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Agreeing to go to one theme-restaurant in Japan, we went to Kagaya where their motto is “frog is stranger than fiction.” I had no idea what this place was about, but maybe it’s better going into it that way.
It felt like an art show and dinner, all-in-one. It’s a little weird but definitely fun and funny. At different times, there is audience participation and you’ll get to choose your own adventure, as well. The food is traditional Japanese and quite nice; I think the performer’s mother cooks and serves it.
The place is small and they do a good job of fitting a lot of people in a small space. Be prepared: everyone sits on the floor.
It’s a one-minute walk from JR Shimbashi Station, but you should definitely make reservations ahead of time through their website.
Address: Japan, 〒105-0004 Tokyo, Minato, Shinbashi, 2 Chome−15−12, 花定ビル B1F
Phone: +81 3-3591-2347
About the girl
Thank you so much for visiting and reading.
Top 10 ESL Speaking Activities for False Beginners
I taught English in South Korea for almost a decade and most of that time was spent teaching false beginners. False beginners are students who’ve studied English at some point in the past but had to stop for whatever reason.
Or more commonly in Korea, they’ve studied English for years, sometimes very advanced level concepts but didn’t really even grasp the basics. It was all too common amongst my students!
Some students realized that they were actually at quite a basic level, and they were easy to teach because they were willing to listen and accept my feedback. Those that believed they were far more advanced than they actually were, of course, were a bit of a struggle!
Anyway, let’s just say that I have plenty of experience teaching English to false beginners! The key is to use activities that don’t appear “beginner-like” but which you can adapt to keep the grammar and vocabulary simple enough for them.
Keep reading for my top 10 ESL Speaking Activities for False Beginners:
#1: English Central- YouTube for English Language Learners
English Central is basically YouTube for English learners. There is a paid version of it, but you should find that the free one suits your purposes quite well. There are videos on a whole host of topics, ranging from beginner to advanced so you should be able to find something that works for you. Of course you can turn English Central into a speaking activity by asking warm-up and follow-up questions, etc. Here is more information about English Central.
#2: Is that Sentence Correct?
Is that Sentence Correct is a great warm-up for ESL students, especially beginners. Intermediate and advanced level students are usually too advanced to fool! Check out how to do this fun ESL warm-up activity. You can turn this one into a speaking activity by getting students to discuss with a partner or small group.
#3: Puzzle Finder Icebreaker Activity
Puzzle Finder is an ESL icebreaker activity that is challenging, but easy enough for false beginners. It’s a great way to get students to mix and mingle, meeting each other at the beginning of the semester. This is a great activity that firmly belongs on any list of Top 10 ESL Speaking Activities! Check out more information about Puzzle Finder.
#4: Riddles and Trivia
I love a good riddle or trivia night at the pub. And, I also love to use them in my classes! The only problem with trivia and riddles is that it’s pretty difficult to find good ones for ESL students, especially beginners. But, I finally found something that was written for ESL students specifically. Although I usually make all my own materials for my classes, I used the Monster Pack every single day. While mostly a reading activity, you can turn it into a speaking activity by getting students to answer the questions out loud as a class. Check out more details about the Monster Pack here.
#5: ESL Surveys
ESL surveys are kind of the ultimate 4-skills activity and they firmly belong on any list of Top 10 ESL Speaking Activities. Here are 6 ESL surveys that I designed to use while teaching in Korean universities.
#7: Conversation Starters for Adults
Conversation starters can be a fun way to get students talking at the beginning of the class. You can use them for a question of the day kind of thing. Of course false beginners won’t be able to sustain long, in-depth conversations but these ones mostly lend themselves to short, 3-5 minute partner conversations. You can also adapt them, or choose new ones for very low-level students. You’ll also need to reduce the speaking time. Check out my Top 10 Conversation Starters for Adults here.
#8: Agony Aunt-Problem/Advice
Even though students are false beginners, they often have a pretty decent grasp on giving advice, at least in South Korea. It’s something that’s pretty straightforward and they’ve often studied it for years. Agony Aunt belongs on my Top 10 ESL Speaking Activities list because it’s engaging, interactive and students really seem to enjoy it. More details about Agony Aunt here.
Dictogloss is one of those extremely versatile 4-skills ESL activities that lends itself to just about any topic or level of students. You can do it with writing, or speaking so do whatever your students need the most help with. Check out this challenging ESL activity here: Dictogloss details.
#10: Avoid the Hobby Unit Brain Rot
It seems like every single ESL textbook for beginners through intermediates has a unit on hobbies. I got sick of it and so did the students. In order to make things more interesting, I used this fun group-based activity. It’s a bit challenging, but students have preparation time before speaking so most false beginners can manage it without too much difficulty. And so rounding out our list of Top 10 ESL speaking activities is: Avoid the Hobby Unit Brain Rot!
Did you Enjoy Top 10 ESL Speaking Activities for False Beginners?
Then you’ll love this book, 101 ESL Activities: For Teenagers and Adults. It’s the ultimate resource for ESL teachers because it’s written for teachers, by teachers. It’ll make your lesson planning easier, guaranteed. You can check it out on Amazon now:
The post Top 10 ESL Speaking Activities for False Beginners appeared first on ESL Speaking.
|Jackie Bolen: How to Get a University Job In Korea|
My Life! Teaching in a Korean University:
University Jobs Korea: universityjobkorea.com
I keep telling myself I won’t go more than a couple of days without updating this blog, but things just keep not working out that way. This time, I’ve gotten sidetracked by photography. I started out a few months back as worse than the average casual photographer. I used to be infamous among my friends for taking terrible, blurry photos, and photography is definitely what eats up most of my time in keeping this blog. Recently, a friend mentioned that she would be willing to sell me her Nikon for a song since she’s looking to upgrade. My current DSLR is worse than useless, but I’ve been putting off replacing it until I can justify the cost. A year ago, when I started to think seriously about figuring out how to take photos, shelling out for a new DSLR would’ve been akin to finger-painting with oil paints.
My photos won’t be winning any awards anytime soon, but I am starting to feel handicapped by the tools I have, which is a good sign — it’s what I wanted to feel before I went for the new camera. The friend’s announcement has had me spending a lot of time fiddling with photography this past week, which ate into actual blogging time.
Now that I’ve gone on about it, I have to post bar food photos, which are the worst. I need to work on how to handle low-light situations, and maybe a new camera could help with that.
On to the place.
Barmingo opened at the end of February, and since then, it’s been getting some darling treatment from the press with mentions as a new Seoul hot spot in both Vogue and Olive. Barmingo is the little sister of Baraboom, located just up the road, a place where it is infamously hard to get a seat without a reservation. It looks like things are pretty much the same with Barmingo — luckily, we dropped by early enough on a weeknight to grab a seat at the bar.
The exterior of the bar is purposely ambiguous, the idea being that only those “in the know” will know it’s there, and the interior has a bit of the same kind of speakeasy feeling, but with an opium-den-meets-South-Florida kind of vibe. There is a ridiculous, massive paper dragon circling the entire front part of the bar, which is lit by lanterns and bare red light bulbs. Plenty of table seating, including a large wooden table running the length of the bar in front, and lots of screamingly vibrant colors that probably only work together given the dim lighting.
The owner was very eager to help and make suggestions. After we settled on the Cointreau orange pork, he suggested we pair it with the house white wine, and when he realized they were out of the house white, he opened a bottle of sparkling white wine and served it to us for the house wine price. He also suggested we try the egg-fried rice after watching us hem and haw over our second item, reasoning that it would balance well with the pork.
It was cute to watch the owner explain the pork dish. I get the feeling he has to defend it a lot, because it’s a reworking of a dish that is very familiar to the Korean palate (tangsuyuk). He explained that it’s battered in glutinous rice flour rather than wheat flour to add texture and chewiness and that the sauce is from a “French orange flavored liquor” — the Cointreau. He said, essentially, that it may not be what we were used to (primarily speaking to B) and that it was “tangsuyuk (sweet-and-sour pork) for adults, not children,” which would have come off as obnoxious had he not been so kind. What he meant, at any rate, was that it was heavy on the sour, light on the sweet.
Tangsuyuk is one of my favorite fast-food type meals here — I basically only ever eat jajangmyeon (black noodles) to get to the fried pork. That having been said, tangsuyuk is almost always way overcooked, probably because it may be two or three days old (and continuously re-fried) before it gets to you. It was really nice to have some cooked to order with a decent cut of meat. The sauce was on the verge of overpowering, but good enough that I was still sopping it up with the pork as I went.
The owner was right that the egg-fried rice would’ve made for a nice counterpart, so it’s too bad the kitchen got backed up and we saw neither hide nor hair of it until the pork had been half an hour demolished, the empty plate long sent back to the kitchen.
It was still good, though. Made with long-grain rice, it was just salted enough for me, which means that it will be too salty for some, but it was definitely an elevation of the stuff my roommates and I used to snarf on street corners at 4 am after a night at the local in Brooklyn (a culinary practice I have dearly missed). Not a shred of soggy, not a drop too dry.
It is a bar, though. I know. I’m getting to that.
The Flamingo is (obviously) the bar’s signature drink, and it was the first thing the owner suggested we try. It’s made with Botanist gin, cockscomb and lavender syrup, fresh lemon juice and sparkling white wine. I got none of that. It was good — a nicely balanced, tangy drink with bubbles. Would I pay another 18,000 won to have it again? No. I’d just as soon dump rum and Dr Pepper into a tumbler at home for the equivalent of a fiver.
I’m not a cocktail’s target audience, though, so take my opinion with a rock of salt. Also, I don’t have the foggiest idea what cockscomb is supposed to taste like.
Then came the Ppeppino, which the waitress said means “cucumber” in Italian. It doesn’t. That’s “pepino”. But close enough and forgiven, because it was the kind of drink that makes a chronic cocktail avoider reevaluate her life a little.
But then I had a feeling it would. Botanist gin, absinthe, cucumber, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. I love absinthe, but I think we can all admit it is an abrasive drink. The gin helped to clean it up a little, while the cucumber toned it down and the lime balanced its bite. The simple syrup had adapted and blended in, as it should.
Barmingo offers a full menu of dishes including chili chicken gizzards, dried tofu and seafood stew, choy sum and deep fried pork skin. They even have a few desserts, including one made with flower buns and dulce de leche, which I personally would like to go back and try. The food ranges from small tapas plates from 5,000-12,000 won on up to the most expensive dish, oven-roasted duck with bao buns, for 35,000 won, with the average falling somewhere around 20,000. Other cocktails include the Opium Martini (Kaoliang, Kwai Feh, dry vermouth and lime juice), The Monkey Swing (Monkey Shoulder whisky, ginger syrup and Swinkels beer) and the Barmingo X Cointreau Fizz (Cointreau, Campari, lime and soda water), and prices range from 14,000-18,000 won (most being 18,000). They offer a decent but small selection of beers, wines and liquors, with a few surprising options. The menu was interesting enough that I will definitely go back just to try a few more of their dishes and cocktails, despite my preference for home-drinking. If you do drop in, definitely give the Ppeppino a try. And don’t forget to make a reservation.
서울시 용산구 이태원로54길 8
8 Itaewonro-54-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Phone: (02) 790 1966
Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-3pm; 5pm-11:30pm
Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.
My favorite neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan is Harajuku because it’s a great place for shopping and people watching, but also just the feel of the place is fun. The Airbnbs in the area are great, as well.
The weekend is busy with lots of lively, interesting people. Near Harajuku Station is a bridge where people dress-up in “wacky” clothes. The, just past the bridge is Yoyogi park and Meiji shrine, which you should definitely check out. Omotesando is the best place for window shopping.
We can all use a little positivity and happiness in our lives.
Therefore, if you are happy and you know it, then you should say it!
Once you know how to say ‘happy’ in Korean, you will be able to let people know how you are feeling. Learning how to express different emotions can really help you get closer to your Korean friends.
Let’s get to the bottom of this happy Korean word!
‘Happy’ in Korean
There are two words that are used to say ‘happy’ in Korean. The first word for happy is 행복하다 (haengbokhada). The second word for happy is 기쁘다 (gippeuda). Dictionaries usually translate 기쁘다 as ‘glad’, rather than ‘happy’. However, its meaning is very similar to the English word for ‘happy’.
Formal ‘Happy’ in Korean
1. 행복합니다 (haengbokhamnida)
2. 기쁩니다 (gippeumnida)
If you want to say ‘happy’ in formal Korean then you can use the above expressions. Formal Korean is used in interviews and presentations.
A: 행복합니까? (haengbokhamnikka?) – Are you happy?
B: 네, 행복합니다. (ne, haengbokhamnida.) – Yes, I’m happy.
Standard ‘Happy’ in Korean
1. 행복해요 (haengbokhaeyo)
2. 기뻐요 (gippeoyo)
You can use these expressions when talking to people who are older or not particularly close to you. Notice how the forms of the words have changed from their dictionary form. All ‘하다’ words will change so that their endings become ‘해요’ in the standard form. Noticing how these words change can help you notice patterns more easily and learn Korean more quickly.
A: 행복하세요? (haengbokhaseyo?) – Are you happy?
B: 네, 행복해요. (ne, haengbokhaeyo.) – Yes, I’m happy.
그 사람과 있으면 행복해요? (geu saramgwa isseumyeon haengbokhaeyo?)
Are you happy being with him?
Informal ‘Happy’ in Korean
1. 행복해 (haengbokhae)
2. 기뻐 (gippeo)
You can use these expressions with people who are close to you and who are of a similar or younger age.
A: 기뻐? (gippeo?) – Are you happy?
B: 응, 기뻐. (eung, gippeo.) – Yes, I’m happy.
나는 아주 행복해. (naneun aju haengbokhae)
I am so happy.
A Happy Person in Korean
If you want to use the word ‘happy’ to describe a noun, then you have to change its form again. 행복하다 becomes 행복한, and 기쁘다 becomes 기쁜.
행복한 사람 (haengbokhan saram) – happy person
기쁜 남자 (gippeun namja) – happy man
행복한 여자 (gippeun yeoja) – happy woman
그때가 내 인생에서 가장 행복한 시기였다.
(geuttaega nae insaengeseo gajang haengbokhan shigiyeottda.)
That was the happiest time of my life.
Happiness in Korean
To say ‘happiness’ in Korean, you can say 행복(haengbok) or 기쁨 (gippeum).
행복을 찾다 (haengbokeul chatda)
To find happiness
A Word of Caution About Romanized Korean
If you want to sound natural when speaking Korean, then learning how to read the Korean alphabet is a must. It only takes a couple of hours, and you will see an instant improvement in your Korean ability.
If you are serious about learning Korean then the first thing you should do is learn the alphabet. If you want to continue your Korean study then our full Korean course can help you out with structured lessons to help you learn efficiently and effectively.
How to Say ‘Happy’ in Korean Wrap Up
Now that you know how to say ‘happy’ in Korean, let us know what Korean experiences make you feel happy!
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
The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (新宿御苑) in Tokyo, Japan is massive with a circumference of 3.5 km. We spent hours walking around and viewing the garden’s three distinct styles: French Formal, English Landscape, and Japanese traditional. What a place to run in the grass and get lost!
The Baenaegol Valley where Seongbulsa Temple is located in northern Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Seongbulsa Temple is located at the base of Mt. Hyangrosan, and next to the flowing Lake Miryang. It’s beautifully situated in the very scenic Baenaegol Valley. Seongbulsa Temple is on the very outskirts of the Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do city limits. Just to the north and west lie the cities of Ulsan and Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.
In an elbow of the lake, and past a few pensions, you’ll make your way towards Seongbulsa Temple up a country road. The first thing to greet you is an elevated golden statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). In front of this elevated statue are three smaller stone statues of the Buddha enacting the hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil motif, as well as a stone statue of Podae-hwasang.
To the left of this elevated statue is the Gwaneum-jeon. Housed inside a cave, the Gwaneum-jeon Hall houses a maroon clothed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the main altar. She’s joined to the left by a statue of Yongwang (The Dragon King). Painted on the rock face to the right is a mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal and Yongwang. And to the left of the main altar are rows of jade-like statues of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
To the right of the golden statue of Mireuk-bul, and under the temple’s Iljumun Gate, is a set of cement stairs. These stairs lead up towards the Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Seongbulsa Temple. The entrance to the left reveals rows of bronzed coloured Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the exterior walls. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll be welcomed by a rather spacious interior for devotees. Resting on the main altar is a uniquely clothed statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) sitting in the centre of a triad of statues. He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the left of this main altar is a darkened mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), as well as a guardian mural to the right of the main altar.
Stepping outside the Geukrakbo-jeon and past the graffiti written on the walls of the main temple courtyard (yes, a first), you’ll notice a tall stone statue dedicated once more to Gwanseeum-bosal. Somewhat camouflaged by the neighbouring folds of the mountain, Gwanseeum-bosal is cradling a baby in her hands.
It’s to the left of this statue that you’ll find the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hall are three rather plain murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
And it’s to the left of this shaman shrine hall, and up an overgrown forested pathway, that you’ll find a mountainside shrine dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). If not for the blue sign pointing me in this direction, I would have missed the emaciated statue of the Buddha.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take a taxi out to Seongbulsa Temple because there is no public transportation out to this remote area. The taxi ride should last 40 minutes and cost 22,000 won one way.
OVERALL RATING: 5/10. Seongbulsa Temple is a bit of a tough one to rate. While it’s beautifully situated next to Lake Miryang in Baenaegol Valley, the temple itself almost seems abandoned. In fact, I thought it might have been abandoned all but for the monk that greeted me as I was leaving. As for the temple itself, the Gwaneum-jeon cave hall, as well as the beautiful granite statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the rear of the temple grounds are a couple highlights at Seongbulsa Temple.
The entry to Seongbulsa Temple.
A stone statue of Podae-hwasang in the foreground with Mireuk-bul in the background.
A closer look at Podae-hwasang.
And a closer look at the golden Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).
The view that Mireuk-bul gets to enjoy.
The Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Seongbulsa Temple.
A painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the side of the main hall.
The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon
The view of the valley from the temple’s main hall.
The granite statue of Gwanseeum-bosal with the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.
The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Seongbulsa Temple.
The painting of Dokseong that adorns the exterior wall to the Samseong-gak.
A look inside at Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
Who is joined by this close-up of Dokseong.
A shrine to the left rear of the Samseong-gak.
The shrine dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul that’s up an overgrown pathway.
The Gwaneum-jeon cave hall at Seongbulsa Temple.
A look inside reveals a haunting atmosphere.
The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon cave hall.
One more amazing view of the Baenaegol Valley where Seongbulsa Temple is located.
In some cultures, asking somebody their age when you first meet them might seem a little bit strange. However, in Korea, this is one of the most important questions that you can ask. Learning how to say ‘How old are you?’ in Korean is extremely important, so make sure that you learn this vital phrase!
The reason that it is so important is that Koreans use different language when talking about people of a different age. Read this article to see how the way you refer to friends changes based on age. For example if you are female, and your friend is a (slightly) older male, you will refer to him as 오빠 (oppa).
Age also determines what level of politeness you should use when speaking, and it can also affect things like who pours the drinks, cuts the meat at a barbeque restaurant, or pays the bill in certain situations.
‘How Old Are You?’ in Korean
There are three words that can be used for age. If you are speaking to somebody who is a lot older than you, or if you are in a formal setting, then you should use the word 연세 (yeonse).
If you are speaking to somebody younger than you or of a similar age to you then you can use the words 나이 (nai) or 살 (sal).
살 (sal) translates as something closer to ‘years old’ rather than age. If you want to say ‘years old’ when talking about someone who is a lot older than you, then you should say 세 (se) instead of 살 (sal).
Rather ironically, in order to ask somebody their age in Korean, you have to guess how old they are in order to allow you to use the correct level of politeness.
Age is usually counted using the ‘pure Korean’ number system (하나, 둘, 셋… [hana, dul, set…]) rather than the Sino-Korean number system (일, 이, 삼…[il, I, sam…]) although for higher numbers sometimes the Sino-Korean system may be used.
Formal ‘How Old Are You’ in Korean
1. 연세가 어떻게 되십니까? (yeonsega eotteoke doeshimnikka?)
If you are in a formal situation such as a presentation or interview, then you can use the above expression to ask how old somebody is.
A: 연세가 어떻게 되십니까?
How old are you?
B: 마흔다섯 살입니다.
I am 45 years old.
Standard ‘How Old Are You’ in Korean
1. 연세가 어떻게 되세요? (yeonsega eotteoke doeseyo?)
2. 나이가 어떻게 되세요? (naiga eotteoke doeseyo?)
3. 몇 살이에요? (myeot salieyo?)
When speaking to somebody older than you, then you should ask 연세가 어떻게 되세요? If you are speaking to somebody of a similar age then either of the other two expressions is acceptable, although 몇 살이에요? sounds a bit less formal than 나이가 어떻게 되세요?
A: 나이가 어떻게 되세요? (naiga eotteoke doeseyo?)
How old are you?
B: 스물 살이에요. (seumul salieyo.)
I’m 20 years old.
Informal ‘How Old Are You’ in Korean
1. 몇살이야? (myeot saliya?)
If you are asking somebody their age then you are probably not close enough to them to get away with using informal language. It is best to play it safe and say 몇 살이에요? instead of 몇 살이야?
A Word of Caution About Romanization
Learning Korean using Romanized words is like learning with one hand behind your back. To learn Korean effectively, it is worth taking the time to learn how to read the Korean alphabet. Learning to read Korean doesn’t take long, just a couple of hours. It will improve your grammar and word retention, not to mention your pronunciation. If you want to learn Korean in a structured way, take a look at our full Korean web course.
Now that you know how to say ‘How old are you?’ in Korean, you will find it a lot easier to know which Korean words to use when speaking with somebody. Practice by asking your Korean friends how old they are so you know how to handle when it’s asked of you!
The following post is the original English language version of a story I wrote for Newsweek Japan (relevant issue to the left) a few weeks ago on the South Korean.
The results of last month’s South Korean National Assembly went sharply against my prediction that the left would get routed. It serves me right for actually making a clear claim; next time I’ll stick to banalities to elide accountability. And I suppose I can take solace in that just about everyone was surprised at how well the Left did, including the left itself.
My logic in the prediction piece was straight out of political science: Duverger’s law predicts that partisan fragmentation – the fracturing of the Korean left’s votes across 3 parties – would throw lot of plurality seats, which are 82% of the National Assembly, to the right. This clearly did not happen. In fact, the new center-left People’s Party drew from the conservative New Frontier party instead of the traditional left-wing Democratic party. This is a huge surprise, and should be a huge red flag that Park Geun-Hye is not a popular president. Indeed, an early lame-ducking of her administration may be the most important outcome of the election.
The full essay follows the jump.
South Korea’s Saenuri Party (새누리 – ‘New Frontier’) was delivered a crushing defeat in the country’s legislative elections this past Wednesday, losing 30 seats and its majority in the legislature. It is the first time that the ruling government party of Korea has lost an election in sixteen years. The main opposition party, the Minjoo Party of Korea (더민주 – ‘Together Democratic Party’) now has a plurality of seats at 123 to Saenuri’s 122. Anh Cheol-Soo, former Minjoo presidential candidate and parliamentarian, defected late last year and led his newly-created Gookmin Party (국민 – ‘People’s Party’) to a better-than-expected 38 seats. The Jeongi Party (정의 – ‘Justice Party’) and independents snapped up the rest, winning 6 and 11 seats respectively. President Park Geun-Hye will have to navigate a hung parliament for the remaining 20 months of her presidency.
An Unexpected Defeat
The results caught many off guard. The left has long been plagued by infighting and factionalism, and frequently unable to mount effective opposition to Park’s agenda. Anh’s high-profile departure from Minjoo late last year led many to conclude that the left-leaning voters would split between Minjoo and Gookmin, generating unexpected victories for the Saenuri. Many expected Saenuri to win seats where a combined left-wing vote would have defeated the right. Analysts widely expected left-wing factionalism to ‘throw’ 10-20 seats to the right.
Further, virtually every poll had Saenuri leading the opposition by double digits. Within her own party, Park’s approval ratings are an impressive 78%. Further, South Korea’s aging demographics favor the right: 40.9% of eligible Korean voters are in the forties and fifties, the vast majority of whom are faithful Saenuri voters. They put a higher emphasis on national security and foreign policy than younger voters, and national security is more salient than ever on the peninsula following repeated provocations by the North this year, including a fourth nuclear test in January and multiple missile launches.
So What Happened?
The 300-person South Korean National Assembly is a unicameral mix of both single-member, first-past-the-post (FPP) seats and proportional representation (PR) seats. The FPP seats are the 246 geographic districts in which the candidate with the most votes wins. However, Korean voters cast a second ballot as well, for the party of their choice, to allocate the remaining 46 seats. Those seats are distributed among the parties proportional to their percentages on the second ballot. Japan has a similar dual-voting system, but a two-house parliament, while South Korea has only one.
Anh Cheol-soo’s Gookmin Party sought to take advantage of the small but tempting share of PR seats, and this strategy seems to have paid off. Several polls predicted Gookmin winning less than 25 seat, made up mostly of second-ballot selections poached from the main opposition Minjoo. But Gookmin dramatically exceeded expectations by sweeping nearly all the FPP seats in Korea’s southwest, a traditional Minjoo stronghold that supported Minjoo by a staggering 9-1 margin in the most recent presidential election. Anh’s start-up party fared well in the PR seats too, with many Korean voters selecting the party after voting for a Saeruni or Minjoo candidate on the first ballot.
Vote Totals – Korea Legislative Elections 2016
+ / – 2012
Anh’s success, and Saeruni’s defeat, were buoyed by a high turnout of young voters: a 4.4% and 7.7% increase among voters in their twenties and thirties, respectively. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high of 12.5%, more than double the overall national rate. Those fortunate enough to have jobs struggle with low wages and high household debt, which topped $1 trillion at the end of the 2015, nearly the highest in the world. The International Monetary Fund recently downgraded Korea’s growth forecast to 2.7%, below the global average and far below what Korea experienced during its rapid industrialization in the second half of last century. Exports remain sluggish amid a Chinese cool-off, with staple industries like petrochemicals and shipbuilding hit the hardest. All this appeared to drive younger voters to Ahn’s centrist alternative.
On the political front, Saenuri has publicly suffered from the government’s highly controversial deal with Japan regarding the comfort women. Park demanded the issue be resolved by the close of 2015, and many Koreans feel she got a poor deal. The negotiations occurred in secret, which upset many activists. And the final deal required that Korea would no longer pursue this issue in international fora, further upsetting those NGO and civil society groups. Intense anxiety over the Japanese colonial period is deeply woven into the fabric of South Korean national identity, and it is likely the deal helped ignite an anti-Park backlash at the polls.
Ramifications, Domestic and Foreign
At home, Korea now faces gridlock. The combined left (Minjoo + Gookmin + Justice + assorted independent candidates) controls a quite unexpected 57% of the seats of the National Assembly. That is a huge majority, especially if these parties can work in concert. They easily have the muscle to block President Park’s initiatives and launch their own. Park in turn could veto any left-leaning legislation, and the National Assembly would then need a 2/3 majority to override her veto. Saenuri still has enough votes in the Assembly to prevent veto-overrides. In short, Korea is now entering a period of ‘divided government,’ in which the legislature and executive are controlled by different parties, neither of whom can overcome institutional checks and balances to govern coherently. This political stasis will generate little new legislation and accelerate Park’s natural slide into a lame-duck. South Korea’s next presidential election is in late 2017. Normally Korean presidents diminish in the months beforehand, but Park now faces 20 months of immobility.
Abroad, the left in Korea has traditionally been more friendly toward North Korea and tougher on Japan and the United States. But the executive runs foreign policy in Korea, and in general Asian democracies tolerate far less legislative intervention in foreign policy-making than Western democracies, especially the US. Radical swings are therefore unlikely. But there are two areas where foreign-domestic intersection will give the left-bloc leverage:
The Comfort Women Deal
Last year’s deal was negotiated solely by the right and in secret. So the acid test of its acceptance is whether the South Korean left will seek to undue it now that it is back in power for the first time in years. At the moment, opponents of the deal can, fairly or not, reject it as elite, backroom arrangement foisted on an unsympathetic public by a pro-Japanese conservative right-wing. But now that the left is politically relevant again, it has the opportunity to return to the deal, seek to alter its terms, reject the constraint to no longer speak internationally against Japan on the comfort women, and so on. If this happens, the old status quo of recent years’ acrimony could easily return. But if the left ignores the issue, that would tacitly give bipartisan approval to the deal. The deal would then graduate from being that of one party or one president to a national consensus broadly unchallenged by the main voices in Korean politics. That would be a huge step if it occurs, and this is the primary issue in Japan-Korea relations to watch in the next twelve months.
As I argued in this space in the April 12 issue, geopolitical tension in Northeast Asia is increasingly becoming ‘missilized.’ Drones, rockets, and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are rapidly becoming as important as aircraft carriers or destroyers. North Korea’s nuclear program particularly captures this evolution. Defending against these UAVs will require missile defense in both Japan and South Korea. In Japan, this is less controversial, but in South Korea, the left has fought the emplacement of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Now they have an unexpected opportunity to block it, by refusing to pay or allocate locations for it. Should the left not raise the issue, that would signal, as it would regarding the comfort women deal, bipartisan support for missile defense that has hitherto been lacking.
Conversely, should the left seek to re-negotiate the comfort women deal, roll back the emerging consensus on missile defense, or seek to engage North Korea as ‘partner’ (as it did in the past), major domestic political strife would ensue and international questions about Korean treaty commitments would arise.
Until recently, the South Korean left suffered electorally for its perceived friendliness toward North Korea. Minjoo leader Moon Jae-In, for example, did not admit until 2015 that North Korea sank the South Korean warship Cheonan in 2010. Much as western liberal and socialist parties struggled with how to approach the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Korea’s left has never quite been comfortable defining North Korea as an enemy. The ensuing perception that the left was weak on national security cost it repeatedly at the polls, particularly as North Korea’s spiraling nuclear and missile programs have made it ever clearer that North Korea is not a partner for peace. Recently however, the South Korea left has sounded tougher on the North, admitted that its nuclear program is a great threat, and hinted that THAAD may be necessary. These concessions improved its electability and opened the path for it to campaign on domestic issues against President Park, where its real strength lies. It did not win last week on foreign policy, and it would be foolish to throw away this unexpected victory on a policy course it could not implement easily anyway.
The left would face similar damage to its restored political credibility if it re-opens the comfort women deal. The deal is not popular, and for several years, ambitious Korean politicians may be tempted to attack it for political gain. But like it or not, the deal was signed by a democratically elected South Korean president. This gives the arrangement a legitimacy that the 1965 Japan-Korea normalization deal does not have, because that treaty was signed by South Korea dictator Park Chung-Hee (the current president’s father). To pull out now would cast obvious doubt on Korea’s ability to stick to other high-stakes diplomatic deals, raising all sorts of credibility issues in future negotiations of whatever kind. This point is often mentioned in the Korea media commentary as well. Korean op-ed pages broadly thought the deal was too generous to Japan, but most of them have noted that Korea must now stick to its word. There was a great deal of global attention when the deal was finally struck. Many partners of both Japan and Korea, especially the United States, were visibly relieved the issue was finally resolved. The left may find political gain in re-opening it, and desperate left-wing presidential candidates may be tempted to use it next year, but the diplomatic consequences would be high.
The South Korean left is now in the widely unanticipated position of blocking executive actions in a country with a strong tradition of executive-driven politics. This is atypical for Korea and Asian democracies generally. The left’s factionalization has brought it down in the past. Now it has the surprising opportunity to turn a protest vote into a governing mandate.