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MBC News reports on the National Intelligence Agency’s claim that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-thaek, believed to be the power behind the throne in Pyongyang, appears to have been purged from his leadership posts in the military and the Korean Workers’ Party. The NIS assessment is based on reports from normally reliable sources who confirm that two of Jang’s closest confidantes were recently executed.
The Los Angeles Times notes that Jang, the husband of Kim Jong-il’s sister Kim Kyong-hui, is believed to favor economic reforms. Last year, he met with senior Chinese officials in Beijing to discuss joint economic development projects, leaving a favorable impression on then-Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Maybe we’ll all miss him. North Korea was bad enough before, but there used to be method in the madness. You knew where you were with the likes of Jang, though you’d rather not be there. Whereas Kim Jong Un’s extreme saber-rattling this spring was the more alarming for having no clear cause or purpose. Why did he do it? North Korea gained nothing, but sorely taxed Beijing’s and everyone’s patience. Perhaps Jang was unwise enough to tell his nephew that. Without him, the fear is that North Korea may become even more unpredictable.
A WOMAN ON THE STAIRS, SEOUL, KOREA
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South Korean b-boy Hong 10 won the Red Bull BC One World Final breakdancing competition Saturday at Seoul’s Jamsil Arena. Check out his amazing final round versus 2012 champion Mounir here. The 28-year-old’s real name is 김홍열. (Hong 10, 홍열 — get it?)
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Merrill Newman, the Korean War veteran who’s been detained by North Korea since Oct. 26, has surfaced in a video released Saturday by Pyongyang. The clip features the 85-year-old Newman reading an apology for his actions as an adviser in a unit of the United Nations Command that trained and supported anti-communist guerrillas who operated in North Korea during the war.
Reuters has some fascinating details about Newman’s wartime experience and about the so-called “Kuwol” (9월) unit that he served in, noting that it coordinated “some of the most daring missions of the Korean War, embedding undercover agents deep in enemy territory - sometimes for months at a time - spying on and disrupting North Korean wartime operations.”
According to the New York Times, Newman had apparently wanted to meet with relatives of former Kuwol operatives during his trip to North Korea, a dangerously naive endeavor that appears to have caught the attention of local authorities.
It doesn’t appear as though Pyongyang intends to exact revenge on Newman beyond his momentary detention and forced apology. Newman’s family said in a statement released Saturday that the Swedish ambassador to North Korea had visited him at Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo Hotel and found that he is being treated well. And Andrei Lankov, author of “The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia,” tells the Times that he expects Newman’s public repentance to clear the way for his eventual release.
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In response to China’s unilateral declaration last Saturday of an “air defense identification zone" in the South China Sea, South Korea is mulling a possible expansion of its own air defense zone, YTN reports. (Yonhap has more on the story.)
China’s air defense zone is clearly aimed at sending a message to Japan in their never-ending dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. But the zone also happens to encompass Ieodo, a submerged rock formation claimed by both China and South Korea, but controlled by the latter. After Beijing rejected Seoul’s demand that it redraw the air defense zone’s boundaries, the South Korean military expressed its displeasure by sending a surveillance aircraft into the zone without informing China, much as Japan and the U.S. have done numerous times this week.
South Korea and China enjoy thriving economic relations and share a common goal of restraining North Korean adventurism. But when two countries with a complicated past can’t even agree on ancient history (e.g., Chinese scholars think 고구려 was part of the Middle Kingdom), an undercurrent of tension is inevitable. The escalating regional standoff over China’s air defense zone may be mostly rooted in Beijing’s territorial dispute with Tokyo, but it still adds fuel to Seoul’s long-standing unease about the prospect of a more assertive Beijing.
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After becoming a massively hyped candidate for president last year, South Korean software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo abruptly quit the race less than a month before the election. Still, it was clear he wasn’t finished with politics. In April, he won a seat in the National Assembly. And on Thursday, the other shoe finally dropped when he announced that he plans to launch a new political party.
Will Ahn be like those annoying dorks from Silicon Valley who naively think their success in making money bestows them with exceptional insights into political issues? Or will he provide beleaguered voters with an effective, clear-eyed alternative to the venomous, counterproductive bullshit that dominates South Korean politics? Or, in yet another possible scenario, might this relative political neophyte get eaten alive by the political hacks who control the ruling and main opposition parties? We’ll find out soon enough.
Apple Infused Makkoli, Oh My!
Almost every place in Korea has some special food they’re famous for, or at least the locals…
This would be a perfect warm-up to Thanksgiving dinner.
one of those hongdae nights.
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I was reading a New York Times story about Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Toyo Ito when the following sentence jumped off the screen:
Born to Japanese parents in Keijo — now Seoul — in 1941, Mr. Ito moved to Tokyo in junior high school and then attended the University of Tokyo, where architecture became his main interest.
Keijo (京城, which reads as 경성 in Korean) was what Japanese colonial administrators called the Korean capital. The Times leaves the impression that the city was called Keijo before it was known by its present-day name. In fact, the opposite was true. And as this blogger points out, the reporter could have confirmed it by checking the Times’ own archive.
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The New York Times has an interesting story about how red-hot professional golfer Inbee Park (박인비) is emerging as a new role model for young South Korean golfers, who had long turned to the country’s first superstar in the sport, Se Ri Pak (박세리), for inspiration:
Pak was so lonely at her peak that she bought a beagle and named it Happy…As driven on the course as her idol, Pak, the 25-year-old Park has the escape valves Pak lacked to release the pressures of a superstar’s life, with outside interests that include poetry, the piano and her fiancé. She is the next model of success for South Korean golfers, a player with not only a great career but also a life.
Park, whose nickname is “Silent Assassin” because of her cool-under-pressure demeanor on the course, cleaned up on this year’s LPGA Tour, having won three consecutive major championships and six tournaments overall. On Friday, she became the first South Korean golfer to receive the LPGA’s Player of the Year award.
The past decade and a half has been a remarkable journey for South Korean women’s golf. After Pak exploded on the international scene in 1998, an influx of young, talented South Korean women began making a mark on the women’s golf tour. That provoked a backlash in the hidebound sport, highlighted by LPGA Tour fixture Jan Stephenson’s idiotic 2003 interview with Golf magazine, in which she said:
The Asians are killing our tour. Absolutely killing it. Their lack of emotion, their refusal to speak English when they can speak English. They rarely speak…
We have two-day pro-ams where people are paying a lot of money to play with us, and they say, ‘Hello and goodbye.’ Our tour is predominantly international and the majority of them are Asian. They’ve taken it over…
If I were commissioner, I would have a quota on international players and that would include a quota on Asian players.
(The kooky Stephenson, a native of Australia, also said in the same interview that female golfers should be willing to use their sex appeal to broaden the sport’s popularity “because sex sells. I think you have to shock.”)
Then in 2008, the LPGA itself announced it would require all new members to pass an oral evaluation of their English skills or face suspension — a rule that was motivated by the growing number of international golfers on the tour, a large number of whom were South Korean. After facing a chorus of criticism, the tour quickly backed off the proposal. The reaction of a Golf.com writer to the English requirement was typical:
The world of sport is supposed to be a true meritocracy. You should be measured by your skill, not your personality or parents or linguistic prowess. If Seve Ballesteros was subject to a rule like this one, he never would have won the 1980 Masters.
Fast-forward to 2013 and things are looking a lot better. Golfweek has the complete text of the acceptance speech that Inbee Park delivered Friday when she received her Player of the Year award. It’s worth reading because she speaks with disarming candor about her difficulties in dealing with the media spotlight and the expectations of her fans, as well as about her conscious decision earlier in the season to “be happier than last year.” She concluded her speech with these words:
I am honored to have my name next to the greatest names in women’s golf. It really is unbelievable. I am especially proud to be the first player from South Korea to win this award. My hope is that my achievements will inspire a new generation of young girls to pick up a set of clubs and follow their dreams.
More than anything though, I, the “Silent Assassin,” am most proud that I kept my eye on the higher goal, happiness. I found it.
This is Dharma, the female Buddhist monk at Guinsa Temple and happiest person I have met
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You might recall that Elle made a boneheaded reference to “North Korea chic” in its September issue’s fall fashion preview. Evidently, some readers weren’t too pleased with the description of Pyongyang-influenced “sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring,” as the magazine acknowledged in an apology that it posted on its website Nov. 19. The timing of the apology may have been in response to a series of tweets that morning by a Washington Post blogger mocking the magazine’s bad taste.
Unfortunately, when that blogger got around to writing a post about Elle’s faux pas, he erroneously claimed that the more-than-two-month-old item had come out earlier that day. (Pro tip: fashion magazines usually publish their fall previews long before fall is almost over.) His blog post, in turn, prompted a slew of other outlets in the U.S. and elsewhere to express their indignation about Elle’s admiration for totalitarian “chic.”
Among those joining the belated pile-on was Taiwan’s inimitable Next Media Animation (see the video above). The clip depicts the magazine’s creative director excitedly checking out North Korean “fashions” as he ignores human rights violations. Then at about the one-minute mark, he’s shown strolling obliviously across a line labeled “DECENCY” to dance with a bunch of clowns. Well done, NMA.
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Anderson Cooper interviews the son of Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from Palo Alto, Calif., who was visiting North Korea last month when authorities apprehended him just as his flight was about to leave Pyongyang. He’s been detained without explanation since then.
Pyongyang was surprisingly hospitable toward Korean War vet Thomas Hudner when he visited the North in July. So why is the regime detaining Newman? Reuters broaches a possible theory: North Korea may be detaining the wrong Merrill Newman. Turns out there’s another Korean War vet with the same name who earned a Silver Star award for valor.
But that still feels like an incomplete explanation. After all, Hudner received the Medal of Honor for his service during the war.
A little girl in a hanbok checks out a couple on the grounds of 경복궁.
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