Duc, sequere, aut de via decede!

Don’t forget your Korean pension money!

January 29th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers

Today I was talking to an American friend of mine who is getting ready to leave Korea. I asked him if he had any uncollected pension money, and he said, “No.” When I asked if he was sure, he said, “Yes, the school took care of all of that.” That is when I knew that he did not check to see if he had any “National Pension” funds accumulated. He had worked at a couple of different jobs in Korea over the years.

I asked my friend for his residency card, called the National Pension Office (Phone number: 1355), and asked them if he had any pension funds accumulated. The person on the phone told me my friend had twelve months accumulated, which came to 2.8 million won. My friend was shocked when I told him because he almost gave 2.8 million won back to the Korean pension system. If you don’t collect it within a certain time period, you lose it.

If you have worked in Korea and are not sure if you have paid into Korea’s National Pension Fund, don’t take any chances; give them a call. If you can speak Korean, just call and ask them, or ask a Korean friend to call for you. The people there are very nice and helpful. They can tell you within one minute if you can get any money back.

Just call 1355 and wait through all the recorded messages for a person to answer your call. You might be as pleasantly surprised as my friend was.

A Review of Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ So Far from the Bamboo Groves

January 27th, 2007 . by Sonagi

Here and over at the Marmot’s Hole, the controversy surrounding the book has elicited a contentious debate. Most of the commenters, like most of the Koreans and Korean-Americans protesting this book, haven’t actually read it. I bought the book, read it this week, and would like to accept Matt’s kind suggestion to write a review to give others an accurate idea of what the story is about.

The story is anti-war, not anti-Korean

Chapter One introduces the reader to the violence of war when brutal Japanese soldiers rob the author’s family of valuable possessions and kick the author, Yoko, until she passes out. The book closes with a moving scene in which a Korean family nurses a wounded Hideyo, brother of Yoko, and agrees to shelter him, exposing their entire family to the risk of execution. In between, Yoko’s family struggles to survive amongst the masses of “Korean, Japanese, young, and old” fleeing northern Korea. A dead baby is ripped from its mother’s arms and flung from a train. Hideyo is paid to push the corpses of unidentified war victims off a cliff. Mother and daughters are emaciated and greedily eat whatever scraps Yoko is able to scrounge from garbage dumps.

There are a few brief rape scenes involving Korean men and women whose nationalities are not always identified. Below is an example:

At a small stream I stopped to drink and I heard a cry. In the weeds was a Korean man on top of a girl. She was kicking wildly and screaming. My knees began to shake, and, holding my sack on my head with both hands, I walked as fast as I could to Ko and Mother.

Yoko’s description of her adjustment to Japanese society does not flatter the Japanese. Her classmates taunt her as “trashgirl,” subjecting her to humiliation and bullying. Two Japanese men try to overcharge Yoko for the cost of ferrying her mother’s body to the crematorium.

The Early Beginnings of the Evil Empire

Korean Communists! Run for your lives! The Korean Communists are coming! The phrase “Korean Communist” must appear at least 50 times in the story as mother and girls and Hideyo, separated from the rest of the family, hide out from the evil Korean Communists, easily identified by their uniforms, during their escape from the north. Koreans have complained that this is historically inaccurate as the Korean Communist Party wasn’t established until 1948. Others counter that Korean Communists were active before then. I can believe that Korean Communists were active in rounding up and killing Japanese at the close of the war. I doubt, however, that these Korean Communists would be in uniforms since they were a guerilla fighting force.

And where are the Russians anyway? There is barely any mention of them in the story, yet it was actually the Russian army that marched down the peninsula, capturing Japanese soldiers and government officials, and it was the Russians with whom the Japanese government negotiated the eventual release of surviving Japanese prisoners. This book is historical fiction, but any work of historical fiction risks criticism when the story is weaved with details that are inaccurate or implausible.

The Americans get some action, too, as Yoko and her family take cover during several air raids, and react in horror to news of the bombings of Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The American air raids on northern Korea have been criticized as historically inaccurate. There were bombings, but they were carried out by the Russians, not the Americans. The book is marketed as fiction, but the foreword, which provides a real historical backdrop to the story, claims, “And the Americans were already bombing industrial sites in northern Korea.”

The nation of Japan does not escape blame

The two-page foreward begins:

Nineteen forty-five was a bad time for a Japanese girl to be living in northern Korea. More than ever, the Koreans resented the Japanese, who had taken over their country and ruled it as their own. Now it was threatened by World War II. The Russians, who had outposts close to the Korean border, might at any time join their allies, the United States and England, in the war against Japan. And the Americans were already bombing industrial sites in northern Korea.

A few more times in the story, Korean hostility towards the Japanese is linked to its colonial occupation, and in an early passage, Yoko’s mother angrily denounces the Japanese government for starting the war:

This Tojo government attacking Pearl Harbor to start the war was bad enough. Your father disagrees with the Japanese government. …The government has been taking away everything we have – peace, love, happiness. I would rather see our country lose the war than lose my husband and son!

This is not a great work of literature

The author seems to try a little too hard to insert historical context into the story. Hideyo and two other Japanese boys are discovered by those evil Korean Communists. The dialog is silly:

“Halt!” someone shouted in poor Korean. From an opposite thicket, two Russian soldiers with machine guns came running.

The boys raised their arms high. If there were just one soldier, Hideyo thought, they could fight him, but there were two, with weapons.

“Are you Korean Communist members?” the Russian soldiers asked.

The boys answered as one, “We are!”

“Where are you going?”

“We are going to Pyongyang.” Hideyo answered.

“Why are you carrying Japanese sacks and blankets?”

HIdeyo lied, “We stole from the Japanese. Our parents got killed. We are heading for our relatives.”

Aw, c’mon! Russian soldiers stumbling upon boys equipped with Japanese gear are not going to open the conversation by asking, “Are you Korean Communist members?”

The story also distinguishes nationality in a peculiar fashion by noting most Koreans as speaking “poor Japanese,” yet Yoko and Hideyo speak “perfect Korean.” There is some disagreement as to how much freedom Koreans had to speak Korean, but young and middle-aged Koreans during that time would likely have been fluent Japanese speakers since Japanese had been the medium of instruction in schools. Yoko and Hideyo, too, would have attended Japanese schools and, even though they were born in Korea, it is unlikely that they would have acquired “perfect Korean” through conversations on the street and in the marketplace.

As a teacher, I wouldn’t choose this book as a class reading, but there is nothing in the story that justifies banning it, and if I were a librarian, I would add it to the library collection. The book clearly singles out “Korean Communists” as the bad guys, and given that America has no historical animosity towards Korea as a whole, but does towards China and North Korea, the story is more likely to reinforce negative impressions of Communist countries than inspire any prejudice against Koreans or Korean-Americans.

Annoyed by the Korean web assault on the book at Amazon.com, I sent a message to Amazon, complaining that the book’s formerly high rating had been dragged down by Koreans who had not actually read the book. I received a form letter reply with this absurd statement:

“Thank you for letting us know how you feel about the editorial review of So Far from the Bamboo Grove. In order to help customers make informed buying decisions, we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinions in our reviews. ”

Ironic, isn’t it? Korean netizens flooding the book’s page with negative reviews is “cultivating a diversity of opinions.” The outsourced Indian customer service robot screwed up by initially sending me the wrong STFU form letter for Jimmy Carter’s book, with virtually identical wording.

While browsing Amazon’s books on Korea, I came across an intriguing non-fiction work, Under the Black Umbrella, whose book description peaked my interest:

Existing descriptions of the colonial period tend to focus on extremes: imperial repression and national resistance, Japanese subjugation and Korean suffering, Korean backwardness and Japanese progress. “Most people,” Kang says, “have read or heard only the horror stories which, although true, tell only a small segment of colonial life.” The varied accounts in Under the Black Umbrella reveal a truth that is both more ambiguous and more human–the small-scale, mundane realities of life in colonial Korea. Accessible and attractive narratives, linked by brief historical overviews, provide a large and fully textured view of Korea under Japanese rule. Looking past racial hatred and repression, Kang reveals small acts of resistance carried out by Koreans, as well as gestures of fairness by Japanese colonizers. Impressive for the history it recovers and preserves, Under the Black Umbrella is a candid, human account of a complicated time in a contested place.

I have been looking for a book with credible and balanced first-hand accounts of the lives of Koreans under Japanese rule, and the word “ambiguous” caught my eye. Under the Black Umbrella arrived at my door today, and I like what I’ve read already just by skimming through some of the personal stories.

Why is ignorance so arrogant?

January 27th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers

An Ewha Womans University professor named Susan Oak arrogantly shows her ignorance of Korea-Japan issues in “A Reader’s View” letter in The Korea Heald entitled, “Japan must make amends.” After starting her letter by saying that Korea and Japan must settle their disputes over the Dokdo islets and the naming of the Sea of Japan diplomatically, she goes on a very undiplomatic rant that shows not only her ignorance of the issues but also her ignorance of making a logical argument. I was going to highlight only the most ridiculous parts of her letter, but the whole thing is ridiculous, so here it is:

Japan must make amends

The disputes over the Dokdo Islets and the naming of the Sea of Japan must be settled diplomatically by Korea and Japan to remove the dark shadow that hangs over the two countries and prevents them from forging long lasting ties. 

When a country is subjugated by another (as Korea was by Japan from 1910-1945) its culture is more than undermined, it is wiped out. This is achieved by promoting the farcical notion that the subjugator’s culture is superior. They don’t impose it with flowers but rather with cruelty. They stamp out the language, persecute the opposition, and confiscate the land. They take pride in the cultural unraveling of the subjugated people. They have their own code of honor: Resist and we’ll bury you, cooperate and we’ll allow you the status of the living dead. They divide up the spoils of the occupation. This is the collective behavior and ruthless practice of colonizers.

Korean culture was not “wiped out,” the Japanese did not “stamp out” the Korean language, and there were no “living dead.” Where did Ewha find this woman?

As part of the cultural unraveling, their aim is to undermine by degree the core values of the subjugated-the things with which they identify deeply and emotionally. They know what cripples and they use the supreme power of suppression to achieve their goals.

The East Sea is on the east side of the Korean Peninsula; wherein lies its historical significance to the Korean people. In 1929, the Japanese named the sea, the Sea of Japan. In 1905, while preparing to annex Korea, the Japanese secretly claimed the Dokdo Islets, which are located in the East Sea, and incorporated them into imperial Japan. The Korean people could do nothing about these changes, at the time. But they understood the ramifications. The sea had been named the Sea of Japan because the East Sea had lost its significance now that the Korean people all used Japanese names and Korea was a Japanese colony.

What is historically significant about the East Sea lying on the east side of the Korean Pennisula? Wouldn’t that mean every sea in the world is historically significant? If the Japanese named the sea the “Sea of Japan” in 1929, then what were the Japanese calling it before 1929? If the Japanese secretly incorporated “Dokdo,” then why was there a public notice, and why did the Japanese tell the Koreans about it in 1906? Takeshima (Dokdo) was incorporated in 1905, and Korea become a Japanese colony in 1910, so Korea had time to protest, but there is no evidence that she did.

Many people say that Japan “got a free ride” during the signing of the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty in which it renounced all claims to Korea and its islands large and small, but nevertheless held onto some of the spoils of occupation. Still others say that “Japan has a double standard: apologizing for its atrocious behavior while defending its right to Dokdo and the naming of the Sea of Japan.”

But there is no such thing as a free ride. As Goethe said, “Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.” Japan is a country that still reflects the image of a colonizer because it never completely settles the score. It never disentangles itself from its calibrated image.

Who says Japan got a free ride? What spoils of occupation did Japan get to keep? The Japanese lost all of their investments in Korea, and Dokdo was not a spoil of occupation if that is what the goofball writer is trying to imply.

The Korean people, once so annihilated under Japanese colonization, are finally holding Japan to account. In the new climate, an apology isn’t enough. Goethe said too, “Study the past, if you would divine the future.” Japan is hiding behind its past and is still intruding on Korea’s cultural and sovereign domain by its unwillingness to make amends.

Surely the writer is not an English teacher since she does not seem to know the meaning of the word “annihilate.” And how is Japan hiding behind its past? Japan is not hiding behind its past; on the contrary, Japan is trying to put its past behind her. It is Korea that is trying to use the past for political purposes.

Japan “made amends” is 1965, and it is Korea who is intruding on Japan’s cultural and sovereign domain by trying to tell Japan how to write her history books and where Japanese can or cannot pray.

In a diplomatic gesture, by dropping its claim to the Dokdo Islets and the Sea of Japan for the more neutral name, East Sea, Japan would help lift a century’s dark shadow and restore Korea’s full sovereign rights. As Confucius said, “Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.”

Susan Oak is a professor at Ewha Womans University. – Ed.


What is neutral about the “East Sea,” considering that the sea is west of Japan? Renaming the Sea of Japan the “East Sea” and giving Korea territory that is historically Japan’s will “restore Korea’s full sovereign rights”?

Man, I feel sorry for those Ewha students.

Deal with the problem, not the messenger

January 27th, 2007 . by Matt

This negative comment reminded me of an episode of South Park where people saw the problem being with individuals that spoke up about the problem, rather than the actual problem itself. It seems to me that a lot of people are angry at Occidentalism (and more lately at Gerry Bevers for his “Dokdo” postings) because it speaks up about things they would prefer to be unspoken. Take a look at the video to see what I mean.

Do not shoot the messenger. If you deal with the problem, there will not be any messengers to shoot.

Teacher suicide in Korea

January 26th, 2007 . by Matt

The Japanese version of the Choson Ilbo reports that a 22 year old English teacher from New Zealand committed suicide in Korea.





I have not been able to find an English version of the article, but it basically says that a co-worker found his body in his apartment pear field along with a note saying that “coming to Korea was my final, foolish act”. The police investigators also found psychoactive drugs to treat manic depression. The teacher, identified with the initial ‘D’, had arrived in Korea two weeks earlier.

Gojong & Sunjong Added to Choson Annals

January 25th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers

I just noticed today that the Annals of King Gojong and King Sunjong have finally been added to the online version of “The Annals of the Chosun Dynasty.” According to a previous message on the site, the records of the two kings were removed because it was feared that the Japanese had somehow manipulated them since they were compiled while Korea was a colony of Japan. I do not know if these new records of Kings Gojong and Sunjong have been edited and sanitized, but I am somewhat suspicious since they were offline for about one year. Anyway, I hope they are the unedited versions.

The Annals of the Chosun Dynasty is a great resource, and I am very grateful to the National Institute of Korean History for making them freely available to the world. Maybe, someday they will even provide translations in other languages..

Another great Korean online history resource is Seoul National University’s Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies, a site I simply love. The document and map collection and the technology used to present them online is simply fantastic. Zooming in on the details of a map is like zooming in from a spy satellite. It is amazing.

The above two sites are examples of what great things Koreans can do when they put their minds to something. Now, I hope Koreans will match their technological achievements with a more objective view of history. One of the biggest drags on Korea today is Koreans’ fear of the past. It is time Koreans face that fear and start presenting Korean history as it really was, without propaganda and nationalistic filtering and enhancement. Please, Korea, it is time.

Ghost brides in China

January 25th, 2007 . by Matt

This is weird

Three men have been arrested by Chinese police for killing two young women and selling their corpses as “ghost brides”.

The women were victims of an old belief, still alive in parts of western China, that young men who die unmarried should go to their graves accompanied by deceased women who will be their wives in the afterlife.

Often these women die natural deaths.

Yang Donghai, a 35-year-old farmer in western China’s Shaanxi province, confessed to killing a woman bought from a poor family for 12,000 yuan (£784) last year.

She thought she was being sold into an arranged marriage, but Yang killed her and sold her corpse for 16,000 yuan (£1,045). He and two accomplices then killed a prostitute and sold her for 8,000 yuan (£523) before police caught them.

“I did it for the money; it was a quick buck,” Yang said. “If I hadn’t slipped up early, I planned to do a few more.”

Police in Yanan, the poor and dusty corner of Shaanxi where Chairman Mao Zedong nurtured his Communist revolution, said the dark trade went beyond these cases.

“The actual number is far from just these,” the paper said.

Yang and two helpers sold the bodies to Li Longsheng, an undertaker who police said specialised in buying and selling the dead women for “ghost weddings”. It was unclear what happened to Li.

I wonder how big the market is.

TBS character assasination of Governor Ishihara

January 25th, 2007 . by Matt

Part of the comic Kenkanryu described how the Japanese media often distorts issues, and gave an example of TBS (a Japanese TV station) manipulating the voice of Governor Ishihara to make it seem like he said the opposite of what he really said. In the video clip below Ishihara seems to say “I want to 100% justify the annexation of Korea”. TBS then devoted a whole segment to his “problematic remarks”. They even go as far as to look for ethnic Korean groups in Japan to comment on it, including the North Korean front organisation, Chosen Soren.

What he actually said is “I do not want to 100% justify the annexation of Korea”, the opposite of what the TV program had him saying. TBS was sued by Ishihara and made a low key apology, but most people just remember what he supposedly said. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, and TBS claimed it was an “error”.

In fact, there are many such Ishihara quotes out there. Personally, I choose not to give any credence to them unless I see them on video, or hear them in the original Japanese.


January 24th, 2007 . by Matt

A Japanese student got busted in Melbourne doing peep photography, so called ‘up-skirt’ shots.

A Japanese student who took photographs underneath a woman’s skirt at the Australian Tennis Open earlier this week was today jailed for six months.

Takuya Muto, 34, also secretly filmed up to five females as they showered at a backpackers’ hostel on Tuesday.

Melbourne magistrate Peter Couzens ordered that Muto serve a minimum of two months’ jail and suspended the balance of the sentence for two years.

The court heard that police who arrested Muto found he had taken pictures of a female tennis player his lawyer described as “legitimate, tourist-style” photographs.

Muto, of Sydney, pleaded guilty to charges of stalking, unlawfully using a camera and offensive behaviour.

Sergeant Mark Galliott, prosecuting, said Muto took photographs and filmed with a video camera as he walked around the tennis centre.

Sergeant Galliott said some of Muto’s photographs were of the thigh and buttocks areas of female patrons and of one who wore a dress.

He positioned the camera under the woman’s skirt and took a photograph between her legs, obtaining a picture of her genital area.

When he returned later to his room at the All Nations Backpackers’ hostel, Muto took the video camera and filmed between four and five women as they showered in an adjoining unisex cubicle.

Sergeant Galliott said Muto obtained “graphic, naked footage” of the women, including one who ran screaming from the shower when she saw the camera pointed at her.

He was arrested soon after and appeared today in court with the help of a Japanese interpreter.

His lawyer, Natalie Sheridan-Smith, said Muto, who wept and trembled during the hearing, had expressed genuine remorse for his conduct.

Ms Natalie-Smith said a friend of Muto lent him the video camera, which he was told had a special feature that allowed him to secretly film people.

Muto, who is studying for a masters of business administration at a NSW university, was humiliated, embarrassed and deeply remorseful, she said.

I am surprised that he even got caught. People in Australia are not usually alert to this kind of thing.

More on Bamboo Grove

January 24th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers

Korea’s Meil Gyeongje newspaper reports that sales of the Korean version of Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ book, “So Far from the Bamboo Grove,” have been temporarily suspended because of suspicions that the writer’s father was a high-ranking member of Japan’s notorious “Unit 731,” which was a medical unit that conducted experiments on human subjects in China before and during World War II. The Korean title for Yoko Watkin’s book translates as “Yoko’s Story.”

Photo from Hangyeoreh Newspaper

Here is my translation of the Maeil Gyeongje article:

Sales of “Yoko’s Story” Temporarily Suspended

Sales of the Korean version of “So Far from the Bamboo Grove” have been temporarily suspended. The novel is currently being criticized for distorting history.

On the 24th, “Literature Neighborhood,” the publisher of the Korean version of the book, said, “Sales of Kawashima Watkins’ book will be suspended until suspicions that the author’s father was a high-ranking member of Unit 731 are resolved.”

The publisher added, “If the author’s father was a high-ranking member of Unit 731, then we have no choice but to see the silence or distortion about this as exceeding the limits permitted in an autobiographical novel.”

However, an associate of the “Literature Community” said, “By raising the question of violence against women during war, the book is a meaningful work.”

He said, “We plan to resume sales if suspicions are resolved.”

“So Far from the Bamboo Grove” is being used as a textbook in some middle schools in the United States. There is currently criticism that the book describes Koreans as abusing Japanese fleeing Korea back to Japan after Japan’s defeat.

“Literature Community” has been publishing the translated version of the book since April 2005.

The number of American schools refusing to use the novel as a text is increasing after Korean students and their parents have protested that there is strong evidence to suggest that the novel distorts history by portraying Koreans as assailants and Japanese as victims.

Heo Yeon, Reporter

Link to the article

First, I do not know if the author’s father was a member of Unit 731 or not, but I think the charges should first be proven before suspending sales of the novel since it is not uncommon for certain Koreans to make groundless charges against the Japanese.

Second, even if the author’s father were a member of Unit 731, is there proof that the author knew about it? And even if she knew about it, would that change the story in some way?

I wonder if VANK had anything to do with this?

“VANK Sets Koreann Records Straight Overseas”

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