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Korean Countryside Adventures

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Time has been flying by. It feels like just yesterday I was bemoaning the changes in my office, with favorite teachers moving to new offices or even worse, new schools, and scary new teachers moving in and refusing to let us turn the heating on. Imagine that. Wanting to turn the HEATING on. Now I have constant daydreams about air conditioning. They said it would be on this week, but...

Anyways, I bring up the rapid passage of time because recently, we had a bit of an office family reunion. By the end of last semester, especially after spending so much time together during winter break, some of my officemates really started to feel less like coworkers and more like friends or family. Our daily lunch adventures became comfortable; our group narrowed down to the usual suspects. Lee Kyuwon, the taciturn but kind office head, with his amazing knowledge of tiny local restaurants. Hong Mija, the other office head, always trying to communicate with me, even though her knowledge of English is as limited as my knowledge of Korean. Kim Yunju, who feels like a sister and who is the only one who likes spicy food as much as me. And of course Jang Hyeonji, my lovely coteacher. Sitting in the car on the way to our meal, it felt less like 5 coworkers, and more like dad, mom, and three sisters.

Hong-ssn, Hyeonji, Soohyun, Lee Kyuwon-ssn, Yunju, and me.

So, months later, after ages of planning over kakaotalk, we managed to all find a time to meet up and try to put our little family back together. That makes it sound like something catastrophic happened, wow. Nothing so horrible that a little dinner couldn't fix. We all piled into Kyuwon-ssn's car and, as usual, I had no idea where we were going, how long we would be there, what we would be eating, etc etc. All I knew was that we were meeting at 5:30...somewhere in Korea. I assumed.

As it turns out, we ended up in this amazing little restaurant way out in the middle of nowhere. I didn't even realize it was a restaurant until everyone started getting out of the car.



I want one.


Tucked away off a tiny road, hidden among the bushes and trees, I felt as if I'd wandered onto the set of Secret Garden, the bit with the actual magic garden on Jeju Island. There was a rooster on the roof, that we all assumed was fake until it moved. The coolest thing was that instead of sitting in the main building, we got our own tiny private room with a big window facing out on the scenery. To summon the server, we literally had a phone that acted as a sort of walkie talkie between us and the main building. It was brilliant.



The window's a bit dirty, sorry, but LOOK AT THAT VIEW.


Our little room, the side dishes, and peeking through  the door is our crocodile friend.

As you can probably tell, we all sat on the floor around a beautiful low wooden table, munching on side dishes as we waited for the main event. I can't remember all the dishes that were there, but all the vegetables were so fresh and delicious, I would have been happy to eat only those. There were fresh cucumber spears dipped in red pepper sauce, kimchi, sautéed mushrooms, hot peppers, fish cakes, and a few other vegetable selections that I didn't recognize but were nevertheless consumed in great quantities by all.

Do it yourself: restaurant style.

Ah yes. The main event. I love how many dishes in Korea you have to cook yourself. From ramen to BBQ, it gives the meal a fun, hands-on vibe, though it also kinda stresses me out unless I'm with someone who knows what they're doing. Fortunately, in this case it was just a sort of soup, and who doesn't know how to heat up soup?

As you can see from the picture, we were rocking some seriously healthy dinner plans. Lots of leafy greens, those tiny mushrooms that look like noodles, and under all that was a whole chicken (in pieces), rice, and some spices and onions and stuff. The chicken was, I assume, already cooked, but once we got the burner going, the whole thing quickly got up to a nice boil, slowly cooking the greens and mushrooms as we stirred from time to time.

Enter the chicken.
It was such a simple, delicious dish. Also, you've never really lived until you've tried to eat chicken off the bone with only chopsticks and a spoon. I can't say that my method was...graceful, but the chicken got from my plate to my mouth with minimal accidents, so I call it a win. While I feel like this soup would be wonderful on a cold winter day, the simplicity of the ingredients also rendered it surprisingly refreshing on a hot, muggy day.




Then, as if we didn't already have enough food to feed a small, healthy army, we ordered a squid and vegetable fried...sort of pancake...it's hard to explain, but trust me, it was fantastic. I've had a lot of these, at various restaurants, but this may have been the best. It was really thick, stuffed to the gills with fresh veggies and squid, and even though I had already eaten a ridiculous amount of chicken, I couldn't resist it's fried, tentacly charms. Is tentacly a word? NOW IT IS.


Ignore the chicken carnage, look at the delicious alcohol!

The final element to our meal was a bowl of dongdongju, which is a sort of sweet, traditional rice wine. It came in an earthenware pot with a ladle, and we drank it out of small bowl-like cups. As I relaxed, nibbling at side dishes and sipping my wine, I slipped into that perfect feeling of belonging somewhere, of being comfortable enough with a group of people to just sit and listen to the conversation wash over you. What I mean is, I felt like I was at a family dinner, where my family just happened to all be speaking in Korean. I faded in and out of the talk, understanding for a while and then losing the flow again, but I didn't mind. The air was warm, and after my second cup of wine, I was feeling pleasantly fuzzy around the edges.

It's evenings like this that keep the homesickness at bay, finding pockets of home even in the most foreign of settings, shaping what is unfamiliar into something comforting, something safe. Because when you're this far from home, what else can you do but make a new home?


Teacher Pretty
Middle school ESL teacher, lover of pink, eater of kimchi, addicted to Etude House, expert procrastinator, meeter of 2-dimensionial popstars: Ana. That's me.

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Gearing up

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Tickets for the conference will be on sale as of July 1st. Exciting, no? Yes. Exciting. I am personally very exciting Scott Thornbury is visiting again. He’s a great speaker and the man who came up with Dogme language teaching (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogme_language_teaching).

Please watch this space for more info as weeeeeeeeeeee wind up for the big one.



Gamcheon Art Village

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Located in the Saha community, Gamcheon 2-dong is a vibrant, quirky community that seamlessly melds history, art, and community.  Gamcheon Village began as refugee quarters during the early years of the Korean War, when forces from the north pushed down as far as the Pusan Perimeter, near the southernmost tip of the Korean  peninsula.  Busan found its city streets flooded with war-traumatized refugees, and the lack of food and sanitary conditions became a huge issue for the duration of the war.  With limited space for housing, the resident of Gamcheon Village built a terraced shantytown right into the mountainside.  In recent years, the once indigent neighborhood has been revitalized.  Houses have been finished and covered with coats of bright paint.  Additionally, over the last several years, art installations have been added throughout the neighborhood, giving it a quirky, artsy vibe and making it a popular destination for tourists.

What was once a slum has become a hub of art and culture in Busan.  While I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as others who have nicknamed the area “the Santorini of Asia” for its picturesque views, Gamcheon is sunny, colorful, and definitely worth seeing.

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A word of two of advice to would-be visitors, however.  While Gamcheon Village definitely actively recruits tourists (there’ s a map that you can buy and get stamped at locations all over the village), it is still a neighborhood that people live in, many of them since the area’s first settlement during the Korean War.  It is also definitely not an affluent area of Korea, and residents are sensitive of tourists taking pictures that could portray the area as slummy or impoverished.  Additionally, residents themselves are a little camera weary.  You should ask before taking photos of people.  Also, the area is still pretty traditional, even though it’s in Korea’s second largest city.  Modest clothing is recommended, especially for foreigners.  Finally, be prepared to do a lot of walking up and down hills.  The neighborhood is comprised of a labyrinth of alleys and streets that meander up and down the hillside.  Comfy shoes are a must.

Getting There:  Orange Line subway to Toseong Station.  Take Exit 8 and walk straight to the bus stop in front of Pusan Cancer Center.  From there, take bus 2 or 2-2 up the hill.  Get off at Gamcheon Elementary School. At the village’s entrance, you can buy a map for 2,000 won.  I highly recommend doing this.


Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Art in Busan, Busan, Gamcheon, Gamcheon Village, Korea, Stuff to See, Things to Do

Hiking Brings the Best out of Korea

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It is certainly possible that lately I have mainly been focused on the negative aspects of living in Korea.  Before you accuse me of being a grumbling old curmudgeon, I have been without my wife now for too long and I can't wait to join her in Australia in a couple of months.  I'm fed-up, and therefore my mind errs toward irritations and problems much more readily than the good stuff.

I have always found that there is a cure for this kind of melancholy, however, and that is a good, long ramble in the Korean countryside.  It is likely that the fresh air and the exercise readdresses some chemical imbalance in my brain, but I genuinely believe some of the best of Korean culture and its people reveals itself at this time.




Last week, I took a couple of days with a friend of mine to do a 40Km hike along the coast in Yeosu, at the central southern tip of mainland Korea.  The hike, known as the 갯가길, was a bit of a change from the usual intense mountain hikes I am used to in Korea and it also rather pleasantly meandered its way through sleepy fishing villages in between the cliffs, beaches and coastal forests.  One of the other bonuses about a coastal hike is that you can wild-camp and build a campfire, something that is usually prohibited in the mountains due to the fire risk.

Cooking ramen on a stony beach fire.


I have always found that Korean people are at their friendliest, most helpful, and most charming when I am hiking.  Of course, you could make this generalisation to almost any country.  If you want to find the most genuine, warm-hearted, and pleasant people, heading to the countryside is not a bad bet.



However, I am regularly frustrated in Korea by unwanted help; that is when Korean people do things for me that I don't need, that make me feel uncomfortable, and yet at the same time create a debt and a favour that I should pay back.  I don't get this feeling when acts of kindness are done while hiking.  For one, I can't pay them back in kind most of the time and this is understood, so the experience has a much more genuine feeling about it. Contrary to living in the city - where any inconvenience to make an unfamiliar other's life easier appears to be too much trouble -  I often feel like kindnesses are bestowed upon me in an attempt to make life more pleasant on my travels.  It warms the heart and reminds me that Korea isn't such a bad place after all, even in the lowest of times.




Since pretty much day one of arriving in Korea, hiking has been one of the activities I have enjoyed the most.  Korea's hiking courses are so accessible and most are doable in one day or a weekend.  Korea's countryside and coastline can be extremely pretty and the terrain and the extremes of weather can also provide a genuine challenge sometimes. The most memorable of all the challenging hikes I have done in Korea came at Jirisan, which includes the highest peak in mainland Korea.


One of the few pictures I managed to take before my camera gave-up in the cold.

Five of us very loosely planned a two day hike in mid-winter across the park from West to East (about 45Km) along the main ridge and the highest peaks.  With a couple of novices - who were slightly under-prepared - this was no mean feat, as the temperatures near the summit approached minus 30 degrees Celsius.  On the ridge, everything froze and on day two we were greeted by high winds and thick, sometimes waist-deep, snow.  The regular shelters along the ridge, bringing with it the chance to make coffee and ramen noodles, were an absolute godsend when the cold and the exhaustion were truly biting and we shared this relief and hardship with Korean hikers, who would share their food and lend a helping-hand sometimes also (the taste and the feeling of a hot coffee after a long day's hard hiking in a biting cold wind, is truly amazing).

It turned-out that we timed the trip perfectly, we managed to get on the first possible bus to the mountain and the last possible bus back.  By the time we finished, we were totally cold-blasted and exhausted, but it is certainly the hike in Korea I will remember most vividly and fondly, despite feeling almost broken by the end.


Bringing-Out the Best in People

It could be possible that for the simple-minded and the mean-spirited, spending their weekend traipsing up a mountain trail is not quite their cup of tea.  I would like to think hiking forces the best out of people and encourages close friendships and camaraderie between those of us hiking, regardless of where we are from.

For me, the shared suffering and enjoyment of reaching the top of a mountain with a heavy backpack is a means by which I can share a common experience with Korean people who still, despite my connections with Korean family, can be difficult to comprehend sometimes and empathise with (and vice versa, them to me).  It increases feelings of affection with the people around me.


Yeosu, apparently in the top 4 most scenic harbours in the world (according to some Korean sources). Nice, but probably not that nice.


Of course, on my most recent hike, it was less about straining to the top of a mountain with Korean hikers at my side - in fact, we only met one fellow hiker the whole 40Km - but more about stumbling upon parts of Korea that we would have never explored and meeting people most foreigners would commonly never meet.  Not only is there a fascination and a joy for me personally in meeting such people, but I can also see that this curiosity and pleasure is reciprocated on the faces of the Korean people I meet in these places.

The beauty of hiking is that in most cases the hardships put off the majority of people and the sight of someone sweating away under the pressure of a heavy backpack is possibly the least threatening thing imaginable.  The wandering stranger then appears to be someone to help rather than fear and it seems many of the Koreans I meet on hikes like nothing better than bestowing their kindness upon me and my companions, and in the heat of the day, with hungry stomachs and tired limbs it is never more wholly appreciated.





My Lowy Essay on China Picking 3 Fights in 9 Months: Japan, Phils, Vietnam. WTH?

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The essay below is a reprint of something I wrote for the Lowy Institute a few weeks ago (original here). I got into back-and-forth with Brad Glosserman and Hugh White over Chinese foreign policy intentions. I am still not entirely sold on the idea that China is a full-blown revisionist, like Putin, or worse, Wilhelmine Germany. There are other possible explanations.

The map to the left is the so-called “Nine Dash Line,” China’s preposterously capacious maritime claim in the South China Sea. I wonder if it’s even worth noting anymore that UNCLOS can’t be possibly be used to justify this. Everyone knows that now, right? The claim is just nationalism, pure and simple.

What’s really struck me though about China’s maritime claims is how Beijing has really ramped up the tension in just a few months. In the last 9 months, China has picked serious fights with Japan (over its ADIZ), the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal, and now Vietnam over that oil rig. That much bullying in such a short period of time, very obviously coincident with Xi Jinping’s ascension, pretty much tells the world that the new Chinese administration is becoming the regional bully we’ve all been fearing for 20 years. This strikes me as unbelievably foolish, as there is a very obvious anti-Chinese containment ring waiting in the wings. A lot of people in the US, Japan, and increasingly Southeast Asia would be happy to see this outcome. My strong sense is that US patience particularly is running out, and that ‘neo-containment’ is around the corner.

So this essay is a last ditch effort to try explain Chinese belligerence as an outcome of Chinese dysfunction. Let’s hope this is right, because if the hawks are right that arguments such as mine are just excuse-making for Chinese belligerence, then I guess we have to contain China. Scary stuff.

 

“Last week, Brad Glosserman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies made the smart observation that China has recently chosen a surprisingly hard course in its foreign policy. It has lately picked a series of fights with its neighbors which threaten to derail the ‘peaceful rise’ policy which facilitated so much of its earlier growth. Brad finds this bizarre and wonders whether the new Chinese leadership knows what it is doing – or where this will lead: to more clashes and open balancing against China.

Hugh White responded here at Lowy that this behavior is a part of China’s larger plan to slowly push the US out of the Asian region. China has learned from the Soviet Union – instead of confronting the US directly and provoking a big response, the Chinese are looking for small cracks, like the Senkaku Islands or Scarborough Shoal. These pressure points fall below the American radar; America, it is often said, will not go to war over some uninhabited rocks in the western Pacific. But on the other hand, by bullying neighbors over these low stakes and winning, China sets a precedent and reinforces its image as the emerging regional power. This is a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ or ‘creeping normality’ strategy: China is slowly reconfiguring the east Asian board by small moves, none of which is big enough to cause a breach, but which in toto change the status quo in its favor.

If White is correct, then the peaceful rise is indeed over, and east Asia looks likely to conform to realist models that project Wilhelmine Germany onto modern China. The militarized pivot should then continue, the US should indeed to prepare to fight over some ‘uninhabited rocks,’ and containment is likely. Before we go down this frightening road however, there are alternative, domestic explanations for China’s recent behavior, which flow from ‘Hanlon’s razor’: never attribute to conspiracy that which can be just as easily explained by incompetence. In the context of China’s rise, what looks to White like a larger plan to push out the US may be far less organized and coherent – the outcome of a series of domestic factional battles in a new administration rushing to establish itself, control its military, and legitimate itself to a cynical population. We may be seeing more coherence in Chinese foreign policy than is really there.

Alternative explanations would note that China is not governed very well, with a lot of factionalism, military-civilian rivalry, confused lines of the authority between the state and party, widespread corruption, and so on. Such explanations would also capture why China, as Brad has noted, has persisted on this hazardous course despite pushing the neighbors toward America. If White is correct, these Chinese actions should dent the US alliance system and push neighbors to equivocate out of fear. But that is not what appears to be happening. Instead, the neighborhood is drifting toward the US. So why continue, unless foreign policy belligerence serves other, domestic needs?

I can think of two internal explanations, one focused on the new Xi Jinping government’s need for legitimacy, and a second on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) flagging raison d’etre:

1. Tension with the neighborhood is new premier Xi’s sop to the military and its hawks

I made a similar argument last year about the expansion of the China’s Air Defense Identification Zone. We know that late communist systems factionalize; indeed authoritarian systems generally factionalize as they age. Internal rivalries and power struggles are the inevitable outcome of governance systems without elections. No one knows who enjoys popular support, who is really up or really down. There is no barometer. And when the great leader finally passes, there are strong incentives for all parties to settle on a confused, power struggle-prone oligarchy to avoid the harshness and arbitrariness of the autocracy.

This is where China is today. Post-Mao and post-Deng, no one rules undisputedly and the factional split of the CCP into the ‘Shanghai’ coastal clique of modernizing princelings against retro-Maoist hinterland populists is well-known now. (Xi is of the former group.) And neither can hold power without the support of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Since Tiananmen Square, the party cannot risk alienating the military.

Xi is new. He did not emerge without a fight. He almost certainly made promises to the PLA in order to win the factional power struggle. The PLA is arguably the most hawkish, anti-American faction in the government. Xi is also surmised to have a greater interest in foreign affairs because of his creation of a ‘national security council.’ He needs some manner of legitimating ideology, and ‘more growth’ will not do the trick anymore. It is widely understood now that China’s growth is slowing, and that unrestrained headline growth has generated massive negative environmental and social externalities.

In such a context, ‘naval nationalism’ is not a bad legitimating choice. It keeps the PLA happy and solidifies its support of his premiership. It covers for the inevitable slow-down in growth, and appeals to Xi’s desire for China to play a larger role in world affairs and accrue greater respect.

2. The CCP is effectively obsolete and needs something to forestall multiparty elections, such as nationalism and fights with neighbors

The primary goals of the CCP since the beginning of the republic were to maintain China’s territorial integrity and pull China back to the global esteem it enjoyed before the ‘one hundred years of humiliation.’ The tool to do this was modernization – first (failed) communist, then later capitalist growth. By any reasonable measure, China and the party have done this. China has not spun apart; China is now a middle income state and the world’s second largest GDP. It is now feared globally, if not loved. Its growth trajectory for the future is good. Barring some cataclysm, it seems fair to project several more decades of growth above 5%. Indeed, the only big CCP objective unfilled is unification with Taiwan.

Ironically then the CCP has succeeded to the point where it is longer necessary, specifically to the point where single-party rule for developmental purposes can no longer be justified. China is not really a poor country anymore. The ‘Asian developmentalist’ argument that democracy obstructs growth no longer holds. China is either now, or will shortly, be ready for democracy – its citizens are now educated and wealthy enough that paternalist arguments for party guidance no longer make sense (if they ever did).

But single-party states rarely just give up. And the CCP, while developing China, has also abused it. An embarrassing truth-and-reconciliation process and jail-time awaited the old regime in South Africa; one could imagine the same and more in China. So if they party lacks its old economic and prestige arguments for one-party rule, then how about nationalism? Patriotic education has been the de facto national ideology since communism collapsed with the Cold War’s end and Tiananmen. Xi’s maritime nationalism fits this well. Better tension than transition.

China’s bullying of its neighbors is worrisome. And White may be right that it is a part of a larger Chinese regional strategy to push the US out. But communist states are often badly factionalized actors. Indeed stalinist political concentration, without elections, encourages it. There may be internal reasons explaining recent Chinese belligerence.”


Filed under: Asia, China, Foreign Policy, International Relations Theory

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
robertkelly260@hotmail.com

 


My Lowy Essay on China Picking 3 Fights in 9 Months: Japan, Phils, Vietnam. WTH?

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The essay below is a reprint of something I wrote for the Lowy Institute a few weeks ago (original here). I got into back-and-forth with Brad Glosserman and Hugh White over Chinese foreign policy intentions. I am still not entirely sold on the idea that China is a full-blown revisionist, like Putin, or worse, Wilhelmine Germany. There are other possible explanations.

The map to the left is the so-called “Nine Dash Line,” China’s preposterously capacious maritime claim in the South China Sea. I wonder if it’s even worth noting anymore that UNCLOS can’t be possibly be used to justify this. Everyone knows that now, right? The claim is just nationalism, pure and simple.

What’s really struck me though about China’s maritime claims is how Beijing has really ramped up the tension in just a few months. In the last 9 months, China has picked serious fights with Japan (over its ADIZ), the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal, and now Vietnam over that oil rig. That much bullying in such a short period of time, very obviously coincident with Xi Jinping’s ascension, pretty much tells the world that the new Chinese administration is becoming the regional bully we’ve all been fearing for 20 years. This strikes me as unbelievably foolish, as there is a very obvious anti-Chinese containment ring waiting in the wings. A lot of people in the US, Japan, and increasingly Southeast Asia would be happy to see this outcome. My strong sense is that US patience particularly is running out, and that ‘neo-containment’ is around the corner.

So this essay is a last ditch effort to try explain Chinese belligerence as an outcome of Chinese dysfunction. Let’s hope this is right, because if the hawks are right that arguments such as mine are just excuse-making for Chinese belligerence, then I guess we have to contain China. Scary stuff.

 

“Last week, Brad Glosserman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies made the smart observation that China has recently chosen a surprisingly hard course in its foreign policy. It has lately picked a series of fights with its neighbors which threaten to derail the ‘peaceful rise’ policy which facilitated so much of its earlier growth. Brad finds this bizarre and wonders whether the new Chinese leadership knows what it is doing – or where this will lead: to more clashes and open balancing against China.

Hugh White responded here at Lowy that this behavior is a part of China’s larger plan to slowly push the US out of the Asian region. China has learned from the Soviet Union – instead of confronting the US directly and provoking a big response, the Chinese are looking for small cracks, like the Senkaku Islands or Scarborough Shoal. These pressure points fall below the American radar; America, it is often said, will not go to war over some uninhabited rocks in the western Pacific. But on the other hand, by bullying neighbors over these low stakes and winning, China sets a precedent and reinforces its image as the emerging regional power. This is a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ or ‘creeping normality’ strategy: China is slowly reconfiguring the east Asian board by small moves, none of which is big enough to cause a breach, but which in toto change the status quo in its favor.

If White is correct, then the peaceful rise is indeed over, and east Asia looks likely to conform to realist models that project Wilhelmine Germany onto modern China. The militarized pivot should then continue, the US should indeed to prepare to fight over some ‘uninhabited rocks,’ and containment is likely. Before we go down this frightening road however, there are alternative, domestic explanations for China’s recent behavior, which flow from ‘Hanlon’s razor’: never attribute to conspiracy that which can be just as easily explained by incompetence. In the context of China’s rise, what looks to White like a larger plan to push out the US may be far less organized and coherent – the outcome of a series of domestic factional battles in a new administration rushing to establish itself, control its military, and legitimate itself to a cynical population. We may be seeing more coherence in Chinese foreign policy than is really there.

Alternative explanations would note that China is not governed very well, with a lot of factionalism, military-civilian rivalry, confused lines of the authority between the state and party, widespread corruption, and so on. Such explanations would also capture why China, as Brad has noted, has persisted on this hazardous course despite pushing the neighbors toward America. If White is correct, these Chinese actions should dent the US alliance system and push neighbors to equivocate out of fear. But that is not what appears to be happening. Instead, the neighborhood is drifting toward the US. So why continue, unless foreign policy belligerence serves other, domestic needs?

I can think of two internal explanations, one focused on the new Xi Jinping government’s need for legitimacy, and a second on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) flagging raison d’etre:

1. Tension with the neighborhood is new premier Xi’s sop to the military and its hawks

I made a similar argument last year about the expansion of the China’s Air Defense Identification Zone. We know that late communist systems factionalize; indeed authoritarian systems generally factionalize as they age. Internal rivalries and power struggles are the inevitable outcome of governance systems without elections. No one knows who enjoys popular support, who is really up or really down. There is no barometer. And when the great leader finally passes, there are strong incentives for all parties to settle on a confused, power struggle-prone oligarchy to avoid the harshness and arbitrariness of the autocracy.

This is where China is today. Post-Mao and post-Deng, no one rules undisputedly and the factional split of the CCP into the ‘Shanghai’ coastal clique of modernizing princelings against retro-Maoist hinterland populists is well-known now. (Xi is of the former group.) And neither can hold power without the support of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Since Tiananmen Square, the party cannot risk alienating the military.

Xi is new. He did not emerge without a fight. He almost certainly made promises to the PLA in order to win the factional power struggle. The PLA is arguably the most hawkish, anti-American faction in the government. Xi is also surmised to have a greater interest in foreign affairs because of his creation of a ‘national security council.’ He needs some manner of legitimating ideology, and ‘more growth’ will not do the trick anymore. It is widely understood now that China’s growth is slowing, and that unrestrained headline growth has generated massive negative environmental and social externalities.

In such a context, ‘naval nationalism’ is not a bad legitimating choice. It keeps the PLA happy and solidifies its support of his premiership. It covers for the inevitable slow-down in growth, and appeals to Xi’s desire for China to play a larger role in world affairs and accrue greater respect.

2. The CCP is effectively obsolete and needs something to forestall multiparty elections, such as nationalism and fights with neighbors

The primary goals of the CCP since the beginning of the republic were to maintain China’s territorial integrity and pull China back to the global esteem it enjoyed before the ‘one hundred years of humiliation.’ The tool to do this was modernization – first (failed) communist, then later capitalist growth. By any reasonable measure, China and the party have done this. China has not spun apart; China is now a middle income state and the world’s second largest GDP. It is now feared globally, if not loved. Its growth trajectory for the future is good. Barring some cataclysm, it seems fair to project several more decades of growth above 5%. Indeed, the only big CCP objective unfilled is unification with Taiwan.

Ironically then the CCP has succeeded to the point where it is longer necessary, specifically to the point where single-party rule for developmental purposes can no longer be justified. China is not really a poor country anymore. The ‘Asian developmentalist’ argument that democracy obstructs growth no longer holds. China is either now, or will shortly, be ready for democracy – its citizens are now educated and wealthy enough that paternalist arguments for party guidance no longer make sense (if they ever did).

But single-party states rarely just give up. And the CCP, while developing China, has also abused it. An embarrassing truth-and-reconciliation process and jail-time awaited the old regime in South Africa; one could imagine the same and more in China. So if they party lacks its old economic and prestige arguments for one-party rule, then how about nationalism? Patriotic education has been the de facto national ideology since communism collapsed with the Cold War’s end and Tiananmen. Xi’s maritime nationalism fits this well. Better tension than transition.

China’s bullying of its neighbors is worrisome. And White may be right that it is a part of a larger Chinese regional strategy to push the US out. But communist states are often badly factionalized actors. Indeed stalinist political concentration, without elections, encourages it. There may be internal reasons explaining recent Chinese belligerence.”


Filed under: Asia, China, Foreign Policy, International Relations Theory

LTW - PM Withdrawal, Another U.S. Captive in NK, & Too Much Work

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Ahn Dae-hee, former Supreme Court judge known as Mr.Clean Hands, withdraw from his nomination as prime minister just six days after nomination, a setback for President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to make the government straight after the ferry incident in April. Ahn has been accused of making 1.6 billion won ($1.5M) in six months from July 2013 to Dec 2014 by working as a lawyer after his retirement from Supreme Court in 2012. He denied any wrong doing or conflict of interest through connections, and said he was withdrawing only to avoid putting burden on Park’s administration. Park has to find a new candidate to have him pass the hearings.
 Ahn has a perfect career history as a judge for over 30 years, but it was the money he earned as a private lawyer with good reputation that made him withdraw for the PM job. Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona made over 6 million dollars in Spanish La Liga last year while a friend of my son in FC Seoul made mere 40K dollars in Korean soccer league. Lionel Messi should withdraw from Brazil World Cup starting next week.

2) Another American held captive in N.Korea
Jeffery Fowle, a 56-year-old man from Ohio, became another American arrested in North Korea on charges of violating the national law. Fowled arrived in North Korea on April 29 as a tourists, and is arrested for leaving a Bible in his hotel room. There are other two American detainees in North Korea; Kenneth Bae, who has been held since Nov 2012 and is serving 15 year of hard labor for “hostile acts against the state,” and the other Matthew Miller, 24, who entered the country on Apr 10, allegedly seeking asylum in North Korea. North Korea has been using American detainees as a leverage to open dialogues with the U.S.
There is a safe and easy way to travel to North Korea. Practice basketball well enough to play in NBA, paint your body with colorful tattoos, and have a weird nickname like “worm.”

2. Economy
1) Korean work long hours and, years also
It is well known Koreans work long hours, and it became known by recent OECD survey that Koreans also work longest years after retirement. Korea’s official retirement age is 60, but Korean men on average work another 11.1 years more before they effectively retire. Mexican men had the 2nd longest interval between official retirement and effective retirement, with 7.3 years, followed by Chilean men with 4.4 years. Korean men’s average life expectancy was 84.1 years, meaning Korean men have only 13 years to live after effective retirement. A relatively weak pension infrastructure was the key reason for Koreans working after retirement.
Korean often open their own small business after their retirement. What are the most popular small businesses for the retirees?  In a survey in 2013, multi media shops like PC Room, screen golf and Karaoke were most popular with 39%, followed by restaurants and bars with 21%, because of low entry barrier. The problem is over 90% of these small shops close after 5 years and signboard shops should be the lucrative business to go to.

3. Auto Industry
1) Samsung SDI to make batteries for Ford
Samsung SDI announced it will jointly develop with Ford next generation lithium-ion batteries that is 40% lighter and has better energy efficiency than the standard lead-acid battery for gas-fuelled vehicles. The car battery business is one of the five areas Samsung Group has selected in 2010 as new growth engines. The other four are solar cells, LEDs, medical instruments and bioengineering. Samsung SDI accounted for 25.8% of the global small sized secondary cell market last year, leading the market for four years in a row since 2010.
 
I recently had a dinner with a gentleman working for the development of electric vehicles in Korea’s largest OEM. He said the days of fully electric vehicles will be coming, not as early as many experts are expecting because of the three reasons. “First, customers wouldn’t stand losing 4 hours to recharge the batteries at a battery station. Second, the government would be losing tax money from the gasoline. Third, many people like you working in auto suppliers will be losing jobs.”

2) Hyundai Russia won quality prize from Medvedev
Hyundai Russia won the grand prize in quality management in a ceremony in Moscowled by PM Dmitry Medvedev. It was the first time the award was given to a foreign company. Hyundai received the award just three years after its launch in St. Petersburg in Russia. The company was praised for the quality of its cars, as well as its corporate leadership customer service and corporate social responsibility efforts. Hyundai Russia’s Solaris, Accent in Korea, is the best selling import compact car, holding nearly 15% of the market share. It was also chosen as the bet compact car as the Russian Car of the Year awards for 3 years consecutively.
 
Mr.MK Shin, the plant manager in Hyundai Russia, was at the ceremony, receiving the award from Medvedev. Mr. Shin spent most of his 34 years in Hyundai at quality division. The only time he worked outside quality was 1998-1999 when he worked in Overseas Engineering department with me. He was fast speaking, full of energy and dedicated to work. I personally liked him as he was the only one in my department who made me look tall.

Regards,

H.S.

Understanding Psy and Snoop Dogg's "Hangover"

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Earlier this week, international sensation Psy debuted his latest release, "Hangover," featuring American rapper Snoop Dogg (er... Lion) on his oft-visited YouTube channel. Responses to the video have been mixed. Some believe the song is just as catchy as his "Gangnam Style," a viral hit that has received over 2 billion views to date. Still others have complained, slamming the video for its incessant product placement and Snoop Dogg's ever-growing tendency to sell out. Either way, "Hangover" is entertaining and paints a rather accurate portrait of Korea's intense drinking culture and famous nightlife (sans all the twerking in gold booty shorts). For those less accustomed to Korean ways, read on to better understand what exactly the duo are doing in the five minute video.

Soju Shots: Perhaps the most notable icon in "Hangover" is the little green bottle Koreans call soju. This rice-based distilled beverage is about 20% alcohol, is ridiculously cheap (about $1USD/ bottle) and is available on just about every block of the peninsula, making it the top choice of those eager to get black-out drunk. Koreans drink so much of it, in fact, that Jinro Soju is the best-selling spirit in the ENTIRE world. And you thought Russia was the town drunk.

Drinking Dominoes: Poktanju, literally "bomb alcohol", is a shot of soju or whisky that is dropped into a glass of beer. In the video, Psy concocts these shots by playing the ultimate game of drinking dominoes. While his version may be a bigger scale of the norm, the "soju train" is totally a real thing in Korea and it's not uncommon to see young Seoulites trying to out-bomb one another on any given night of the week.



Alcohol Etiquette: Because of Korea's Confucian roots, there are a number of rules dating back hundreds of years that still dictate drinking etiquette today. When Psy pours Snoop a shot, we can see him touching his chest with his left hand, signifying his respect for his drinking buddy. There are a few additional rules specific to soju: never pour your own, and don't refill your glass until it's empty.



Love Shot: Koreans place a great deal of value on being in a relationship- their matching underwear proves it- so it's only natural for couples to show off their love when drinking. A "love shot," which is taken by locking arms and chugging simultaneously, is demonstrated by Psy and Snoop, no doubt to illustrate their budding bromance.



Cha, Cha, Cha: Koreans tend to party in rounds, or cha, that usually begin at dinner and can end as late as breakfast, which was most likely the case for Snoopsy, considering the two only had 18 hours to film the video. Depending on the demographic, said rounds involve the consumption of plenty of alcohol and tend to be held at restaurants, billiard halls, the street (no open container law here!), bars, dance clubs and karaoke rooms.

Noraebang: Ah, yes, karaoke. Unlike in the West, karaoke bars, or noraebang, are divided into private rooms to allow for sloppy singing without fear of being judged by complete strangers and to lessen pangs of morning-after shame, which is still pretty much guaranteed. In the video, we watch Psy shake a tambourine, an obligatory karaoke prop, while Snoop raps on the mic. A cameo is made by G-Dragon, an uber-famous Korean rapper and fashion icon, and he mimics the performance style of trot singers popular in 1970s Korea.



Hangover Drinks: By now, it's obvious that drinking plays an important role in Korean culture, from building business relationships to letting off steam after a long day at the office. So how do employed people function after weekday all-nighters? Hangover drinks, of course. Dawn 808, Condition Power and Morning Care are a few of the big brands of these medicinal beverages that are sold in just about every convenience store in the country. Psy is spotted in the video chugging one of these to relieve his hangover, though in actuality, they are meant to be consumed before drinking rather than after the damage has been done.

Morning-After Grub: While Americans tend to reach for greasy snacks to soak up residual alcohol, Koreans go for spicy soups, such as haejangguk ("soup to chase a hangover") and cup noodles, readily available at the corner mart. Jajangmyeon, or black bean noodles, is another popular choice, as it's the country's biggest delivery option, perfect for those who just can't quite get out of bed. Koreans also love eating this dish in billiard halls, just like Psy does in "Hangover."



Sauna Soak: When Koreans party until the sun comes up, they sometimes crash in a jjimjilbang, or public sauna. These incredible institutions boast amenities such as steam rooms, hot tubs and shared sleeping quarters that are great for sweating out toxins left over from the night before. Unlike Psy does in the video, however, Koreans tend to soak rather than swim. Many can attest that an afternoon at the sauna is the perfect way to cure a hangover. That, or the whole horse of the dog thing, which the unlikely duo seems to prefer.



Only time will tell if Psy and Snoop's collaboration will create a buzz with its high alcohol content and portrayal of Korean drinking culture, or will simply leave viewers hungover on horse dances. Whatever your opinion of Psy's "Hangover," it's safe to say that it ain't over, oppa.


Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless otherwise authorized.




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