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In the interest of ‘pundit accountability,’ I will post my thoughts about the upcoming US presidential election this week. It is a pretty open-and-shut affair this year. As Foreign Policy put it in an unprecedented presidential endorsement: “A Donald Trump presidency is among the greatest threats facing America, and the Republican standard-bearer is the worst major-party candidate for the job in U.S. history.” Yup.
The following op-ed is the English language re-print of my anti-Trump essay for today’s issue of Newsweek Japan. I’d like to thank my editor at Newsweek for allowing me to wander out of my area of northeast Asia to write about the US election. Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but this is not a normal election. Donald Trump represents an unparalleled threat to US democracy. He must be defeated, and I hope this op-ed helps that outcome in however small a way.
Finally, I don’t write this as partisan hackery. I am a registered Republican and have been my whole life. I worked for a Republican congressman, voted against Bill Clinton twice, gave money to a GOP candidate as late as 2002. I even interned for John Boehner way back in college. My ballot this year was split as I voted Republican in some Ohio races. I suppose I could have voted for Rubio. But not Trump. My god. He’s a terror. He’s not really a Republican as we thought of them at all until recently; he’s more like Marine Le Pen than anyone we know from the tradition of American politics. You think Nixon’s abuse of power was bad, just wait till Trump gets his hands on the Justice Department.
The essay is after the jump.
It is a cliché in American politics to say that every election is ‘the most important in our lifetime.’ Usually this is not so. But 2016 has become that because of the character of one of the major party candidates. Republican Donald J. Trump is the most dangerous person nominated for the presidency in the history of the Republic. His white nationalist politics is remaking the Republican party into something like the French National Front, while his character, as revealed over the last 18 months, suggests he would govern as an authoritarian. He is the closest America has ever seen to Mussolini, and the election has now become a referendum on his fitness for the presidency.
Trump is a lurching id with no self-awareness or control. He is flamboyantly ignorant, but even this characterization falls short. He does not just lack access to facts, but the realization that they matter. He lies with breathtaking proficiency, often contradicting himself within minutes. For example, recently he responded to one of the ten or so women who accused him of sexual assault by denying he ever encountered her, and then produced an eyewitness who claimed that nothing unseemly had happened when he witnessed them interacting decades earlier on an airplane – despite that day’s earlier claim that they had never met in the first place. The absurdity of this alibi was not an oversight because it was not intended to convince – only to kick up dust and allow Trump or his enablers to claim that facts are in dispute.
Trump is pathologically abusive to others. Trump University was purportedly a scam that sold plagiarized investment advice to unsophisticated customers at outrageous prices, with customers pressured to increase their credit card limits so that the bill could be raised. He has repeatedly claimed that the key to his success with women was to treat them poorly. He bragged about groping women unknown to him, and when evidence of this confession emerged he attacked those women as too ugly to molest – more confession than denial. He has spoken warmly of slaughtering Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood as a counterterrorism tactic, a claim so offensive that it is difficult to imagine anything more harmful to US interests or standing in the world, or more encouraging to abusive regimes around the world, whose worst crimes are normalized by this evil rhetoric.
His proposed ‘policies’ are vacuous and self-contradictory. He wants to raise taxes on the rich or perhaps slash them. He wants to withdraw troops from overseas engagements or perhaps install them there permanently to steal foreign oil. Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. Seeking consistency or meaning in these statements is pointless, because they are not policies or even fully-formed ideas, but temporary debaters’ points serving no purpose other than to verbally dominate or confuse at single points in time, after which they cease to exist.
No presidential candidate in American history has ever behaved in this manner.
Trump’s rallies are orgies of hate and violent rhetoric, often directed toward journalists. They, escorted to press pens by police, are assailed by Trump and his agitated followers as disgusting traitors, as deliberate agents of American destruction. He has described journalists as slime, scum, and disgusting, stated that he hates them, and mockingly pondered killing them, deciding after a moment of dramatic consideration that no, he would not. He inflames his fans at his rallies, who verbally assault the penned-up journalists under police protection. After an hour or two of ritual abuse, reporters are then led back out under police protection. While Trump would without question pose a dire threat to freedom of speech in the United States – and, indeed, he has promised to undermine it through the court system and changes to law – what is most chilling is the realization that this talent for generating and projecting hate can be used against other victims if Trump is given the full power of the US presidency – possibly blacks, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, or other groups. The abuse has become so acute that the Committee to Protect Journalists has taken the rare step of involving itself in politics to warn about Trump’s attacks.
Authoritarianism is difficult to define, but all the elements for it present in the Trump quest for the presidency except, it appears, enough voters. What is clear is that a great deal of attention and money can be gained by leading this newly awakened movement, and after the election on November 8 it will still be there, seething with anger at the “stolen” election and armed with military-grade weaponry because of lax American guns laws. Trump, humiliated on the world’s biggest stage, will need the love and validation of his passionate and humiliated devotees more than ever, and will feel unconstrained in doing everything in his power to stay in the spotlight. And in four years a smarter and more disciplined leader may emerge to try again, and may succeed.
Filed under: Clinton, Conservatism, Elections, Newsweek, Republican Party, Trump, United States
Here is a fact: most coffee shops are going to have about the same kind of coffee. If you’re ordering an Americano, it’s going to taste pretty much the same in most middle-tier coffee shops. If you go to one of those 1,500 won cheapo take-out only joints, you’re not going for quality. You’re going for cheap. And, Starbucks tastes like Starbucks, and another one opens literally within shouting distance of the next one, and both are full.
So. If you are trying to rise a bit above that aforementioned “middle-tier,” and your not Starbucks (which seems immune to overexposure), your first instinct will be to step up your coffee game. Better beans. Better coffee making practices. And, these are both very good and very important things. In our previous review, for Mellow Coffee in Gimhae, I praised the atmosphere of the place, sure. But, if the coffee wasn’t any good, all the mellow moods might not be enough to get us back there. After all, “All the Coffee in Korea” is a helluva lot of coffee. That also means that, unfortunately, sometimes a great product isn’t always enough.
Establishing atmosphere, a theme is often employed to get people in the door. You’ve got cat cafes, dog cafes (even a sheep cafe in Seoul that was so sad and just a couple months before I’d started this blog so I didn’t take any pictures), coffee shops that double as eyeglass centers and furniture shops. And, quite a few that double as flower shops have come and gone. But, if your coffee shop doubles as a florist and is down a narrow alley, in one of Busan’s most bustling downtowns, even an average cup could make for a memorable experience.
Blossom would be impossible to spot if this sign, on an unassuming chair, ever got pilfered by some obnoxious teen. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. So, after months of curiosity, Mr. Coffee and his better half went down the rabbit hole that is down a darkened alleyway.
Blossom’s rustic charm becomes apparent almost immediately. It’s a small space, clean but weathered, likely someone’s home or a small repair shop in another lifetime. A humble display of the proprietor’s work greets newcomers at the entrance, along with several tables to settle down.
The coffees are priced in that upper middle-tier range. The above Cafe Latte was 4,500 won, a little steeper than I would have liked to pay. Besides the cute clouds at the top of the foam, it was pretty much an average cup of coffee. A little bitter, it could have been better, but it was definitely not the worst and I didn’t feel ripped off at the time.
So, the coffee was just fine. Does that mean the better half and/or I won’t be going back? Not necessarily. “But, Mr. Coffee, you rambling hypocrite,” you might ask, “that’s not what you said above.” Well, whenever someone asks me a question, I always tell them the same thing: How dare you speak to me.
Then, I will tell you that there are exceptions to the rules. For me, this coffee shop is in a convenient location to my home. It’s quiet, because it’s down a narrow alley (two, actually, as the above alley is from a different direction), and this also gives it a little extra sense of cool. And the coffee was fine. It wasn’t up to the level of Mellow Coffee. But, it’s certainly as good as the coffee I got from Mint Bloom, the flower cafe I frequented in Gimhae last year. That also was in a convenient location. And, the flowers smelled nice.
But, will it be convenient for you? Or will its unique location be enough to check it out? I think these should both propel you here at least once, maybe twice. At dusk on a misty, dreary day not far removed from Halloween, there’s definitely something special about a hot cup of java in a cheery, flowery cafe down a dark, gloomy alley.
DIRECTIONS: Seomyeon subway, exit 6. U-turn and turn right down the next road. Follow this down to the traffic light with NC Department Store across the street. Turn right. Follow this road a couple blocks until you see the above sign next to the above alleyway.
JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.
Have you decided to visit South Korea? Congratulations! You’re about to embark on a magical journey full of amazing food, vibrant culture, and some of the friendliest people you’ve met in your life. Who knows – you may love it so much that you decide to move to Korea permanently! That being said, you have a tough choice ahead of you – when is the best time to visit Korea?
Each season has something different and exciting to offer visitors, so it’s important to try to determine whether a spring, summer, fall, or even winter visit would be in your best interest to set yourself up for success and make sure that you have the vacation of your dreams. Read on for some of the insight into the best time to visit Korea, and good luck planning your upcoming vacation!
Visit Korean in Spring
Birds chirping, flowers blooming, the days getting longer and warmer – what ISN’T there to love about spring? Korea has four distinct seasons, so they absolutely experience a true spring (rather than a couple of temperate weeks in between winter and summer). You can generally experience the best parts of Korean spring anytime between early April and mid-June.
In those months, you’ll see cherry blossom trees blooming everywhere you look, and you’ll enjoy warm (but not too hot!) weather, so you’ll be able to explore national parks and outdoor markets without sweating your face off. Korea is also home to some pretty amazing outdoor festivals out in the hills away from the cities, and many of them coincide with the spring because it’s the perfect time to be outside without worrying about extreme heat or inclement weather.
You should visit Korea during the spring if your interest is split between indoor and outdoor activities — it’s the perfect season to enjoy shopping and restaurants and then heading out for a hike or festival to wrap up your trip.
Visit Korea in Summer
Summer, on the other hand, is NO joke in Korea. Summer temperatures will leave you drenched in sweat and running for the air-conditioner every chance that you get, so do not book a summer trip if you’re not a fan of the heat and you’re planning on doing anything that requires spending more than five minutes outside. Not to mention, most of the best Korean dishes are spicy, so you won’t have much relief from the sweat while you’re indoors either!
The latter half of summer is known as monsoon season, which usually affects China and Japan far more than Korea. That being said, Korea still traditionally experiences at least two or three big storms in this time span. Fear not, though! A monsoon passing through while you’re on vacation doesn’t mean it’s ruined, by any means – it just means you’ll have more time to shop, enjoy restaurants, and spend time experiencing the best indoor parts of Korean culture.
There are some benefits to summer travel — due to being an off-peak season, summer flights are usually much less expensive than spring and fall flights from most parts of the world. You should visit Korea during the summer if you’re not afraid of the heat and you’d like to save some money on plane fare so you have more to spend while you’re in Korea – you’re still bound to have an amazing time!
Visit Korea in Fall
While the spring is definitely a popular time to visit Korea, the Fall is even more popular – the trees turn brilliant colors ranging from rich red to vibrant yellow, the summer heat dissipates and leaves cool, crisp days, and festivals are even easier to come by.
Fall in Korea is usually warm enough that you can enjoy a stroll about town in a tee shirt and jeans, but it’s also cool enough that you won’t be uncomfortable and can pop on a sweater if you’re so inclined. One of the best parts of visiting Korea is wandering around the city streets to check out different shopping districts and to generally explore, and there is no better time to do that than September through November when the days get shorter and cooler.
If spending time outdoors on your upcoming vacation is important to you, consider making your trip to Korea in September or October – both months have an average temperature ranging between 50 and 75 degrees, so it’s the perfect time to get outside and see what this interesting country is all about!
Visit Korea in Winter
I’m not going to sugar coat it – winter sinks its claws into Korea in the beginning of December, and it makes it pretty miserable to go outside for a solid three months. While it’s not impossible by any means to venture outside in this period, your skin will definitely be a bit red from the brisk temperature when you make it to your final destination!
Because Korea has so much to offer in terms of music, movies, and indoor shopping, there’s still plenty to do in the winter – if you’re not afraid of the cold and come well-equipped with multiple layers and a good winter coat, you’ll have an amazing time. Also, don’t forget that most Korean food is pretty up there in terms of spiciness – eating spicy food is one hundred times more fun in the winter than it is in the summer, so you’ll definitely have to eat your way around town to counteract the cold.
Winter is also an off-peak time to travel, so you’re bound to find similar deals on air fare and lodging as you would traveling in the summer. Consider making your trek to Korea in the winter if you’re used to winter and can’t be scared off by a little snow – you won’t be disappointed!
Whether you’re a lover of sky high temperatures or you’d rather stroll around while it’s snowing, a well-timed Korea trip will give you everything you want (and more). When do you think is the best time to visit Korea? Please let us know in the comments below – there’s no wrong answer!
Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn
I love the neighborhood, Nampo-dong, in Busan. Lots of street food and small stores to shop. I found a fun dessert stand in the area called Perito Gelato (페리토젤라또) that serves gelato in the shape of a rose. Delicious and fun, three flavors for 5,000₩.
Address: 중구 광복로 39번길 7 와이즈파크 1층 외부매장 Busan
Google maps: link
If you teach students who are fluent, or close to it, then you’ll need very different ESL activities than if you were teaching beginner or intermediate students. ESL activities for advanced students need to: Be challenging. Too easy or simple and the students will feel like they’re being treated like babies. Reflect real life. If someone is an advanced level English student, then they are up for the challenge of authentic materials. Be new. By the time a student has…
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|Jackie Bolen: How to Get a University Job In Korea|
My Life! Teaching in a Korean University:
University Jobs Korea: universityjobkorea.com
This year we wanted to have a couples costume that people would recognize in Korea. Nothing more recognizable than an iconic local bridge! We constructed the Busan Gwangandaegyo or Gwangan Bridge (부산 광안대교) to wear for Halloween. It took us ~10 hours to build, but we had such a good night at the Gwangan Halloween Pub Crawl -especially with our battery-powered LED lights!
Thailand is heaven on earth for fruit lovers with stores and vendors selling them everywhere. There’s a huge range of tropical fruits of all shapes and sizes available, so try these ones the next time you’re there! Perfect for a scorching hot sunny day!
Roughly the size of a large melon, jackfruit has a very thick skin and its yellow or orange flesh has a succulent sweet taste. The fruit is divided into multiple sections, each of which contains a waxy textured meat surrounded by seeds. They aren’t easy to cut by yourself, so we recommend buying a readymade pack at the market!
Mangosteens have been part of traditional medicine in various Asian countries for a long time. The hard purple shell can easily be peeled away to reveal the snow-white edible flesh on the inside that’s sweet and tangy. They are known as the queen of all fruits as they boast major health benefits such as helping to maintain healthy skin, manage weight and reduce the risk of cancer, inflammation, allergies, and diabetes.
If mangosteen is the queen, then durian is the king of all fruits. With a weight of 2 – 5 kg, durians have a grayish brown skin and sweet golden yellow flesh on the inside. The smell of this fruit is so pungent that it is banned in many public establishments, making people either love or absolutely hate it. Be careful not to eat too much of it in the summer as it will increase your body’s internal temperature, making you sweat and feel hot very fast.
This colorful and unearthly looking fruit has a lovely soft flesh that has a texture similar to a kiwi or melon. Dragonfruit comes from a cactus plant and is typically eaten with a spoon. When ripe enough the skin can easily be torn open, otherwise slice it lengthways and squeeze the fruit out from its skin. The taste is a cross between a kiwi and pear.
‘Rambut’ means hair in Malay, which is what this fruit is covered with. The rambutan resembles a lychee – but hairier. The shell is covered with soft yellow and red spikes. Peel away the shell to reveal a firm, white translucent flesh that is sweet and slightly acidic. Be careful not to bite down on the hard seed in the middle!
The longan is a sibling of the lychee and rambutan, but sweeter and not as juicy. It has a thin brown shell that cracks easily with a black pit inside. Make sure you only eat the translucent part. The easiest way to peel it is to make an incision with your thumbnail and tear away the rest of the skin. Bite off the pulp with your teeth and avoid the hard seed in the center.
7. Passion Fruit
Passion fruit has a wrinkled purple-brown skin enclosing flesh-covered seeds. It is more commonly sieved rather than eaten raw and is one of the most versatile Thai fruits as it can be used in many different ways, especially in drinks and desserts. Some popular desserts with passion fruit include panna cotta, ice cream, sorbet, and jelly.
8. Rose Apple
Available in green and red, a rose apple is shaped like a small pear and has a crunchy and juicy texture. They are also very low in sugar content but very filling, making them the ideal snack!Bite into one of these on a hot day to refresh yourself with the sweet taste! Make sure they’re not too overly ripe as the taste can be a bit acidic.
9. Custard Apple
As opposed to rose apples, custard apples are very soft and sweet. They are light green and about the size of a tennis ball.To eat them, divide the fruit into two with your hands and scoop out the soft white pulpy flesh with a spoon.
Pomelos are one of the most popular citrus fruits. They are similar to grapefruit but taste more sweet than bitter. Many traditional Thai dishes include pomelo as one of the main ingredients in savory dishes. Colors of the fruit range from pale yellow to orange to red.
Why not try a floating market tour to try and buy these delicious tropical fruits as you explore Thailand’s most well-known floating markets? You can also enjoy a longtail boat ride through the canals and enjoy various cultural shows. There’s also a cooking class where after the market tour, you can try your hand at making some signature Thai dishes, many of which include these fruits! If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to check out Trazy.com, your travel shop for Asia to find the best deals and fun things to do as well as detailed guides and tips!
“Tropical fruits” By Tumitu Design
“Jackfruit, the national fruit of Bangladesh” By Shahnoor Habib Munmun
“Mangosteen” By Taboty
“A pile of durians at Air Itam, Penang” By The Wandering Angel
“Dragon fruit from Vietnam” By ProjectManhatten
“Ephelium Lappaceum(fruit)” By Forest & Kim Starr
“Frutos Exoticos-LonganFruit-002” By Surukuku
“Passion fruit red” By Sujaki F
“Rose Apple” By Hafiz Issadeen
“Immature custard apple” By Jaiprakashsingh
“Citrus grandis” By Ananda
The main hall at Euirimsa Temple in south-western Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Euirimsa Temple is located in south-western Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do in a valley below Mt. Inseongsan. Euirimsa Temple was first constructed in 688 A.D. by the famed monk Uisang-daesa (625 A.D. – 702 A.D.). Initially, Mt. Inseongsan was called Mt. Yeohangsan. The name Mt. Yeohangsan was in reference to the Buddha’s teachings enlightening all living beings towards Paramita (perfection or completeness). Like Mt. Yeohangsan, Euirimsa Temple was initially called Bongguksa Temple. It was only after the Imjin War (1592-98), after the warrior monk Samyeong-daesa (1544-1610) defended the nation from this temple, that the temple changed its name to Euirimsa Temple. During the Korean War (1950-53), Euirimsa Temple was completely destroyed. It was only a full forty years after its destruction, in 1995, that Euirimsa Temple was rebuilt to its former glory. And even now, in 2016, Euirimsa Temple continues to undergo renovation and reconstruction.
You first approach Euirimsa Temple down a long country road. You’ll know that you’ve arrived at the temple when the road ends and the temple parking lot begins. Just before the temple parking lot is a colourful and stately built Iljumun Gate. Have a look up as you pass under it at its intricate patterns and vibrant colours.
After passing under the Iljumun Gate, you’ll approach the outskirts of the main temple grounds. The front façade that first welcomes you to the temple courtyard is Euirimsa Temple’s bell pavilion and conference hall. Taking the stone stairs to the right of both of these structures, you’ll be able to see all that the temple has to offer.
To your far left is the temple’s main hall. The exterior walls are adorned with an expanded set of thirty-two Palsang-do murals. Have a look, because I’ve never seen anything like them before. And to the left of the main hall is an eloquent Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) statue. As for inside this large main hall, and resting on the main altar, are three large seated statues. The first one in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal.
To the right of the main hall, which is one of three, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Of the three paintings, it’s the older Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) that’s the most unique. But the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) painting, with its white tiger, is also pretty nice, as well. Rounding out the set is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) in the centre.
The next hall in the line of three shrine halls is the Nahan-jeon Hall. While this unpainted shrine hall looks older in style, the interior is newly redone. The interior of this hall is filled with brand new paintings adorning its walls, as well as several dozen all white statues of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha).
The final hall of the three, and also unpainted like the Nahan-jeon, is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall. Out in front of this hall is an ancient three tier pagoda. As for inside, and seated all alone, is a beautiful statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. To the left of the main altar is a magnificent guardian mural. And rounding out this hall are various painted incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal, so have a look around.
It should be noted that Euirimsa Temple, as of late 2016, is under major restorations.
HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Euirimsa Temple is from the Masan Nambu Intercity Bus Terminal. From the terminal, take a taxi for 24 minutes, or 18 kilometres. The ride will set you back 15,000 won.
OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. There are quite a few things to explore at Euirimsa Temple like the older painting dedicated to Dokseong inside the Samseong-gak. Also, the artwork in and around the Gwaneum-jeon Hall is really second to none, as are the extended Palsang-do murals that adorn the exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon main hall.
The newly built, and colourful, Iljumun Gate at Euirimsa Temple.
The front facade to Euirimsa Temple.
The Daeung-jeon main hall at Euirimsa Temple.
The old three tier pagoda in the temple courtyard.
The Gwanseeum-bosal statue to the left of the main hall.
The fifteenth painting from the extended set of Palsang-do murals that adorns the main hall.
A better look at some more of the extended Palsang-do set at Euirimsa Temple.
A look inside the main hall during morning prayer.
The bell pavilion at Euirimsa Temple.
The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
The mural of Sanshin and his white tiger.
As well as this older Dokseong mural that resides inside the Samseong-gak.
The Nahan-jeon Hall to the right of the Samseong-gak.
A look inside the Nahan-jeon at the main altar.
The rows of white Nahan statues inside the hall.
And the Gwaneum-jeon Hall to the right of the Nahan-jeon Hall.
The main altar statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
A look at the guardian mural inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
As well as one of the murals of Gwanseeum-bosal adorning the interior walls.
For foreigners following Korean presidential politics, the last few years have been rather bemusing. And when you ask most Koreans about the state of affairs, they too usually express a mix of bewilderment at how major events have been handled from the deeply tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry and the mismanaged MERS outbreak to the collapse of the shipping industry. Much of it just doesn’t make sense on several levels but mostly when considering rational reactions. Something has just seemed off, out of sorts, awry in a Wizard-of-Oz way.
And then, over the past 10 days or so, things entered the realm of stranger-than-fiction with the emergence of “Rasputin,” “Eight Fairies,” a cult kook who spoke with the dead, a dressage rider who rode right past college admissions, and a president who knew them all.
Choi Soon-sil-gate, as it is now known, has transfixed and bewildered the nation to no end. And there is no end in sight even though, to almost everyone’s surprise, the woman behind the “gate” suddenly returned to the peninsula from Germany despite, days earlier, saying she was too ill to travel and did not intend to return. Her return epitomizes the confounding qualities of this unfolding Korean drama–there she was in a purple parka and shades, pulling her carry-on through Incheon Airport, passport in hand (a passport the government said it was considering suspending to hasten her extradition), just like any other traveler. No one expected it but there it was in living color. Meanwhile, the calls for President Park Geun-hye to resign are increasing with each passing day as people wait for the next piece of this perplexing puzzle to emerge.
With all of this in mind, 3WM wanted to provide a deeper Korean perspective with some insight into the origins of this strange saga. Our source has been answering questions about Korea for years and provides a rather comprehensive and cogent overview of this mind-boggling spectacle. This post originally appeared on the Ask A Korean blog and T.K. permitted 3WM to run part of it here with some minor changes and additions.
President Park Geun-hye is in deep trouble. The stories have been out for a few days now, and even the English-language magazines and papers have caught on. Park’s confidant has been running a massive slush fund, as she extorted more than $70 million from Korea’s largest corporations. The confidant was also receiving confidential policy briefings and draft presidential speeches–all on a totally unencrypted computer. The confidant rigged the college admission process so that her daughter, not known to be sharpest tool in the shed, would be admitted into the prestigious Ewha Womans University. That last bit turned out to be the first step toward the president’s ruin, as the Ewha students’ protest over that preferential treatment developed into the larger investigation about the relationship between Park and her confidant, Choi Soon-sil.
But the English language coverage of this scandal is missing something. The newspapers do have most of the facts, which they recount diligently, but they fail to fully account for the Korean public’s stunned disbelief. Although the scale of the corruption here is significant, Koreans have seen much, much worse. Not long ago, Korean people have seen Chun Doo-hwan, the former president/dictator, made off with nearly $1 billion, and this was back in the mid-1980s when the money was worth more than $4 billion in today’s dollars. Even the democratically elected presidents of Korea–every single one of them–suffered from corruption charges. Lee Myung-bak, the immediate predecessor to Park, saw his older brother (himself a National Assemblyman) go to prison over bribery. Lee’s controversial Four Rivers Project, which cost nearly $20 billion, was widely seen as a massive graft project to push government funding to his cronies who were operating construction companies.
For better or worse (mostly worse,) Korean people have come to expect corruption from their presidents. So why is this one by Park Geun-hye causing such a strong reaction? It is not because Korean people discovered that Park was corrupt; it is because they discovered Park was irrationally corrupt. Koreans are not being dismayed at the scale of the corruption; they are shocked to see what the scale of the corruption signifies.
Park Geun-hye’s corruption scandal revolves around a central question: why would the president risk her administration for Choi Soon-sil? In fact, one of Park’s selling points as the presidential candidate was that she was less likely to be corrupt because she had no family. Her parents–former dictator Park Chung-hee and his wife Yuk Yeong-su–were dead, and she was estranged from her sister and brother. This argument had a modicum of plausibility, since all the previous president’s corruption involved their family in some way. (Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung had issues with their sons; Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak, their brothers.)
But the lack of family did not stop Park Geun-hye from being corrupt, because she apparently had to give money to Choi Soon-sil. But why did Park Geun-hye, the president, even bother with Choi Soon-sil, a nobody? To answer this question, we must look back into modern Korean history to trace the relationship between Park and Choi.
Park Geun-hye met Choi Soon-sil through Choi’s father, Choi Tae-min. The elder Choi, born in 1912, was a pseudo-Christian cult leader. He started his adult life as a policeman and soldier, and at one point he worked at a small newspaper and a soap factory. By 1970s, Choi was fully engaged in the occupation for which he would be known: being a cult leader, claiming to heal people. Choi called himself a pastor, but he never attended a seminary.
Choi Tae-min met Park Geun-hye for the first time in 1975, when Park was 23. Park Geun-hye had just lost her mother, who was assassinated by a North Korean spy. (The spy was aiming for Park’s father, the dictator Park Chung-hee, but missed and killed the first lady instead.) Shortly after the assassination, the elder Choi sent several letters to Park Geun-hye, claiming that the soul of Park’s mother visited him, and Park could hear from her mother through him. Park invited Choi Tae-min to the presidential residence, and the elder Choi told her there that Park’s mother did not truly die, but merely moved out of the way to open the path for Park Geun-hye. This was the beginning of the unholy relationship between Park Geun-hye and Choi’s family, which included Choi Tae-min’s daughter Soon-sil.
Once the elder Choi won Park Geun-hye’s confidence, he leveraged the relationship to amass a fortune. Choi set up a number of foundations, with Park Geun-hye as the nominal head, and peddled influence. The influence-peddling and bribery became so severe that the dictator Park Chung-hee summoned Choi Tae-min to personally interrogate him. In the interrogation session and thereafter, Park Geun-hye would fiercely defend Choi, her spiritual guide and connection to her dead mother. In a Wikileaks cable from 2007 when Park Geun-hye first ran for president, the U.S. Ambassador to Korea noted: “Rumors are rife that the late pastor had complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.”
Choi Tae-min’s high times ended on October 26, 1979, when his patron lost her father in another assassination. (Fittingly, Park Geun-hye’s own downfall began around October 26 of this year.) The assassin Kim Jae-gyu, then-head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, said one of the reasons why he decided to assassinate his boss was because of the toxic relationship between Choi Tae-min and Park Geun-hye. Although Park Chung-hee was fully aware of Choi Tae-min’s grafting, the elder Park let it continue for the sake of his daughter. Kim believed that this was another indication that Park Chung-hee was losing his marbles.
For the next decade, Park Geun-hye and Choi Tae-min were removed from politics. The assassination of Park Chung-hee led to another murderous dictatorship, this time by Chun Doo-hwan, then finally democratization in 1987. During that time, Park operated several charitable foundations, which were in reality no more than private slush funds made up of the money that Choi grifted during her father’s reign. Park Geun-hye became so dependent on Choi Tae-min that she would become estranged from her remaining family, her sister Park Geun-ryeong and her brother Park Ji-man. In 1990, Park’s siblings went so far as to petition then-president Roh Tae-woo that their sister be “rescued” from Choi Tae-min’s control.
Choi Tae-min died in 1994, at which point Park Geun-hye’s confidence moved to Choi’s daughter, Soon-sil. Park entered politics in 1997, winning her first election as an Assemblywoman in 1998. She would prove to be a competent politician, earning the nickname “Queen of Elections.” She lost in the presidential primaries to Lee Myung-bak in 2007, but came back strong to win the nomination and eventually the presidency in 2012. Although Park’s relationship with the Choi family briefly became an issue during her two presidential runs, she dismissed them as baseless rumors, claiming that neither Choi Tae-min nor Choi Soon-sil was involved in her works as a politician.
As it turned out, Choi Soon-sil owned Park Geun-hye just as much as her father did. Peddling the presidential influence, Choi extorted tens of millions of dollars from Korea’s largest corporations. When they found a small and profitable company, Choi’s cronies would straight-up steal it, threatening the owner of the company with the company’s destruction and personal harm. More importantly, Choi effectively controlled the presidential power. Every day, Choi would receive a huge stack of policy briefs from the presidential residence to discuss with her inner circle–an illustrious group that included Choi’s gigolo (no, really) and a K-pop music video director (I’m serious). Choi would receive ultra-confidential information detailing secret meetings between South and North Korean military authorities. Choi would receive in advance the budget proposal of more than $150 million for the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, and distributed them to her friends’ projects. Choi went around saying North Korea would collapse by 2017 according to the spirits that spoke to her, and the Park Geun-hye administration may have set its North Korea policy based on this claim.
For years, Park’s aides complained about the mysterious off-line person to whom the president would send her draft speeches–when the drafts returned, the professionally written speeches were turned into gibberish. We now know that one of Choi Soon-sil’s favorite activities was to give comments on the presidential speeches. Even the famous Dresden speech, in which Park Geun-hye outlined her administration’s North Korea policy, had a number of markups from Choi Soon-sil. The aides who dug too deep into the relationship between Park and Choi were dismissed and replaced with those close to Choi, to a point that Choi’s personal trainer became a presidential aide. No, really. I wish I were joking.