Paying For Truth

Most people would agree North Korea isn’t a very nice place to live.  But a new problem has emerged as more defectors make it out of the country — their testimonies have been found to be faked:

“In January, the DPRK government released a video claiming to show Shin’s father denouncing his son’s stories as fake. When questioned, Shin confessed that parts of his account were also inaccurate, including sections on his time in Camp 14, the infamous labour camp for political prisoners, and the age at which he was tortured.

Shin is not alone in being found to have inaccurate.  [sic]  Another North Korean, Lee Soon-ok, offered testimony to the US House of Representatives in 2004, describing torture and the killing of Christians in hot iron liquid in a North Korean political prison.

But Lee’s testimony was challenged by Chang In-suk, then head of the North Korean Defectors’ Association in Seoul, who claimed to know first hand that Lee had never been a political prisoner. Many former DPRK citizens on the website NKnet agreed Lee’s accounts were unlikely to be true.”

Part of the problem?  Western interviewers pay cash for stories from new defectors, probably dealing with a ton of issues adjusting to life in a new country, that fit a very specific narrative.  And the more horrific, the better:

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Posted in Korea, North Korea, Politics, South Korea | 2 Comments

Autumn Stench

Gingko trees are everywhere in South Korea, especially in Seoul.  And come every fall, they manage to create quite a stink:

“The Seoul Metropolitan Government vowed in September to get rid of gingko nuts from the city pavements after complaints about their smell swelled.

‘This month, the metropolitan government organized a team of 446 people to collect gingko nuts,’ said Oh Hae-young, a city official.

‘The metropolitan government is also planning to hand out the collected gingko nuts or donate them to senior citizens at community halls and welfare centers in Seoul.’”

The Seoul government is also spending thousands of dollars to replace the stinky female trees with fruit-less male counterparts.


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Posted in History, Korea, Kultur, South Korea | Leave a comment


50 things an Englishman noticed living for six months in New York City.  Three of my favorites (they’re all pretty good though):

“39. Order a cup of tea in a cafe or restaurant and you will be confronted with a glass or mug of lukewarm water with a teabag of some alarming flavour, like pomegranate or boysenberry, floating sadly on the top like a punctured dinghy, and some “milk” that is probably 50% cream, delivered on request. I’m just going to say it once: the water needs to be at boiling point for the tea to infuse!!!”

Tea is for when you have a cold and only then.  Duh.

“40. Just order a cup of coffee. They know what they’re doing with coffee.”

You think Jesus drank tea?  No.  He only drank coffee.  And Mountain Dew.  And beer.  (What’s wine?)

“42. A plate of Doritos and some guacamole is considered a full meal.”

Again, just like Jesus did.  Duh.

Posted in Kultur, America | Leave a comment

Make The Crazy Rich Man Go Away

White people are the ultimate arbitrators of whether or not someone is “really” black.

It’s in the Bible or something.

Posted in Politics, America, Assholes | Leave a comment

Since Nobody Asked

I’ll be rooting for the Texas Rangers in the playoffs solely because a Korean dude, Choo Shin-soo, is one of their sluggers.  I do like how Toronto plays though, so I wouldn’t be too heartbroken if they made it through.  And I seriously still can’t grok how the Astros are an American League squad.

In the National League, I kind of follow the Dodgers but would also love to see the Cubs make it because, well, decades of mediocrity have to end some day don’t they?  (The Dodgers have a Korean ace in Ryu Hyu-jin, but he’s questionable to throw a pitch due to an injury that has kept him out all season.)

Honestly, as a beleaguered Baltimore Orioles fan it’s really more about who I root against than I do for, which I realize is sad and pathetic and I should just go volunteer for the Donald Trump campaign.  That said, thank the FSM that the Yankees are out, and fuck the Cardinals.

I would not be undone if the Mets happened to make a go of it either.

My final prediction, just for the hell of it?  L.A. beats Texas in six games for the World Series.

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Meta Dread

Finally saw Berberian Sound Studio last night.  It’s amazing — a truly unnerving horror film that (I rewound a few times so I think I’m right on this) doesn’t actually contain any blood.

The bad news is I watched it by myself right before bed and didn’t sleep well because I’m an idiot.

I’d also love to know where they found all that fantastic old-school sound recording gear.

The soundtrack (by Broadcast) is also, predictably, amazing.

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It’s Not Him, It’s You

I probably won’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me but never say never.  I’m a great admirer of his long-form pieces at The Atlantic but I do think he has a slight tendency to over-write at times.  I agree with his central point — that an American society which treats blacks, particularly young black men, differently than it does whites, is a barbarous society and possibly irredeemable.

Would I get more out of reading a book-length take, in addition to the fact that memoirs aren’t my thing?  Maybe.  My loss.  (I am interested on his take on Black Panther though, but again I don’t read comic books any longer but what a masterstroke by Marvel.  Maybe I’ll download some issues when they come out.)

But what’s truly fascinating to me is to see the vivid, dripping resentment among conservative, mostly male, and entirely white second- and third-stringers of the right-wing media world.  I’m not going to link to any of the butthurt, but a few things stand out:

a) His name is Mr. Coates, or more simply, Coates.  Your attempt to tear him down by using “TNC” is adorably pathetic.

b) Yes, he has sold a lot more books than you and he will in the future.  I’m glad you admit this but it doesn’t mean your genius remains difficult to see while he somehow whored himself out to a “librul” reading audience.  It means he’s a better and — natch — a much more important writer than you.

c) So what if he’s moving to Paris?  He’s a writer.  Writers, especially American ones, have tended to do that since World War I or so.  The fact that you can’t afford to do so is entirely your problem, not his.

Honestly, so much of the subtext of the vitriol against Coates basically seems to boil down to, “Go back to Baltimore, boy.”

Again, the basic question he’s asking is this — can the racial injustice upon which America was built and has thrived be redeemed by any amount of reconciliation or spectacular act of forgiveness of the part of blacks towards whites?

His answer is, obviously, a resounding “no” but there are plenty of opportunities to disagree with him.  (And note: his position isn’t one of “nihilism.”  Quite the opposite in fact — the need for racial justice is a universal.)

But the rank condescension towards Coates doesn’t even stem from a critique of ideas.  It really has more to do with a black guy having the utter temerity to frame the ongoing discussion of race in America around his own (often devastating) experiences.

Like I said, very ugly stuff but it’s also kind of astonishing to see wingers so blind to their own obvious biases.

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Elephant Gym, Balance EP

Well hello there, Taiwanese math rock.  Is that really a thing?  I hope so.

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You May Think It Funny But Snot

So this weekend as summer finally turned to fall I managed to catch a mild cold due to sleeping with my bedroom windows open.  And of course, I’ve been fortifying myself with hot tea and vitamin C tablets and multivitamins and cough drops.  (The worst part of teaching with a cold being that you still have to talk even if your throat is killing you.)

This morning I was teaching adults and had to pause to blow my nose a few times (which Koreans consider to be super disgusting, so I turned my back to the class and walked into a corner to do so) and eventually I started having a coughing fit.  I was sweating a little bit too because my small fever seems to be breaking (good news!) and here I was patting myself on the back for being a diligent foreigner who scoffs in the face of sickness.

My students were kind of mortified by it all, however.

I think I’ve lived here long enough to understand that just showing up while sick isn’t enough.  You also have to actively hide the fact that something is ravaging your insides.  Put on a smile, even.  Just getting through the day with a hacking cough and surrounded by sticky wet naps isn’t nearly good enough.

Granted, my adult students were showing genuine concern for a minor cold that happened to peak at the wrong time.

But the next time a foreigner tells you you should expect to work while sick in South Korea, also know that you’ll be expected to like it.

Posted in ESL, Korea, South Korea, Teaching | Leave a comment