Friday, 31 December 2010

Pati isoyo

It's just me. Work. Write, travel, do photos, write. Read. Sometimes talk.
Until it is some 1st May, 3rd May, 15th August or Silvester like now. And I end up having nothing to do because I never plan anything like that if I have too much work.

On a haste we decided to have common dinner. My Iranian friend Mona is an excellent cook and I really felt good with her companionship for the day.

At some point there was an idea to go to the Big Chill, our favorite bar in Suwon, where the fate had placed us to live at the moment. "Aga, are you coming? It's 11 pm? " a desparate sms from my Georgian friend Irina. Yes, sure I do, but first we need to get taxi. We went down to an ajoshi who is our watchdog and makes sure we don't get wasted in the dorm.

"Taxi obsoyo, no taxi, busy" our watchdog told us in broken english. My broken Korean was able to comprehend what he wanted to say.

In this case we left our industrialized prison camp and headed to the main street. Or so we thought that we ought to head to the main street. "Let's hitchhike" thought I seeing a guy next to the car at the lot. I stopped him and said "Happy New Year whoever you are and whatever are your plans. We are women as you see and if you wanna have a ride with two good looking ladies please take us to Nammun. Chinguryl mannayo" said I hoping that he was gentleman. To be frank I have no idea how did he look like, only that he was taller than me. Maybe Mona does. Maybe not. It was dark.

Does it sound spooky? Two foreign women stopped the car and abused a Korean young man? Well, he seemed to more than enjoy to drive us to Nammun where my friends where more than happy to see us.

Nate, thanks for the pool game. One of the most unequal in my life, but companion matters, not winning. Irina, thanks for dragging me out. Mona, thanks for the dinner. Nick, for being a DJ. All of you, just for being.

To my anonymous friend in the big sexy Hyundai: thank you for being as well. Thanks to you I could wear my summer shoes. You are our:

yes exactly. You are our pride of dorm. If you were not Korean it would not happen. So this is why I love Korea too.

Happy New Year people :)

Yeah, forgot to mention that I got wasted a bit so the tradition was fulfilled. And the taxi way back was just there the moment we went out of the bar. I like it.

Happy New Year 2011

To all my readers - Happy New Year 2011.
My all your decent wishes come true and indecent be forgotten :)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sleeping with the enemy part 2

Yesterday I attended Christmas dinner at my ambassador's residence.

As we had been talking and mingling among each other the topic of recent events came up naturally and we had been wondering what comes next in inter- Korean relations and how it may affect our lives as expatriates.

Although general public does not care at all, the government does. At some point I said that I admire their cold-blooded reaction for Cheonan sinking in March, as in the West it would probably result in war. My current boss said that the chain of avoiding responsibility and pushing decisions as high up as possible is what makes that cold-blooded reaction. I cannot repeat here all the comments and remarks for obvious reasons. Although everyone agreed that life in Korea is like sleeping with the enemy. I heard that once from Swedish colonel from the Panmunjom base. In my recent coverage for press it is confirmed by many statements from guys who had accomplished military service. The threat is there and life goes on. Thrilling and toxic in one.

A year ago one of my readers asked me what would be the path to reunification and whether I believe in it or not. And if I could describe North and South Koreans as two different nations. I ask such questions very often and I see that the attitude varies depending on the generation and on the position. Older people repeat like mantra that there are only one Koreans and that South Korea moves on behalf of North in the international scene as well. The theme of broken families appears every now and then too.

But younger generation if asked really thoroughly replies clearly that North Korea is a problem, but it should be reseolved differently and that even if the regime changes one day they do not want 20 million of hungry people to be fed at their expense. They do not want higher taxes and no longer feel any kinship. If it was me to bet what is going to happen in the future, I bet that there will be two Korean states. They will maybe merge one day but only in a federation and only if the North catches up economically.

Are they two nations? Maybe... already yes maybe not yet. But... the first layer of Korean mentality is hierarchy and kinship - this is common for both South Koreans and North Koreans. Equally important in both societies. But the core difference is in the layer which was created very recently - the attitude to consumerism and competition. The attitude to democracy and acceptance of different ideas. Despite some 50 000 North Koreans who stay hidden in China and numbers in other countries, majority is behind the iron curtain brainwashed and convinced that elsewhere are only problems, diseases, AIDS, terrorism, etc. If even some of them watch South Korean dramas in secrecy, there is a chance that their mindset is non-capable of accepting modern capitalistic competition and requires a lot to be just given - a phenomenon known as homo sovieticus. South Koreans are totally different. Accept rat's race and competition, public debates, differences in the opinions as part of the normal daily life. My answer is yes, they are on the way to split forever.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Roots of conflict

Popular prejudice in the world perceives South Korea as democratic and liberal society which opposed totalitarian North. In reality the picture is a little bit more complicated than that. Let me introduce you to Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, and the first one of subsequent South Korean dictators.

When Syngman Rhee had taken power as the first president of the Republic of Korea, he faced the reality of a post-war, post-occupation country with a society striving for survival.

In 1945 when the American presence on the Korean panninsula began, the country's economy was totally devastated. Although infrastructure had been spared from larger destruction, anything of economic value had been exploited to the fullest by Japanese military needs during the war.
More over South was the agricultural part of the penninsula with not more than 1/4th of the heavy industry, but in return, a food supplier for 65% of Korea.

Growing tensions with North under the communist regime did not make it any easier either. It is said that between 1945 and 1950 US overseas aid and UNRA donations saved lots of Korean lives, because hunger and starvation occured a lot.

Syngman Rhee was a Korean aristocrat born to a Yangban family. Under Japanese occupation had been involved in resistance movement and because of that was forced to leave the country. In exile he spent most of his life in USA where he gained university education but also continuously campaigned for Korean independence. He was also a member of Shanghai based Korean Provisional Government, however most of the time he stayed in USA.

His time in Korea came when it became apparent that short-term lived war alliance between US and Soviet Union will no longer be continued. Any attempts to discuss the future of the Korea by joint US-Soviet commision had failed and so the armistice line was settled on the 38th parallel. In such circumstances Rhee had started his term in the presidential office. The country urgently needed constitution and it was prepared. It secured a lot of civil rights which general Hodge had previously secured and was largely copied from the constitution of USA but with ready and effective escape clauses that guaranteed the right to impose martial law with direct presidential executive order if any danger arising from foreign relations should occur (Art 57).

Such solution seemed inevitable. Even before establishing the Republic, communist guerillas from the North had initiated a lot of unrest and uprisings. Authorities had been attacked on various occasions, the biggest uprising occured on Jeju-do and started to expand all over the country which faced already starvation and other problems.

These rebelions had been reason which led to the open surpression of civil liberties and excused why the first president of Korea had to act agressively on society by establishing the National Security Law.

By that time (1948) occupation forces withdrew from the penninsula and Kim Il Sung started to prepare for war which eventually broke out on June 25th 1950. The struggle led to a loss of 1 million lives and had been the direct challenge for the UN Chartter. 95% of the territory had been taken over by North Korean communists, some 0,5 mln Koreans were forcely dragged into Soviet lagers or for starvation in the middle of nowhere in vast Uzbekh and Kazakh territories. Seoul had been torn down to debris.

By the time the armistice was eatablished in 1953 Rhee became a ruthless authocrat. Although he bravely opposed the invasion he also used it as an excuse to strengthen his legitimacy and get rid of the opposition. He amended the constitution twice expanding the power of the president and to be elected by public vote. By the end of his term Rhee reminded more of the king surrounded by aristocrats than of a modern democratic leader.

Repressive measures towards society and growing infiltration, control and surpression of human rights using the anticommunism as an excuse had led to clash with American diplomacy. US Secretary of State delivered note stating that Rhee's style of ruling was ''unsuited for free democracy”. Although during this time anti – Americanism has been also growing because the American army had never openly critisized Rhee, all whatsoever critique had been done behind closed doors.

After 12 years in power facing massive growing protests president Syngman Rhee resigned from the office of the president and went into exile to USA.

Some may say that it is not an easy task to run a democratic society which permanently faces danger of war but also internal infiltration and provocations. Indeed history of the world shows that during transition from feudal state into modern democracy some form of autocratic rule often occurs.

Although critiques may say that president Rhee abused power to get rid of the opposition and exagerated threat from the North. In my own point of view both reasons occured. Also as a representative of Yangban family he belonged to the cast which very often had temptation to abuse power. And indeed he had opposition to get rid of.

The number of rival leaders is a very interesting issue itself. Could Koreans have prevented their own division? This question is not to be asked directly and is not answered.

Nevertheless for more than 20 years of it's existence Korean Provisional Government was not recognized by many countries. Too many rival organizations and voices called for the legitimate right to represent the interests of Koreans. A consistent unified voice would maybe change a lot. Syngman Rhee failed to think bigger than his own personal interest both during times of Japanese occupation and also later as president. Rhee took an occasion to became a dictator, just as an occasion makes one a thief. Although he had done one very honourable thing – he knew when to step down. And this was the end of the ROK First Repiblic.