opinion can conveniently be summed up in one sentence lifted from the last chapter: "I would assert that under these clearly defined principles the burden of guilt rests upon President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Elihu Root, for entering into a fraudulent arrangement with the Japanese Government to look the other way while ill-conceived, illegal and hastily constructed statements were prepared under the guise of a legal protocol or treaty, to effect a military and violent takeover of a sovereign state to whom the Senate had pledged its good faith and perpetual friendship in 1882 (p.278)".

In summation, The Foreign Destruction of Korean Independence is worth your time as it reads quickly and entices enough to make you want to delve deeper; a good quality for a book to have, especially considering the subject. Despite its scoff-inducing knack for emotional flair, the book is backed by more than decent research. Ultimately, the book likens itself to American filmmaker Michael Moore; while thought-provoking and occasionally entertaining, it is clearly armed to the teeth with a specific agenda. Thankfully, a few objective pieces of information can be sifted through the finger-pointing and sensationalist rhetoric. I applaud Shaw for her research, writing and development of the book in hopes of paving the way for more in the future. I suppose if Shaw's intention was to get people to talking about the subject, then I say mission well accomplished.

- - -

I'm treading lightly here and I know it. Shaw spent a considerably huge amount of her life in Korea; it's hard to simply trash any author's work based on my own difference in interpretation; especially an author that spent ten years delving into a piece of Korean and American history that is little more than brushed under the proverbial rug of our collective subconscious. That being said, I maintain that her book is far from objective. It's borderline anti-American sensationalistic gossip wrapped in Korean nationalistic propaganda. For another review's opinion, members of the Association of Asian Studies can access one of the back issues of JAS that features a review by Eugene Y. Park. Search for "The Journal of Asian Studies (2008), 67:331-333 Cambridge University Press".
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 0 comments

RASKB lecture - Superstitions and Perceptions of Early Korean-Western Relations

It was good to see that I wasn't the only one looking forward to the lecture. A highly anticipated night, as per the RASKB website:
May 25, 2010 RAS Lecture Meeting
Tuesday / 화요일 Mr. Robert Neff
7:30 p.m. 2nd floor, Residents’ Lounge
Somerset Palace, Seoul
Superstitions and Perceptions of Early Korean-Western Relations
Following the opening of Korea to the West in 1882, Westerners entered Korea for various reasons. Some came as diplomats, representing and protecting their countries’ interests, while others came as advisors to the Korean government. There were merchants seeking business opportunities and many missionaries who provided altruistic services such as education and medicine all in the name of their religion. Some came to Korea seeking a new beginning; hoping to hide their unsavory past. To all of these groups, Korea was a newly-found frontier and an undiscovered market for what they had to offer.
In this lecture we will talk about the interaction between these early Westerners and their Korean hosts by examining Korean superstitions and the perceptions and misperceptions of the Westerners and Koreans.
The introduction of various Western technologies such as the railroad, streetcars and electricity were all, in the beginning, viewed with suspicion and fear by some of the more superstitious Korean people. Often these first encounters with these new technologies provided us with humorous anecdotes but occasionally ended in violence. The Westerners tended to either look upon these Korean superstitions as quaint or with disdain but were not above using them for their own gain as will be shown in the lecture.
Perception, or perhaps misperception, was also a factor in early Korean-Western relations. Sometimes misperceptions led to awkward and embarrassing encounters such as young Korean boys mistaken for bold girls or a young American male missionary mistaken for a young pretty lady. Other times these misperceptions led to violence as during the Baby Riots which will be discussed in detail during the lecture.
Robert Neff is a freelance writer and historical researcher specializing in Korean history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He first came to Korea with the military over two decades ago and has a deep appreciation for Korean culture and its history. He is the co-author of Korea Through Western Eyes as well as Westerner’s Life in Korea and his writings have appeared in various newspapers, magazines and books including Christian Science Monitor, Asia Times, Morning Calm, Korea Witness, Royal Asiatic Society – Transactions, Korea Times, Korea Herald and Jeju Weekly.
Despite an unfortunate technical difficulty that resulted in Neff's powerpoint not being available to view, the topic was juicy and plenty interesting. Essentially an off-shoot of his most recent book Neff touched on some rather sensitive sentiments from a hundred years ago.

Of dutiful mention was foreign men's constant confusion over handsome young men and the gentler sex. Time after time, rugged travelers happened upon delicate flowers of the Orient who were indeed not graceful members of the opposite sex but in fact fabulously well groomed young men with excellent bone structures. We all had a laugh; especially at the perception on the opposite side of the spectrum. Neff tells of a half balding, mustachioed George Heber Jones, his trek across the Taedong River and subsequent encounter with a uncomfortably beckoning 아저씨 that had either had to much to drink too early in the day or was seriously misinformed of the standards of foreign women. It seems Jones was quite possibly mistaken for a young foreign female...for some reason.

To sum up the rest of the lecture, there was a lot of talk of exposed breasts, baby eating and naked children. In the author's defense, however, these were simple observations made a hundred years ago. The rather unflattering comments were from a time past and are clearly not meant in a pejorative way in modern times. As one commenter brought up, many of these misconceptions were not exclusive to Korea and no insinuation should be made of disrespect.

The lecture was full of other interesting and head scratching observations of times past. Early on in the questioning, Neff referred to himself as simply a "gossip columnist from a hundred years ago", which I will now affectionately affix to his work from now on. In addition to meeting Jennifer of Bomb English fame and Matt from Gusts of Popular Feeling, rubbing elbows with some of Korea's most well respected journalists, writers and historians is not a bad way to spend a Tuesday night in Seoul. If you missed it, shame on you.

Some other quick notes (kind reader feel free to leave corrections):
  • The first Westerners to set foot in Korea were likely some Portuguese that accompanied the Japanese during the Imjin War.
  • The Imo Revolt of 1882 was placated by the end of an especially long dry-spell throughout the country. It was believed that the death of the Japanese solved the drought.
  • Prior to 1910s, there were only three well-documented international relationships consisting of Western men and Korean women. They include Percival Lowell, Dr. Charles Power, and an unnamed (rather, disputed) French diplomat whose lover tragically came back to Korea only to commit suicide years later. Was there not a mention of a snake oil peddler? Dr. Irwin? Can't remember...
  • For a lower class woman to expose her breasts in the countryside was a sign of pride; a badge of honor for bearing a son.
  • It is suspected that the Taewangon masterminded the Baby Riots. You know, the one where foreigners were supposedly eating slash using human baby limbs, sexual organs and eyes for making photographs and whatnot.
  • Despite the average height of the Korean male being 5' 4½" back in the day, Koreans were frequently compared to Chinese and Japanese as being the most tall and good looking.
  • According to common mention in old journals, letters, articles and such, references to Korean's cleanliness standards, namely their lack of any discernible standards, was notorious. One quote that stuck with me which I will now butcher with a cloudy short-term memory, was "...if filthiness is a virtue, then Koreans are by far the most virtuous people in all of the world."
  • Apparently there was a seven foot tall Korean female servant in the royal court named 고태수 (spelling?) who, apparently after growing tired of teasing remarks of her height, participated in the 1884 Kapshin Coup.
  • It is speculated that prior to Japanese occupation, and sebsequent education reform, Koreans were especially talented at learning English quickly. Prince 이진호 (spelling?) was said to have been sent to Japan to study English in 1881 and was trilingual as a result.
Friday, May 14, 2010 0 comments

Book Review: Korea Witness

Title: Korea Witness
Editors: Don Kirk, Sang-Hun Choe
Softcover: 472 pages
Publisher: EunHaeng NaMu; 1st edition (June 2, 2006)
ISBN-10: 8956601550
ISBN-13: 978-8956601557

The archetypal image I have for foreign correspondents isn't exactly flattering nor is it accurate. For that matter, it's not even of flesh and blood. It's a stock news reporting character from The Simpsons. No, not everyone's beloved Kent Brockman or even that guy with the poofy black hair who reported that pork prices began to rise in early trading. No, I'm referring to the skinny guy who dishevely dons a drab 1940s style suit and brown fedora. You might remember that he was with Bart when Blinky, the three-eyed fish, was discovered in the polluted waters downstream of the nuclear power plant. Although he has only appeared in the long-running TV series less a handful of times, you might have an image of him. Then again, you might not. His name, while completely forgettable, was actually Dave Shutton and he writes for the Springfield Shopper. I make this reference because like real foreign correspondents in Korea, their names may not be familiar to you at all but their presence and stories surely have captivated you. Korea Witness is a collection of dozens of stories of how these pioneers of their field got their scoops as well as the trails and tribulations associated with reporting the news in Korea.

Chronologically arranged, this book spans the careers of several generations of journalists and their careers involving Korea and its foreign press. Stories from parachute journalists based in Tokyo and English speaking Koreans working for foreign presses share their fascinating and surprisingly shocking stories from their time. From meeting other hacks, dodging Korean war bullets and bombs, interviewing CEOs in Japanese, rubbing elbows with Korean presidents, dangerously sneaking into the Gwangju student-led powder keg, pre-email era dictating horrors, enduring death threats and surviving tear gas assaults, these men (and one Pulitzer prize winning woman) have earned their right to call themselves journalists. Their stories are just as dynamic as any Hollywood movie.

The book design is non-distractingly pleasing and thoughtfully laid out. The plentiful amount of photos embedded are often breathtaking in their own right and certainly compliment the attached article. Cleanly laid out at the end of each entry is a short summary of the author which is footnoted to help fill in certain biographical details that might help the reader better understand the author's relationship with Korea. The editors have accepted works from a wide range of writers and the book is all the better for it.

However, one early chapter about Japanese correspondents in particular feels like a rough draft of what could have been a memorable story. There's not else much to criticize other than the comparatively small amount of non-Caucasian American male voices to be heard but that's likely indicative of both the language of the book and the likely small ratio of European, Chinese and Japanese correspondents of the time.

Korea Witness is an smooth and entertaining read. If not limited in scope, it tells of a war-torn, post-Liberation, economic miracle, Olympic hosting, economic collapsing, technology exporting powerhouse that, through the eyes of the foreign press, have plenty of stories to tell. This book sums up those stories quite nicely.

- - -

Respectfully disagreeing with Ask A Korean's ambivalence towards English language resources on Korea, these trailblazers did their job admirably and in my opinion contributed immensely to the world's understanding of Korea. Not only did it raise my awareness of the Seoul Foreign Correspondents Club (SFCC), but it really put some human perspective on certain events. The first hand accounts of surviving a Korean war bomb, investigating No Gun Ri, and the tragic death of 육영수 are worth the price of the book alone. Plus its got the Neff. You can't really go wrong with this one.