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Ask a Korean!

Updated: 2018-04-19T09:55:06.540-04:00


Hello Every One Out Here I'm from United Stat...


Hello Every One Out Here

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Joshua Stanton peddles the craziest BS from Ilbe b...


Joshua Stanton peddles the craziest BS from Ilbe because he sincerely believes South Korean liberals are communists. So no.

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My fears are very rapidly becoming a reality. TK, ...


My fears are very rapidly becoming a reality. TK, can you see something like this and still not be concerned about Moon censoring South Korean free speech in deference to Kim Jungeun?

Thank you for the follow-up.


Thank you for the follow-up.

Isn't it lovely that whenever someone brings u...


Isn't it lovely that whenever someone brings up critical thinking, it's almost exclusively themselves who's displaying a wondrous lack of it? Moon going out of his way to please KJU? Come on, open your brain up just a little bit and you'll see who's really afraid of whom...

I have no doubt NK is an evil regime, but evil doesn't equal irrational nor suicidal. Please use your common sense.

(continued) The 'beef protests being about be...



The 'beef protests being about beef' perspective is in fact a political frame stemming from both the left and right, with different motivations. Even the conservative newspapers at the time correctly recognized that the protests were really about LMB in general, and not just beef. For example Chosun Ilbo called it '대선불복 시위' which means the protesters were out there because they disagreed with the very election of LMB itself - which OC, is a gross and malicious exaggeration. And the majority of the protesters were of the 'yuppie' sort - a politically conscious group of young urbanites with good education, not the types that get easily swayed by 'fake news' (relatively speaking OC). The problem is, the constant pounding from the conservative media who kept painting the protesters as 'commies (which is pretty much a political death sentence in Korea)' made the protesters very defensive, so they ostensibly took an official stance that "we're here just to protest against meat, we're not the lawless 'election deniers' or 'commies' as the conservatives are claiming us to be." This kind of stance caused a wide variety of disagreement among the protesters and the protests eventually faded off.
For the internet right-wing, however, this 'protest just for beef' stance became a new political target to undermine the significance of the protests. They didn't want the underlying anti-authoritarian, pro-welfare, anti-privileged sentiments widely present among the protesters gain traction so they focused their firepower on making this stance the official 'internet history'. It also had the side effect of making the protesters appear as irrational and easily riled people. But in reality, what the protests really were about was showing off "people power" against the wannabe dictator as if "let's show that authoritarian a-hole what happens when you dare cross the people's will". I've personally been at the protests and know many others who did as well, and few were there mainly for the 'beef'.

Sorry for writing quite a late reply, but since th...


Sorry for writing quite a late reply, but since this is part of an ongoing series, I'll put it down anyway since I think it's a relevant point.

Before I start, I'll state that I agree the reporting was quite overblown, but that was in part because the related protests were getting larger, which again, was already growing big for many different reasons other than beef. So IMO I think both you and I are right: the growing protests was one of the reasons the reportings were becoming more sensational, which in turn contributed to the growth of the protests (again, along with other reasons.)

Now to my main point. It's easy to claim them as pseudo science in hindsight, but a lot of the questions raised at the time were legitimate enough to justify further investigation and reviewing the negotiation terms. Just because you managed to drive home safely without incident doesn't mean drunk driving isn't a problem. And LMB's way of putting business profits above everything else is a great example of political drunk driving.
His political drunk driving even wasn't one without incidents, too; in fact it had aplenty. For example the four rivers project which turned into an environmental disaster and money wasting pit, his relaxing of safety regulations and monitering which later becomes the cause of many horrible accidents and deaths (most notably the sinking of Sewol), his reduction of 'upper class' taxes such as corporate and real estate which decreased the budget for welfare (and even then a bulk of this shrunken budget went into the pockets of greedy building contractors like his 'four river' cronies) and widened the gap between the rich and poor... the list can go on and on. Seeing these tendencies, which started even before he officially sworn in, is it really that strange people were skeptical when he claimed the beef was perfectly safe? Maybe they were, maybe they weren't; but honestly I don't think he really cared.

And since you mentioned the protests were a result of yellow journalism. Korean media is notoriously sensational all the time, the right much more so than the left I must add since they can get away with it a lot easier being allies with the power elite. The thing is, protests of this scale simply don't blow up over a singular peripheral issue like this. Honestly, if the beef negotiations happened under RMH do you think the protests would have grown this big? Even the anti-Korea US FTA or anti-iraq war protests, which was a much bigger deal back then and under even greater media controversy, were nowhere near as big as this one. Countless issues sensationalized by the media had come and gone over the years, but none of them had an effect like this. By your logic there should have been a lot of massive anti-MJI protests since the conservative media was sensationalizing every single possible flaw he may or may not even have for 5 ****ing years.

about the Sewol tragedy... The Sewol tragedy was...


about the Sewol tragedy...

The Sewol tragedy was a miniature of everything that was wrong with Korean society. No matter how you put it, it was an incomprehensible event that should not have happened, period. A 6000+ ton ship capsizing just for taking a turn? The crew abandoning their passengers without even telling them to evacuate? Over 30 members of the crew, and not a single one of them objected the senior crews' decision? And this ship, illegally remodeled to make more shipment, passed all the safety tests? What about the pathetic rescue attempts that followed, and where was the government when the country was in such dire need of leadership? Why were the crew, who are in charge of such heavy responsibility, were underpaid temporary workers? What the hell was going on? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH OUR SOCIETY?

PGH's "7 missing hours" shouldn't have been such a big deal if the national counter-emergency system was functioning properly. As it turned out Korea's emergency system was put to decay ever since LMB took office (for example thousands of pages of RMH's "Counter-disaster Manual" were just thrown out of the window because of LMB's philosophy that "government sizes should be small" & "governments are meant to support business, not waste time in petty safety measures".) Sewol's illegal remodeling would not have passed the safety tests if LMB hadn't relaxed safety regulations and monitering - he was vehemently against all sorts of regulations that stood in the way of business profit and encouraged corruption by turning a blind eye to most of them.

The Sewol tragedy threw a lot of Koreans into a deep moment of soul-searching. It was not just a single accident, but a huge series of disaster. If such disasters just kept coming one after another, it was no longer a coincidence - something like this was bound to happen, and something was causing it. The culprit was corruption, which came from an attitude of putting business profits above everything else, greed, and Korea's deeply ingrained "me first" mentality, a direct result of a dog-eat-dog society which came to be because of the conservative governments' (which dominated Korea for most of it's modern history) libertarian, laissez faire attitude. (For those not familiar with Korean politics, Korea's right wing are very pro-laissez faire despite their historical reputation of being interventionists and when they do intervene it's usually of pro-business nature, not vice versa.)

And thus became Sewol a battlefield of values. The values that put business first and promoted greed as some divine hand vs the values that put the lives and happiness of ordinary people ahead. Sewol was the epitome of all the faults of the former, which was also what Korea's conservatism stood for. That's why it became such a dividing issue between Korea's left and right, why Ilbe decided to mock the grief stricken parents (because they saw them as greedy commie sympathizers demanding overcompensation - a prime example of extreme bigotry), and why MJI's presidential campaign slogan became "Humanity is our Priority (사람이 먼저다)" - a crystallization of the sentiments ignited by this deeply remorseful tragedy.

Again, excellent job! Some supplementary points I...


Again, excellent job!

Some supplementary points I should add...

1. IMO the real problem of the LMB-PGH administrations was not incompetence (which both had by oodles btw). Incompetent governing is a serious problem, but it usually just ends there. Systematically establishing a basis for unrestrained corruption OTOH, can ruin a society beyond repair. And this was what LMB & PGH set out to do with all their might - and their might in this regard was a pretty strong one because they collaborated with Korea's power elite. By controlling intelligence and media, they started a war against the very core of democratic functionality - its values. They gave new life to outdated values of Korea's authoritarian past (e.g. anti-communism, rankism, regionalism, nationalism, developmentalism, neo-mercantilism, nepotism, chauvinism, misogyny, lack of social awareness, and a general 'survival of the fittest' mentality, etc.), and this reactionary move has left a serious legacy in Korea's social-political landscape.

2. You described how the conservative administration directly orchestrated Korea's Alt-right movement. While I completely agree it was a governmental creation, they did it through both direct and indirect means and I think your post only covered the direct portion. IMO the indirect portion - the swimming against the tide implementation of laissez faire economics in a time when need for redistribution was greater than ever - was no less important as it layed down the basis for the rapid spread of far-right sentiments. As job markets intensified & economic instability grew, anxiety, fear, stress, and insecurity went up, which in turn increased paranoia and narrow-mindedness. Add to this the winner praising, loser shaming propaganda of the conservative machine - and now you have the perfect condition for a world full of power worshipping wannabe bigots. (This trend affects the upper class as well, because they feel the heat knowing they are the biggest targets to dethrone by the people below.) The youth, who had been bred under this pressure-cooker environment ever since birth, were especially struck hard; they became the biggest source of Alt-right supporters.
The original reply I intended to write became much longer than I planned so I decided make my full argument into a separate post to prevent plaguing your blog with long and boring posts which nobody reads. :)

Here's the link to my full reply:

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To the commenter above, thanks for the show of sup...


To the commenter above, thanks for the show of support for my point of view, but I think you’ve taken it too far.

There is no evidence of any kind of cover up of #metoo by the government and as TK mentioned the perpetrators in these cases come from not just politics, but also academia and business. Although the main headlines have focused on other topics in recent days, this is still a very big issue in Korea.

To be clear on where I stand on this, I dont think the Moon administration will turn out to be anywhere near as corrupt, scandalous, or downright evil as those under Park or MB. But I do think South Korean freedoms, and the security of the country for that matter, are very much at risk under Moon’s leadership because of his zeal to engage Kim Jungeun.

Make no mistake about it, Kims goal is to unify Korea under his terms and this threat should not be underestimated.

It started out with a leftist female prosecutor tr...


It started out with a leftist female prosecutor trying to oust her conservative former boss.

No it didn't. It started at least a year earlier in a hashtag campaign "outing" all the sexual harassers in different sectors of Korea ("문단 내의 성폭력", for example.)

Now we don’t see too many “me too” movements anymore, I wonder why.

There have been many more "me too" moments since the revelation of An Hee-jeong. You're just not watching the news.

Oh my goodness, you just said articulated exactly ...


Oh my goodness, you just said articulated exactly my fears too! I thought I was the only one feeling this (with Moon truly going out of his way to appease Kim). Just take the current "me too" movement for example. It started out with a leftist female prosecutor trying to oust her conservative former boss. But then she rather opened a can of worms that would lead to serious convictions among the top leftist politicians too (just take the governor of Chungcheong for instance). Now we don’t see too many “me too” movements anymore, I wonder why. I think it’s problematic when Koreans adopt a ‘mob mentality’ and just follow whatever is socially acceptable, without critically thinking about the problems of both parties. Also, please, someone’s not necessarily a fan of Park Geun Hye or MB just because they provide a provoking critique of the current Moon administration. Only time will tell who’s right, but both sides need to understand, we are not ‘exiting’ any dark eras with Moon Jae-In.

The extravagant shoreline bay of Nusa Dua is a mos...


The extravagant shoreline bay of Nusa Dua is a most loved among those making a trip to Bali as a result of its quiet serene air and welcoming turquoise waters.

Honestly, I hope you are right and my fears about ...


Honestly, I hope you are right and my fears about how this could go down under Moon are ridiculous, but he’s already showing his willingness to bend over backwards to appeal to Kim Jungeun and this worries me.

Here’s where I see this going.

In the past, the North has called for something to the effect of halting ‘slanderous rhetoric and criticism between the two countries’ and it’s likely they would try to include something like this in the steps to be taken in improving inter-Korean relations this time around too. This seems innocuous enough, and besides its North Korea thats always spewing the ‘sea of fire’ threats and calling other world leaders ‘whores’ and ‘monkeys’, right?

The problem is, to North Korea, slanderous rhetoric and criticism includes any mention of its human rights record or criticism of Kim Jungeun and his regime, no matter how warranted. And importantly, for North Korea, discontinuing their threats and criticisms can be accomplished by simply closing a spigot on their state-controlled media. South Korea, on the other hand, is a free society with NGOs, North Korean refugee groups, and media entities who speak out, and rightly so, about North Korean atrocities.

So what will Moon do when he has to make a decision to reject or accept a proposal like this? Will he reject it citing the right to free speech in South Korea, or accept it, which would require suppressing the freedom of these South Korean groups to speak out against the North? Given the propensities Moon has shown thus far, I get the feeling he will choose the latter.

Maybe what I’m talking about is not so ridiculous after all. It looks like this is already starting to happen:

No mention at all of the absurd pseudo-scientific ...


No mention at all of the absurd pseudo-scientific BS about madcow disease either cynically or ignorantly foisted on the public by media and left-wing politicians? I'm no fan of LMB and I agree that the optics of the U.S. beef deal were bad...but let's call out rabid yellow journalism for what it is. And that stuff played a big role in stoking the protests.

Hello! My name is Dianne and I am a Korean America...


Hello! My name is Dianne and I am a Korean American living in California and I just had to say that you put my jumbled and confused thoughts all into the right words. My dad is from Busan so I am very familiar with what Busan and its people are like, especially since I travel there every 3-4 years. I am also fluent in Korean so all the scenes with spoken Korean stood out to me rather harshly. My only question is, do you know if the Korean spoken by Rhee was dubbed? The accent she "spoke" in was the same as Lupita's and I can't help but wonder why they did such a thing if so. I couldn't find anything via google as to whether it was dubbed. Perhaps it was to prevent the comparison between Lupita's Korean and what Korean actually sounds like? (It didn't even sound like standard Korean without the accent.)
Anyways, thank you for this article. Do you mind if I share it to my peers?

Don't be ridiculous. We can begin discussing i...


Don't be ridiculous. We can begin discussing if Moon Jae-in's administration is suppressing freedom when it starts using the spy agency and the military to run domestic surveillance programs on civilians.

I simply can't stop my tears as I read to the ...


I simply can't stop my tears as I read to the point "And they . . . did not care." What SK happened in 2009 is so similar to today's USA (and almost, Canada, where I live) as well in Hongkong (where I originally came from). It is sad, and I am looking forward to your next episode. Wish the world will be like what happen in South Korea, in the end.
(And without us rising up, probably we can't: Mao Zedong is just another ruthless dictator, but he is true on one thing: Revolution, afterall, is not like inviting guests to dinner.)

You can't apprehend Korean politics without un...


You can't apprehend Korean politics without understanding the 'corporate-conservative politicians-media' alliance. Even in the age of SNS, traditional news outlets still remains the dominant source of shared news and opinions, and the chance of some random guy's whistle-blowing gaining traction on Facebook is pretty slim due to the fact that there's just so many random sensational posts generated each day. If the media doesn't do their job right, the truth is unlikely to see light, corruption will reign and democracy will die.

TK mentioned in Part 2 in this series that "people segregated themselves into numerous virtual echo chambers and began developing their own versions of reality". This phenomenon would not have been so prevalent if the media was seen as trustworthy. People are falling for all sorts of conspiracy theories because they feel they have no reputable source of truth to rally around. This is a worrying trend indeed, because subjectivism is the very essence of fascism.

Historical fascism rose in countries where progressive discourse was systematically suppressed. Because of this, most people weren't given a chance to understand the real reason why their lives were worsening, so they poured their anger not into fixing the real problems but upon false (and easy) targets. I see similar trends rising around the world now, especially Korea (arguably we're getting better, but I still see a lot of worrying trends intensifying such as misogyny and xenophobia), USA, Japan, UK, Spain, etc... all of which are considered among the more conservative societies in the developed world.

Sorry for the long rant, but I just had so much to say about this issue. Thanks TK for taking up this important subject and keep up the good work!

Good post, but there is one glaring omission - the...


Good post, but there is one glaring omission - the role of media. A big reason the liberals were constantly divided and bickering with each other was because the overwhelmingly negative media conditions (being largely dominated by conservative media + the few existing progressive media didn't provide much help with their utter lack of strategy and forward thinking) deprived them of any good rally points. (You did mention 'I'm a Cheat', but their influence can hardly hold a candle to the major conservative newpapers.) No matter what good point you make, without the help of media, it doesn't fly very far, even in the age of SNS. (Despite Korea's reputation as the most wired country, there's a wide generation gap where the older generation is a lot less internet savvy even than other developed countries and these people still rely heavily on traditional media outlets.) And if the media constantly amplifies your every petty flaw and turns away from every merit you have, there's not much you can do.If you ever played Go, you'll understand the agony of being behind. In go, it's pretty much always the losing player who spends more time, because he's desperately seeking the overturning move that doesn't seem to exist. He has to consider all sorts of options because each one of them don't seem good enough. In contrast, the winning player has a much easier time: he considers the first option that springs to mind, and if that seems to be good enough to maintain his lead (which is often the case), they stick with it.Similar things happened at the 2012 presidential election. Anyone who is not brainwashed by the conservative media and has some common political sense would have seen that MJI was the much better suited candidate than ACS - a guy who hasn't shown any real political history, no political bloc support (which means he'll have a very hard time executing his policies), who shows his cluelessness about economic reform by running straight up to Lee Heon-Jae (the godfather of Korean 'Mofia (a slang for the mafia-like cartel of economic bureaucrats)' as his very first economic advisor, and displays his political ignorance by promising to reduce the number of congressmen because they are 'nothing more than paycheck thieves'. But nevertheless a lot of liberals flocked to his camp - because they feared that MJI might not be good enough to win since the conservative press was vehemently knocking him down 24/7 (largely because they feared he had the strongest will for progressive reforms). It was the same pattern seen over the years time and again (including the legendary mudslinging of 1987 between YS and DJ): the conservative media concentrates all their firepower to the best candidate the progressives have, and everytime this happens people lose confidence in their initial choice and start seeking other options. A large part of the shortcomings of both RMH and KDJ administrations was due to the constant attack from the conservative media - since the latter's influence on public opinions were huge they couldn't completely ignore their often overblown criticisms which frequently resulted in inconsistent/insufficient policies (take RMH's real estate policies for example.). And this was the very same reason why conservative presidents could reign like a medieval tyrant - the dominant news stations would tu[...]