September 12, 2006

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Korean notes

There's three observations I have to make about Korea:

1. Everyone and everything smells of garlic.

2. At lunch today I delicately brought up the topic of North Korea, especially given it is about 4 minutes missle time from downtown Seoul. My Korean counterpart told me that most South Koreans aren't worried about the North doing anything "stupid" because that "wouldn't make sense", "why would they ruin something so successful as here" and finally that "Koreans don't hurt Koreans". When I pointed out that plenty of Koreans (and Chinese) hurt plenty of Koreans (and Americans) and vice versa, that was batted away with "it's just not logical for the North to do anything to the South. They don't like America, not us." I asked if this implied that Kim Jong Il is rational and logical? My friend simply smiled and repeated that it wouldn't happen. I don't want to extrapolate one person's view to an entire country - I wonder if this is a popular viewpoint in Korea? And if so, what the hell are they smoking here?

3. Eagle FM, the US armed forces radio network, had a station break where I think I heard the announcer say "It doesn't matter if you're Navy, Air Force, Marine or Army, sometimes civilians have to realise we can blast the f#ck out of them." I'm really hoping I didn't hear that properly.

posted by Simon on 09.12.06 at 05:12 PM in the Koreas category.


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I am not surprised at, and do not think it is irrational about, the comments from your Korean friends. Call it nationalism, or pure kinship trust, I think your Korean friend are also mostly likely right.

You may not hear this from the American-in-Korea, as many of them would also fail to understand this, others might be so frustrated about the SK that they are going to deny this.

Insanity of KJI has nothing to do with this. As I could probably convince you, one cannot classify people into sane vs insane, i.e. there are many gray areas and many different types of insanity. KJI would be insane enough to test missile, test nukes, or even assasinate some SK. But he will not nuke SK or kill SK in large scale with missile, i.e., he might launch an attack like in 1950, but not something like Israel's non-strategy to Lebanon.

If you ask any Chinese, if they support armed action against Taiwan when the inevitable happens, maybe 60-80% will. But if you ask if they (oe CCP govt) will use nuke or missiles targeting civilian (a la Israel/Lebanon), I can assure you that 90%+ would say no.

I believe this is essentially what your Korean friend is saying. His choosing not to answer your KJI Insanity question also shows what he think about the over-simplification of the NK problem by the western media. He thought it is hard to explain but he didn't want to ruin a friendship with something "not so important".

posted by: sun bin on 09.12.06 at 11:02 PM [permalink]

"Koreans don't hurt Koreans"? Thats explains all the starving people not too mention, everything.

posted by: R J Tilley on 09.13.06 at 08:23 AM [permalink]

Same piece of data, you can have 1000 interpretations. S Koreans are eager to send in food.

There is no need to demonize a whole nation/ethnic group just because of ideological/political difference.

posted by: sun bin on 09.13.06 at 12:55 PM [permalink]

I think a lot of details and subtleties went unmentioned in your brief conversation. e.g.
SK do not worry about the missile because, as was said, the missile did not make any difference for Seoul, which is within the range of short-range Katusha's.

As we know, the missiles are for
1) sales to iran/etc
2) bargaining chip when negotiate with US (at least that is what NK think)
3) retaliate in the case of Iraqification of NK (i.e. US invasion)
4) may retaliate on Japan in case of (3) (at least that is what Japan think)

Therefore, it is reasonable to think that the missile are not targetting SK (which explain the non-issue reaction in SK).

posted by: sun bin on 09.13.06 at 01:04 PM [permalink]

Hey I was in Korea too last week... though in Jeju, not Seoul.

1. Everyone and everything smells of garlic.

They believe garlic is "good for your manhood." Especially when fresh and uncooked.

posted by: spacehunt on 09.14.06 at 12:26 PM [permalink]

I agree with R J Tilley. How can anyone argue that Koreans don't hurt Koreans, and that Kim Jong Il is rational and wouldn't do anything stupid, when Kim Jong Il has already killed off close to 10% of the North Koreans that were around when he took over?

Maybe South Koreans have decided that Kim is working for them. Reunification is probably inevitable, sooner or later, and it will be expensive for South Korea to absorb all those poor Northerners. But the longer Kim Jong Il is in power, the fewer North Koreans will be left. The problem will solve itself if we just give them enough time.

posted by: Ann on 09.15.06 at 03:41 AM [permalink]

Sun Bin, you are obviously an experienced Korean hand. As a Korean who spent his early childhood and then the years 1995-2004 working in Seoul, I agree with you 100%. The media is as much responsible for the Cold War mentality on the Korean peninsula as the US government. The Sunshine Policy has done more to open up North Korea than America's hardline stance. That's what you get when you leave warmongers like Bush to come up with a strategy for a cornered mouse like "Great Leader" Kim.

The greatest story I heard while in South Korea was from a US client who negotiated for three years to acquire a major company in Korea which at the time was in bankruptcy and kept alive with handouts from the government. He said that the decision to buy was decided by both sides in the first few months. The next two years was spent posturing for the sake of the public and figuring out an face-saving exit strategy for the South Korean government who had invested millions into this failing company. Once they figured that out how to break the news to the nationalistic audience that a foreigner was taking over the company, the deal was announced.

Back to the original post, not only does everything in Korea smell of garlic, but according to my gweilo friend, every soup or stew tastes like kkotchujang (hot red pepper paste)....

In my nine adult years in Seoul, I never once listed to Eagle FM. Now I know why. I guess it helps to be a jarhead to understand that kind of humor on the public airwaves.

posted by: Ken H on 09.28.06 at 01:48 PM [permalink]

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