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Famed Japanese professional-wrestler-turned-lawmaker Kanji “Antonio” Inoki is in Pyongyang this weekend to attend an international pro wrestling exhibition that he organized. Inoki’s visit doesn’t pack quite the same punch as fellow sports celebrity Dennis Rodman’s trips to North Korea, mostly because Kim Jong-un idolizes the latter but not, as far as we know, the former. Still, there are lots of layers to this story that may not be apparent at first glance:
1) This is actually the second pro wrestling event that Inoki has organized in North Korea. The first one was took place in 1995.
2) Rodman has been to North Korea four times. The Japanese wrestler is making his 30th visit. To learn more about Inoki’s colorful history as a freelance diplomat, check out this excellent Grantland profile.
3) Outside of Asia, Inoki’s main claim to fame was his 1976 bout with Muhammad Ali, one of the most bizarre spectacles in sports history. (You think I’m exaggerating? Watch for yourself.)
4) Three years after Inoki’s family emigrated to Brazil in 1957, he was scouted by the legendary Rikidozan, the father of professional wrestling in Japan. Rikidozan’s real name? 역도산, a native of South Hamgyeong province in what is now North Korea. CJ Entertainment released a Rikidozan biopic in 2004.
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Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney who blogs at One Free Korea, chats with the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Live about reports that the United Nations’ World Food Programme may soon shutter its operations in North Korea due to inadequate funding. Stanton takes a dim view of the WFP’s anti-hunger efforts in the North, which he examines in a blistering critique he posted today. An excerpt:
[N]o one trusts the WFP’s assurances about how it delivers food aid to those who need it. It isn’t just me questioning that – the WFP’s own inspector general’s own findings tell us that the WFP has outsourced the transportation, distribution, and guarding of the food to the regime. Because the regime’s workers have access to the WFP’s computer records system, the WFP has no sure way of auditing the distribution of the food.
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South Korea won the Little League World Series Sunday with an 8-4 victory over the U.S. finals winner, the Jackie Robinson West All Stars from Chicago. It was the country’s first Little League world championship in 29 years. After the game, the Korean players bowed to their fans in the stands and then ran over to another group of supporters (which probably included their parents) and performed a 큰절.
The team they beat has its own compelling story. The players for Jackie Robinson West are all African-American, which stands out at a time when the percentage of black players in Major League Baseball continues to decline. LaTroy Hawkins of the Colorado Rockies, Carl Crawford of the Los Angeles Dodgers, B.J. and Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves and other African-American big leaguers covered the costs for the players’ parents to travel to South Williamsport, Pa., to see their kids compete. Even though the team lost, the city of Chicago is still going to throw them a parade on Wednesday.
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Here’s Yoo talking about the challenges she faced while shooting the film:
When you arrive in North Korea, you can’t just take a cab or bus. There is always someone that is coming to meet you. They take you around. They’re in charge of you for the whole duration of your trip and your itinerary is more or less determined prior to your trip. And the driver and the guys will report on your activities in separate ways. They are the ones who are able to interact with foreigners. They are the most loyal to the regime. They have to be, because they are susceptible to others. They watch South Korean television dramas in the tour bus if you show it to them. They are not stupid. They’ve been to China, some of them. And they are obviously connected to a kind of security or intelligence apparatus. But they are generally very nice, they’re not threatening in any way.
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Hold on, the former chief of the Jeju district prosecutors’ office was caught on tape doing what?
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Time-traveling back to 1968: here’s a South Korean TV commercial for Haitai milk chocolate bars.
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When ESPN dutifully recapped South Korea’s 8-5 victory Sunday over Puerto Rico in the Little League World Series, the network didn’t let on how nasty the game got. Watch this highlight clip posted by the Korea Baseball Organization (ignore the dreadful easy-listening music in the background). A pitcher for Team Puerto Rico beaned a South Korean player in the top of the second inning. That led to swift retaliation by a South Korean pitcher, who drilled a Puerto Rican batter in the hip in the bottom of the second. And that presumably prompted a Puerto Rican hurler to bounce a pitch off the helmet of a South Korean batter in the top of the sixth. Damn, these kids were playing for keeps.
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Inbee Park (박인비) successfully defended her title at the LPGA Championship by winning a sudden-death playoff Sunday against Brittany Lincicome. The 26-year-old South Korean golfer has now won five major championships.
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The New York Times’ Choe Sang-hun has an interesting story about how Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea has stirred resentment among some Protestant leaders. Choe points out a key political difference between Korean Catholics and Protestants:
[The Roman Catholic] church is more often associated with the downtrodden than are Protestant groups, which generally embrace capitalism wholeheartedly and are aligned with some of the country’s wealthiest citizens and most powerful political leaders.
The story closes with a quote that made me laugh out loud:
Choo Chin-woo, a local newsmagazine reporter who has specialized in covering the country’s churches, said Francis’s comments expressing concern for the poor and his criticism of capitalist greed had made clear the difference between the pope and the Korean leadership of both Protestant and Catholic churches.
“In the standard of the mainstream Korean churches today,” Mr. Choo said, “the pope is clearly a ‘commie.’ ”
Seoul, Korea. 2014
© Taeyoung Park
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