Thursday, May 31, 2007

Problems in Repatriating

Browsing the internet post-class today, I found an article (thanks, Wikipedia) that discussed repatriation of Koreans from Japan after the Korean War, with the majority of people returning between 1960 and 1961. I was primarily interested in the Japanese wives of Korean citizens, who, though moving to Korea with their husbands, were promised by the North Korean government the ability to visit their families in Japan every few years. Reality has proven this not to be an option; in fact, most women have not been able to keep up contact with relatives in Japan.

This reminded me of post-World War II Soviet Union, wherein Moscow sent Welcome Home letters to Russian ex-patriates living in France. A good deal of Russians returned, bringing their French families, only to be jailed or executed upon arrival. The lucky ones were sent to live and work in remote cities in Russia, and their French partners unable to keep contact with friends and family back in Western Europe. (If you're interested, there is a very melodramatic movie that came out in the late 90's about the topic.)

I'm curious as to just how many countries have adopted this post-conflict policy: to encourage not only ex-patriates, but their foreign families, to return home -- only to keep them locked up. A sad sort of homecoming, it seems.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

North Korean Official History

I was searching google for North Korean topics and stumbled upon one of the official North Korean websites. The link that I have posted is the section regarding the Korean War, titled Motherland's Liberation. I thought many of you would be interested in this "official" account of Korean history. For example, this quote was one of the more humorous lines regarding the US economy following WWII: "Specially due to the U.S. economical crisis started in 1948, they used the Korean War to evade the problems."
The site also uses the term "Yankees" (referring to the United States), which can be funny or offensive, depending on how you look at it. Furthermore, it is interesting to compare different sections of this website with what we have learned in class and what we have read, especially in the Martin book. There is also a section on the origins of Korea, titled Old Korea, which I enjoyed browsing.
Enjoy the site! (you can also find information on visiting NK, an even closer first-hand account of the propaganda, for lack of a better word)
I think it is interesting that there is really no set date for the founding of Korea, but that there are so many stories that could potentially be the "true" beginning of the country. As Americans, we know our country declared its independence on July 4, 1776. We know George Washington was our first President. Etc, etc. We have a certain story about the birth of our country, and many of our values are based on these stories (honesty and the cherry tree story, John Hancock's name becoming an eponym for the word "signature...). It makes me wonder if Korea's lack of such a solid notion of the country's origins has had some psychological/subconscious effect on its people. Kirk told us a slew of stories that could be "the" beginning of Korea. I found myself getting confused trying to follow them all. But luckily, good ol' Wikipedia has them all collected. I originally was searching for more information on the story of Han'gun, and the page has links to a lot of the other stories (on the right side of the article). Check it out if you want to review some of them:

Defining History

Kirk gave us a couple definitions of what history is. I completely agree with his argument that history consists of both what happened (and what didn't happen) AND what people believe happened (or didn't happen). The book we are reading shows North Korea to be a case-in-point of this phenomenon. I am continuously baffled at how Kim Il-Sung has molded this story of himself to glorify his own past. The worst of them all to me is how Kim dealt with the Korean War failure. He completely put all the blame on the US, UN, and South Korea. The people of North Korea are oblivious to the fact that Kim was the one who had started that war that killed so many of them. On page 89, the passage from an "official"biography states: "On top of the mountain stood Comrade Kim Il-Sung, the iron-willed brilliant commander who held in his hands the general outcome of the war, looking down the panic-stricken U.S. imperialist aggressors with calm and shining eyes." Wow.

Human Rights

I've always been extremely interested in the incredible lack of human rights in North Korea. The prisons are infamous for their poor treatment and the fact that the families are targeted when relatives escape to the North makes the situation even worse. With the poor living conditions and the lack of basic necessities, it's obvious that North Korea has a problem. However, I got to thinking who should be responsible for attempting to fix this problem? Should the UN make greater efforts? Should the US be the leader in human rights in North Korea? Perhaps South Korea? Maybe the neighboring China? Or maybe nobody should be responsible for helping North Korea in this issue. Human rights issues are a sensitive issue in any country, but especially with North Korea because of their lack of openness, I feel that the situation is even more sensitive.

My basic question is, should countries and/or organizations have a moral obligation to help North Korea deal with human rights?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

North and South talks in Seoul

The 21th reconciliation talk between North and South is being held in Seoul beginning May 29. However, as both sides are demanding something that their counterpart might hesitate to do, there is a possibility that the talks could soon plunge into stalemate. The North continuously demanded the South of its promised rice shipment to the North while South Korea decided to postpone this aid responding to the wide international concerns toward the North’s missile tests and North Korea's refusal to start dismantling its nuclear programs.


As we continue reading the text, I just feel more and more amazed by the religion of "Kim-ism" in North Korea.

I was looking at a photo gallery entitled "Inside North Korea" and its just incredible how the Kims have established a prescence in every part of North Korean citizens' lives. They don't even spare the field of botany!
Here depicted is an exhibit of FLOWERS whose species name ARE THE NAMES of the two revered leaders... These flowers, Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia are on display for the leaders' birthdays.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Korean War Vets

Hey folks in honor of memorial day and and our country's veterans I wanted to post a link to an article concerning a US vet of the Korean War.

My grandfather was in the US Army and served in the Korean War on a tour of duty that look him far north, as far up as near the Sino-Korean border (if my memory serves me correctly). It has been a little over three years since his passing, but I'll never forget how he spoke of Korea and the War. He was awarded a Purple Heart after grenade shrapnel hit him in his leg, another serviceman had to carry him on his back to safety or else he may have died in the snow. My grandfather never forgot the cold of Korea, he said it was a cold he would never forget, that no cold weather he has ever experienced could compare the cold he experienced in Korea.

Please share your veterans stories if you have any. Perhaps someone could provide an account from the Korean perspective?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Is Kim Jong Il sick?

I read a Korean news article that the rumor of worsening Kim's sickness seems to get more reliability. It says, comparing to last year, the number of Kim's public activity is decreased as half and he has been suffering from diabetes and a heart disease. It also says American intelligence is trying to make sure the fact. Of course, possibility of rising power struggle was mentioned too. But I think that professor mentioned in class that possibility of regime inheritance is very low. Furthermore, it is often said about no strong candidate among Kim's offspring. Then what will be the future picture of North Korea? I don't expect Kim's sudden death but I worry about chaos following his death.

here's a link for someone who wants to read the news (it is written in Korean)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

the complex simplicity of interpertation

As I was reading the Song of Ariran I was quickly reminded of what yo know or believe is in many cases dependent on what you want to believe. As we were discussing all the stories in class that take place in Korea, China or Japan we came across similar stories with very different interpretations. The paragraph that discusses the ease in which Koreans learn other languages, reminded me the humorous extent to which these interpretations can go. The Japanese explain this as proof to Korea being an inferior country "a natural colony." The reason for the difficulty Japanese people have learning languages, is that the Japanese are a dominant race. It is amazing, how this competition comes up in so many opportunities, and the ease at which humans can create beliefs based on nothing.

** I read the blog about Korean food, there is a great Korean restaurant Mandu, on 18th st. by Dupont Circle.

Rice to the North

Beginning June 29, the 21st minister-level talk between the north and south will be held in Seoul. The two sides managed to carry out most of the plans that they agreed upon in the 20th talk, such as test-running of each sides’ trains across the DMZ, and reunion of dispersed families which has been suspended for some eleven months. However, one problem is casting shadow upon the prospect of this coming talk, which is the south’s decision to delay (or reconsider) its food assistance to the north. As the north failed to show some understandable outcome regarding dismantlement of its nuclear facilities (even though the deadline for its completion have long been passed – NK was given 60day period since the February 13th accord), the U.S. and Japan showed their concerns about this matter, and the south could not neglect their apprehensions (and domestic concerns as well). Furthermore, the recent North Korean missile launch makes it more difficult to persuade the South Korean National Assembly and most importantly, the general public opinion regarding this shipment to North Korea.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Macau and North Korea... an interesting friendship...

I came across this article while I was looking around on BBC during my lunch break. I thought that I was reading an article just about Macao and its rising status in the casino world, along with its descent into corruption. But as I continued reading about money laundering, the author took an interesting turn to the roots of North Korea's relationship with Macao.

I thought this was interesting because the US has signed an agreement to give $25 million to Pyongyang's government for the closing of a main nuclear reactor along with other incentives- but these funds were at one time frozen in Macao banks. This article claims that this agreement is heavily reliant upon the fate of Banco Delta Asia which was recently shut down because of it's illegal cooperation with North Korea.

Personally, I think that it was a bit silly for the US to agree to the transfer the $25 million to Macau in the first place... Not only does their banking system seem to be unreliable, but if the aid is delivered successfully, it seems like we are still just waiting upon North Korean leaders to follow through with their promises...

American Perspective vs. European Perspective

I was looking through some of the few documentaries that were made about North Korea and I began to wonder if maybe the American viewpoints on North Korea is different from the perspectives of European countries. I'm in no waying trying to defend North Korea's lack of freedoms and human rights violations, but I just found it interesting that European countries are given more access and freedoms in North Korea than the US. Is it perhaps because North Korea isn't part of Europe's Axis of Evil? I mean the video clip we saw in class is a music video for a UK group. I can't imagine anything of that sort ever happening in the US.

Could the lack of access and cooperative actions from North Korea be a response to how the United States is portraying North Korea?

North Korea launched missiles again

This news made me sigh. I was looking for North Korea's reaction after the U.S.A unfreezed the money of the DPRK at Banko Delta Asia regarding the Feburary 13th Agreement. Instead I found that the North Korea tested several missiles to the Sea between the ROK and Japan. News reports that the test was one of the annual events, was viewed as not threatening as nuke and it was "the response to South Korea's launch of its first destroyer equipped with high-tech Aegis radar technology." However, it makes me worry that the North Korea's inconsistent behavior will bring iced air to the Six Party Talks again.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Korean Food

As I said before, Korean food is probably my favorite food. They cook with a lot of hot peppers and the spicy flavors are great. My favorite dish is Dolsot Bibim bap. This dish combines meat, rice and several vegatables in a scalding stone dish. The dish is topped with a fried egg and hot red chili sauce.
Also as Professor Larsen mentioned Kimchi is a staple Korean food. Kimchi is picked cabbage with red peppers. However, Kimchi comes in many other forms such as cucumber and bean sprout. They are all delicious.
The web site with all these recipes is
There is also a history of Kimchi and it recommends several restaurants in the area. I recommend Cho's Garden, its in Fairfax and one of my favorites.

A "Stalinist theme park"

I came across an article in the BBC today that is relevant to something that came up two days ago in class; that is, organized tourist trips to North Korea. The article highlights much of what Professor Larsen told us in class: that the trips are expensive, difficult to arrange, and true to what we all might expect from both communist regimes and capitalist tourist ventures, strictly regimented. My favorite line speaks about various memorials that are, essentially, required reading for group travel in North Korea: "[Pyongyang's] many statues and monuments . . . are a must-see. In fact they literally must be seen, as the compulsory guides who accompany all foreign tourists are certain to include them in the itinerary."

Of course, it seems that that which may deter some (energy shortages, ghost streets) is exactly what draws others. I'm interested to see just how far North Korea is willing to allow foreign tourists to take pictures of their countryside and eat in their restaurants -- if tourism will provide another source of economic profit for the country, or if openness will ultimately lead to its (dis)integration. The article, incidentally, is a few years old.

Also, you have to love the BBC for parenthetically citing the Korean War as resulting in a stalemate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

North Korea allows Catholic TB Aid

I came across an article from today that noted that North Korea has finally allowed a Catholic aid organization to have access to pediatric tuberculosis hospitals. As a Global Public Health concentration, I find this extremely interesting and quite important for the people of North Korea.

Tuberculosis is a major problem around the world, yet it does not recieve as much attention as it should due to other more "fashionable" diseases like HIV/AIDS, which gets lots of press (as it should!). However, TB is a major factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS, as a contracting either one of the diseases puts people at a risk of getting the other. The article notes that 10% of the North Korean population is affected by TB, a number which is sharply rising, and that 30% of these people are vaccine resistant, which requires special care and dedication to ensuring a person's health. Meetings were held to discuss a joint effort for TB study and research in Pyongyang, of which both Koreas would run and the Catholic Church would fund.

I think this research facility is a great idea. While politics, economics, and even culture can be seperated by borders, infectious disesases do not recognize political borders. By gathering the support of both Koreas, it will be a successful endeavor to address a pressing issue in global public health.

In the Loving Care of our Fatherly Leader

I have just gotten through the first 70 pages of our assigned book and does anyone else think that Kim Il-song is a genius. I really can't get over the fact that he came up with the concept to essentially adopt all of the orphans from the Korean War in order to truly create his "family" cult. I mean its a million people essentially brain-washed to do the government's (his) bidding. Also, the idea of having day care centers take children in after 7 weeks with their mother. I mean other dictatorships have had political re-education, but I really haven't ever heard of it done to this scale dedicated to one man. Just wondering if anyone else felt the same way.

Just a side note, although I think he was a genius he still scares the living daylights out of me as a human being.

Trains to reunification

Last week, two trains left from North and South Korea, crossing the DMZ to the other side. I thought it was nice that the two sides could interact with one another in such a way, but can such actions truly lead to reconciliation? I am not sure. For instance, is South Korea really willing to take on the economic burden of a reunification? Also, with such stark contrasts between the two forms of government, how can they possibly come to an agreement? With the time getting longer and longer between the separation, are two, increasingly different, cultures able to suddenly come together as one.
Still, these stories of contact between citizens and family members seem to be happening fairly often within the past couple of years, and it is apparent that many Koreans would like to see it continue. Indeed, who wouldn't like to see an close family member that hasn't been seen for years? But the question becomes, in a few decades when the close family ties wear off, will these sentiments towards reconciliation remain? While visiting Korea, I noticed a definite split between the younger and older generations in regards to reunification. This might have been unique to my own experience, but it does make sense the older generations would have much closer ties to their family up north than the younger generations. No matter how the situation is looked at though, beyond the much publicized events such as that in the mentioned article, it seems that many tough decisions must be made on both sides before a realistic reunification solution can even be considered.

National Geographic

A couple of weeks ago I saw the majority of a documentary of North Korea by National Geographic. Lisa Ling along with a doctor, Dr. Ruit, was able to go into North Korea because Dr. Ruit would be performing eye surgery on 1000s of North Koreans to help restore their vision.

I don't know much about North Korea and I've heard all the stories about the cult personality and how different these people are, but I guess it never really hit me until I saw this documentary. In the article, Lisa Ling talks about how she was surprised when every single person who was able to see again didn't thank Dr. Ruit, but Kim Jong-Il. I remember parts when Lisa Ling and her camera crew were threatened and almost kicked out of North Korea because they were taking pictures of the massive monuments at a downward angle. It was really hard to believe that in this day and age there are still places with this kind of cult personality.

I'm not sure when National Geographic will be airing this documentary again, but I think it's definitely worth watching.

The link is to the short article that Lisa Ling wrote about her experiences: