Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To IS or Not to IS?

Listening to:
"Horchata" by Vampire Weekend. I've been listening to it without paying much close attention since its release last fall, and my impression has been that the song is suitably Vampire Weekend-esque and sufficiently summery for my "on-the-go" playlist. I only recently realized, though, the the lyrics are significantly more intriguing and less upbeat than the music...

I know there's still over a month left until I return to campus, and I don't have to choose my classes for another seven weeks, but when I heard that the OCI website was up and running for the upcoming term, I couldn't help but take a peek.

Language and Mind. Visual Thinking. Mathematical Logic. Philosophy of Language. Basics of Learning and Memory. Mapping Korea in East Asia. Introductory Sanskrit. Culture, Power, Oil. Goethe's Poetic Revolution. Dream and Interpretation.

As I select my courses at the beginning of each term, I realize that I could spend a decade at Yale and still not have enough time to take even half the courses I'm interested in. (Don't worry Pops, I'll be graduating in two years.) But really, there's such a wealth of interesting classes that are offered every term; sometimes I wish I had nine undergraduate lives so that I could complete 18 majors.

Incidentally, I'm seriously considering abandoning my pursuit of International Studies as a second major. On the one hand, IS has been a topic of personal interest to me for many years; it probably reflects my academic interests more accurately than does Cognitive Science. I've also already completed more than half the major, and I'm sure it would not hurt to have a second major listed on my résumé.

On the other hand, having decided to become a Cognitive Science major in the middle of my sophomore year means that I have my work cut out for me for the next two years to fulfill the requirements of the major, and even beyond the minimum requisites, there are a number of relevant courses I would like to explore. Dropping my second major would also provide me with the opportunity to take interesting non-major courses; somewhat ironically, continuing to pursue an International Studies double major might preclude me from taking additional foreign language classes.

Alternately, I could just burrow in Bass Library for the entire duration of the academic year and try to do everything. Life is overrated, anyway.

(The previous statement need not reflect the official view of the writer.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Changdeokgung Palace

This afternoon, James, Christine and I took a tour of Changdeokgung (창덕궁), the second of the "Five Grand Palaces" of the Joseon Dynasty that I have visited this summer.

The name Changdeokgung translates to "Palace of Prospering Virtue." Changdeok Palace was completed in 1412 and, though not the primary seat of government, was the most favored palace of many Joseon monarchs. The palace architecture and garden design incorporate traditional elements dating to the Three Kingdoms of Korea period. In particular, the buildings of Changdeokgung were laid out to blend in with the topography of the hilly terrain rather than to conform with Joseon architectural standards. (The larger and more contemporary Gyeongbok Palace, in contrast, was built in a precise arrangement on a wide open space along a north-south axis.) Changdeok Palace was burnt to the ground during the Japanese invasion of 1592 but reconstructed in 1609 by King Seonjo, who restored and expanded the original grounds.

Seonjo's expansion included the 78-acre Huwon, which translates to Rear Garden. The garden, which comprises more than half of the entire area of Changdeok Palace, was constructed for the use of the royal family. It was also known as Geumwon (Forbidden Garden), because no others were allowed to enter without the king's permission. In addition to providing a private area for relaxation, the garden also served as a venue for various outdoor activities, including sericulture, military inspections, archery contests, fireworks displays and royal banquets.

Entrance to Injeongjeon

Courtyard of Injeongjeon

Throne hall

In the background, Seonjeongjeon, the king's council hall
(The only structure at Changdeok Palace with blue glazed roof tiles)

Huijeongdang, the king's main bedchamber

Huijeongdang was reconstructed with Western furnishings after a fire destroyed the original building in 1917.

Porte-cochère of Huijeongdang

Exquisite dancheong

Daejojeon, the queen's chambers

Courtyard of Daejojeon

Elevated hallway for viewing the four-terraced garden behind Daejojeon

Korea's last emperor lived here until his death in 1926.

Donggung (Eastern Palace), primary residence and library of the crown prince

Path leading to Huwon, the Rear Garden

A royal study room in the Rear Garden
(The simple, unpainted design was intended to minimize distractions.)

One of the series of lotus ponds in the Rear Garden

Gyujanggak, a two-storied royal library, was constructed during the reign of King Jeongjo.
Scholars and officials were invited here to discuss ways of improving the government.

Changdeokgung has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being "an outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design, exceptional for the way in which the buildings are integrated into and harmonized with the natural setting, adapting to the topography and retaining indigenous tree cover."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Französisches Schießen

Random fact: I chugged a vicious-looking apple cinnamon soy smoothie for breakfast just before leaving my apartment this morning, and now I can't get the dreadful taste out of my mouth. Oh, the things I do for my daily dose of spirulina...

After the smoothie, on my way to work this morning, I suddenly burst out laughing―prompting all the other commuters in Gwanghwamun to consider me insane, I'm sure―because, for some unknown reason, I remembered a funny story from lower year:

A classmate in my first-year German class at Andover was presenting her essay on her favorite hobby: shooting (rifling). The verb "to rifle" in German is schießen, but poor Katja made the honest but unfortunate mistake of reversing the "i" and the "e", transforming the arguably innocuous verb into the much more offensive scheißen, which means "to shit". Thus, her well-written essay caused a gradual riot of embarrassed laughter; first Frau Svec doubled over, and then, when the rest of the class realized that scheißen is related to the expletive Scheiße, laughter erupted from everybody in the room.

I don't remember exactly, but I think the intended meaning of Katja's essay―I'll spare you the French-flavored version, so you'll have to use your imagination and replace all the "shoots"―went something like this:

« My favorite hobby is schießen. On weekends, I go to a range with my whole family, and we all shoot together. I enjoy shooting because it relaxes me; when I am stressed, I shoot for hours. When I first started shooting, I wasn't very good, but as I practice, I am becoming more accurate. I plan to shoot for many years to come. Maybe one day we can shoot together. »

If Mark Twain had been German―ironically, he dreaded the German language―I think his famous quote about lightning and a lightning bug would read, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between schießen and scheißen."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Economy of Houston

Listening to:
"Bananeira" de Sergio Mendes

Here's some positive economic news from Houston:

Both the Kauffman Foundation and private equity firm SigmaBleyzer have reported that Houston currently has the highest level of entrepreneurial activity of any U.S. city. The SigmaBleyzer report adds:

« Larger Texas metros, which entered this recession with more stable housing markets, a relatively higher concentration of commodity producers, and a greater exposure to government, education and export-oriented manufacturing, appear to be more resilient; and are emerging faster from the economic downturn. »

And according to Bloomberg Businessweek's annual "Best Cities for College Grads" ranking, Houston is the top city for college graduates as they enter the workforce. The report reads:

« Houston, we don’t have a problem, at least when it comes to entry-level job opportunities. With 24 of the 57 biggest companies in Texas, Houston is home to big businesses, including Conoco Phillips, Halliburton, and Continental Airlines. Energy, aeronautics, and health-care companies round out the opportunities in Houston. With such attractions as the American Cowboy Museum and an active performing arts scene, those working in the city will have plenty to do in their free time, too. »

Good stuff. But American Cowboy Museum, really? I mean, I'm a born-and-(mostly)-bred Houstonian, but I've never even heard of the place. Perhaps the writers just picked the first name on an alphabetical list. Why else would they choose this relatively obscure place over HMNS or the Menil?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Economia de Angola

Do mundo lusófono:

Após a sua independência, Angola tornou-se um dos países mais indigentes e inseguros do mundo. Durante a guerra civil amarga que durou quase trinta anos, a economia sofreu pela falta de estabilidade interna e infra-estrutura, e muito da capacidade de produção do país perdeu-se. Por estas razões, muitos dos portugueses que viviam nesta ex-colônia fugiram do país nos anos seguintes.

A situação hoje é bem diferente: Angola está se recuperando rapidamente da guerra civil e já apresenta boas taxas de crescimento. O Banco Mundial prediz que a economia angolana crescerá 8,5 por cento este ano, devido em grande parte às suas exportações de petróleo. Produziu 1,82 milhões barris por dia em 2009, e estima-se que a produção alcançará 2,22 milhões barris por dia no próximo ano. Também é rico em outros minerais, por exemplo diamentes e ferro. Agricultura é outra parte importante da economia. O café é o principal cultivo de exportação, e seguem-se-lhe cana-de-açúcar, algodão e fumo. Além disso, Angola é hoje uma dos mercados mais importantes da África.

Este crescimento econômico está afetando as relações entre Angola e o resto do mundo, especialmente com o seu ex-colonizador. Muitas companhias portuguesas estão se concentrando em Angola, e segundo Eurostat, Angola é agora o maior mercado de exportação de Portugal fora da Europa. Com a crise financeira em muitos dos outros parceiros comerciais de Portugal, esta ligação económica com a sua ex-colônia está tornando-se mais importante.

Acompanhando o crescimento do comércio entre Portugal e Angola há o fluxo de imigrantes entre estes dois países. No ano passado, 23.787 portugueses mudaram-se para Angola, comparado com apenas 156 em 2006. Também há um número crescente de angolanos trabalhando ou estudando em Portugal. Este fluxo é lógico em alguns aspectos porque os dos países compartilham uma língua comum e outros laços culturais.

Não obstante, Angola todavia tem muitos problemas econômicos e sociais. A taxa de inflação, por exemplo, é 12,5 por cento este ano, e a corrupção é um enorme problema também. Além disso, os procedimentos burocráticos são excessivos, especialmente para estrangeiros. Na capital de Luanda, o crime continua a ser um problema grave. Ainda assim, parece que Angola está se tornando um parceiro cada vez mais importante, não só para Portugal, mas também para o resto do mundo.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Here are the pictures that I promised to post of Cheonggyecheon (청계천). Cheonggyecheon is a stream that flows through downtown Seoul before emptying into the Han River.

Spring by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen marks the source of the stream.
It is inspired by the shape of a marsh snail and the colors of the Korean flag.

Some festival taking place at Cheonggyecheon Plaza

One of the 22 bridges that span the stream

This area was constructed using tiger's eye stones from each of Korea's eight provinces.

Street performers with strange masks (but cool music!)

Urban oasis


As one heads downstream, Cheonggyecheon becomes much greener.

Looking south

Other features of Cheonggyecheon include a tunnel fountain, water "canvas" laser show, food vendors, paintings of historic events, the world's largest ceramic mural, and rotating art exhibits.

The stream is even more magnificent at night.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Joseon Furniture

Perhaps my design preferences are genetic:

Perfect furniture pieces for persnickety Joseon scholars - JoongAng Daily

“Everything is where it should be and nothing is out of place,” said Chung Yang-mo, former director of the National Museum of Korea. “The room, the furniture and the people in the room are united. It is almost impossible to feel awkward or out of place in such a room.”

What a statement! I can't wait to check out this exhibit.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On Bowing

Koreans bow a lot.

(No shit, Sherlock, you're probably thinking.)

In some ways, I should be used to it: at home, I'm accustomed to bowing when my family meets Korean or Japanese friends, and my brother and I also try to rush to the front door to bow when Father comes home from work (a traditional practice that isn't as demeaning as it might seem in the context of a society in which one bows even on first dates). There are also different bows performed on special holidays or when visiting relatives. I'm realizing, though, that bowing is less than automatic for me, and even as a Korean-American who was raised in a fairly traditional Korean household―at least when it came to rules of etiquette―I'm still surprised and humbled by how much people bow here.

The underlying idea is simple enough: bowing is a gesture of respect in many cultures, particularly in Asia, the Middle East, certain religious contexts, and, traditionally, among European aristocracy. But nowhere is the art of bowing more complex, refined, or pervasive than in Korea and Japan. (Somewhat notably, bowing is a much smaller part of the culture in neighboring China.)

In both Japan and Korea, bowing is the standard greeting. In fact, the Korean word insa (인사), which means "to greet," also doubles as the verb "to bow." Whenever one sees a teacher or a peer or a customer, a bend at the waist with the eyes down is nearly always expected.

There are numerous subtleties based on age, rank, and the nature of the relationship between the people who are bowing. The depth of one's bow, for instance, is highly significant and variable, albeit nearly automatic and reflexive for those who live in bowing societies. Depths range from a slight nod of the head―generally performed by elders or superiors addressing those younger than them―to elaborate kneeling bows during which the forehead reaches the floor.

For everyday greeting bows among peers, 15-30-degree bows seem to be standard for informal situations, with deeper bows reserved for more formal events such as business meetings. And unsurprisingly, the proper angle of bows becomes greater when addressing elders or bosses and smaller when greeting younger individuals. (Fortunately, deep bows are not expected every time one runs into a co-worker; the employees of conglomerates certainly do not spend all day walking around bent over at the waist. Generally, after the first conversation or greeting of the day, a slight, silent bend is sufficient, much as a brief "hello" would suffice in American offices.)

Furthermore, in Japanese and Korean society, the role of bowing is not limited to simple greetings. Bowing is also used to express remorse, sincerity, gratitude, and a number of different emotions. Formal bows of apology, for example, are deeper and longer―generally nearly 50 degrees and at least three seconds, though these numbers may vary depending on the severity of the offense. It is not uncommon for even government officials and corporate executives to bow deeply at press conferences to apologize for misdeeds.

There are also more elaborate bows for formal situations or traditional rituals. Bows of thanks, for example, may involve kneeling and bowing deeply. Such bows are an important part of Korean weddings, for example, when the groom kneels in front of the bride's parents and touches his forehead to the ground in a gesture of deep respect and gratitude.

On top of these distinctions, there are more subtle factors that should also be taken into account. The Wikipedia article on bowing states, "There is an extremely complex etiquette surrounding bowing, including the length and depth of bow, and the appropriate response. For example, if the other person maintains his or her bow for longer than expected (generally about two or three seconds), it is polite to bow again, upon which one may receive another bow in return, often leading to an exchange of progressively lighter bows."

Like many other aspects of life, bowing has also been affected, to some extent, by globalization. Many Koreans and Japanese businessmen, especially when interacting with foreign counterparts, perform a slightly modified bow while shaking hands.

So how does all this translate into everyday life? Well, when I leave a store after buying a shirt, the salesperson bows, 20 degrees. 40 degrees if I'm with Mother. When I leave a store without buying anything, the salesperson still bows, though perhaps not as deeply. When I buy a sesame bread roll downstairs for breakfast, bow. Pack of gum from the convenience store, bow, and then I wonder if I'm supposed to bow back(?), especially if the employee is old enough to be my great-uncle. Walk into a restaurant, the host bows. I bow back (deeper if it's Friday night and I don't have a reservation). Our waiter takes the order and bows. Brings the food, chirps "맛있게 드십시요" and bows. Brings more water, apologizes (for interrupting and reaching across the table) and bows again. Meet my grandmother, I bow 30 degrees, then hug.

If this sounds like a lot of bowing, you should see a morning at work. Walking into the lobby, if someone spots a co-worker, bow. Step into the elevator and spot a boss, bow 30 degrees. If I see a secretary look up while I'm walking toward the clerk room, bow. Around the corner, three more secretary desks. Bow, bow, bow. Two junior partners meet on the way to the coffee room, bow, bow. In the restroom, I'm washing my hands when one of the junior partners walks in. I bow; he nods slightly. A few moments later, a senior partner walks in. The junior turns his head and performs an impressive against-the-urinal sideways bow.

As complicated as bowing may seem at first, I think it's pretty fantastic. Above all, bowing is a basic, universal gesture of respect, which doesn't exactly runneth over in any society; it's useful, in my opinion, to have reminders to be humble. And there are probably some physical benefits, too. Maybe the U.S. would have a lower obesity rate if everyone had to perform several dozen bows every morning. Or maybe not. But I mean, who needs yoga when head-bobbing is a national sport? (Though every other street corner here seems to be home to a new hot yoga studio.)

Not to mention the fact that bowing involves far fewer germs than shaking hands does. And we all know how I feel about germs.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Weekend #4

I could try to write about this weekend, but 1) the post would be literally incredible, and 2) writing it might be something of an ordeal. Instead, later this week, I'll just post a few pictures of Cheonggyecheon that I took this afternoon.

Nevertheless, a few observations:
  • Coffee is versatile.
  • Not all greens are created equal.
  • The Han River is remarkably broad.
  • Mood swings are contagious.
  • Everyone should feel foreign at some point in life (even if it's at home).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Slightly Too Tall

I've been thinking a bit about race lately―partially the result, I think, of being in a country where I have never lived before and sometimes feel out of place and sometimes feel incredibly at home, while nearly everyone assumes that I'm a local (for one of the first times in my life). That probably made no sense. I'm planning to write a longer (and more coherent) post sometime soon about my experiences here as a gyopo.

For now, here's an interesting op-ed from the International Herald Tribune. And though the writer is describing her experiences in Japan, I believe that almost every point she makes, with the exception of one paragraph, is highly relevant to Korean society (which, by the way, is three centimeters taller than the Japanese and two centimeters shorter than Americans, on average) and also, to a somewhat lesser extent, American society (especially in light of recent developments in Arizona).

Too Tall for Japan?

« Racial profiling had never struck me as a personal issue. I am a Japanese woman living in Japan after all, where less than 2 percent of the population is foreign. And even among that sliver of a share, the majority is Asian. How could racial profiling exist if most everyone looks the same?

I was awakened from such naïveté a few years ago when I started getting pulled aside by police, apparently to see if I was an illegal immigrant. On three occasions, officers sidled up to me at busy train stations, flashing their badges and asking me where I was headed. When they concluded I was a Japanese national, they sent me on my way.

Earlier this year, two officers approached me as I was exiting Tokyo Station and asked to see an ID and the contents of my purse. I refused their repeated requests while demanding an explanation until one of the officers finally told me, “You are tall and dark-colored and look like a foreigner.” He then added, “Every day we catch four to five overstays this way,” referring to immigrants with expired visas.

I was stunned by the officer’s blatant profiling of me based on what I perceive as my only slightly unusual features: a bit taller than average height and a shade of a sun tan. But microscopic vision for sniffing out differences is a common trait among the Japanese who are often uncomfortable with dealings outside of their familiar zones.

The officers who approached me on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant were presumably acting on Japan’s Police Duties Execution Law. It states: “A police officer may stop and question any person who has reasonable ground to be suspected of having committed or being about to commit a crime.”

The Japanese law is broader than the controversial legislation in the U.S. state of Arizona that goes into effect this month, which allows police to confirm someone’s immigration status only after stopping the person on other grounds. “The same thing as in Arizona has been in place in Japan for a long time without much criticism,” says my cousin and lawyer Genichi Yamaguchi.

Most Japanese are unaware of these racially motivated checks. But even if they knew about them, it is questionable how much they would object. Profiling is a common practice here with casual exchanging of personal information. The details collected from a business card or queries such as asking where one attended university or what blood type one is serve as clues to allow people to predict how each party will behave.

As a single parent who has lived overseas and is blood type A, I am stereotyped as hard-nosed enough to have decided to go it alone, blithe from surviving dealings with all sorts of people and having the seriousness attributed in popular beliefs here to people of my blood group.

Such typecasting takes on racist overtones when applied to foreigners. “Chinese don’t know train manners,” I overheard a man say recently in response to a Chinese woman talking loudly on her cellphone in the compartment. On a bus tour of the Western city of Nara, several Japanese passengers complained that the Filipinos aboard who had trouble keeping up with the rushed sightseeing pace “don’t understand ‘dantai kodo,”’ or group behavior. When one of the Filipinos went to the restroom, a Japanese woman grumbled that she should have held back in deference to the group schedule. Such intolerance — when the government is on a major campaign to increase tourism to the country, and just this month eased visa application requirements for Chinese visitors.

There are even disturbing signs that Japanese increasingly don’t want to bother trying to understand the unfamiliar territory beyond their borders. Only one student from Japan entered Harvard University’s freshman class last year, bringing the total number of full-time Japanese undergraduates to five, compared to a total of 36 from China and 42 from South Korea.

A 2007 Web-based survey by the Nomura Research Institute revealed a growing reluctance to live overseas among younger Japanese. While 33 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women in their 60s and older said they would have some aversion to either themselves or their spouses going to work overseas, the share of people with that sentiment reached 42.9 percent and 38.9 percent respectively for people in their 20s.

The next time a police officer stops me, I plan to explain that suspecting me of a crime simply because I look foreign constitutes racial profiling. Only there is no term for the practice in the Japanese language. »

I deeply admire both Korea and Japan, particularly when it comes to public etiquette and societal respect for strangers. But—dare I say it—I think the two countries have a lot to learn from the U.S. dialogue regarding race.

Aus, Vorbei, Erledigt

Famed English footballer Gary Lineker once said, "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win."

Doch in Südafrika ist Deutschland im Halbfinale an Spanien gescheitert, und die nationale Enttäuschung ist groß. Ehrlich spielten beide Mannschaften besonders gut, und es war wirklich ein Vergnügen, das Spiel zu beobachten.

Speaking of freudenschade (previous post), it was interesting to read the coverage of the Spain-Germany match in Der Spiegel. The images and captions in this photo gallery, for example, not-so-subtly depict Spanish fans as being particularly rowdy.

The title of the photo gallery, "Spanien im Freudentaumel," translates to "Spain in Ecstasy" (lit. Freuden: happiness + Taumel: delirium). The subtitle requires little explanation―"Olé, olé, olé, olé." Also, many of the captions are quite freudenschädlich (adj).

At any rate, here's a well-deserved ¡felicitaciones, España!

P.S. Some of you may want to pay attention to the Orakel of Oberhausen.


Schadenfreude is widely used as a loanword in English and translates to "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others" (German Schade: injury, damage + Freude: happiness).

I was thinking this morning about what the antonym of schadenfreude would be. Here's what Wikipedia had to say:

« The Buddhist concept of mudita, "sympathetic joy" or "happiness in another's good fortune", is cited as an example of the opposite of schadenfreude. Alternatively, envy, which is unhappiness in another's good fortune, could be considered the counterpart of schadenfreude. Completing the quartet is "unhappiness at another's misfortune", which may be termed empathy, pity or compassion. »

I found this excerpt from Wikipedia was quite interesting, and I agree with most of it, except for the suggestion that envy is the best word to describe unhappiness in someone else's good fortune. (I think that envy belongs in a slightly different category because it carries additional implications about the relationship between the subject and the cause of the object's happiness, right?) And thus began the quest to find an appropriate term in the English language.*

The closest words I can think of, at least for the moment, are grudgingness and resentment. But even these terms, though similar, seem a bit too broad; their definitions encompass more than the unhappiness derived from the fortune of others.

The same Wikipedia article then states, "The transposed variant freudenschade seems to have been multiply invented to mean sorrow at another person's success."

Somewhat surprisingly, this word does not exist in the German language, even though this compound term, like schadenfreude, would be a logical, correctly structured German-style noun―happiness-damage instead of damage-happiness. And since both English and German seem to lack a precise term to describe unhappiness or damage from others' good fortune, why not use freudenschade?

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
- Mark Twain

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Resolutions

Here is a list of some of the things I'd like to do this summer:

- Explore more of Korea, especially historical sites and traditional neighborhoods. Obviously this will be more difficult now that I'm working full-time, but that's still no excuse to always frequent the same hangouts; as much as I love Hongdae and Apgujeong, but they certainly don't do justice to this country's rich cultural heritage. Perhaps I'll start by resuming my tour of Seoul's "Five Grand Palaces" (which has been on hold since my morning at Gyeonghuigung).

- Interact with/befriend more locals. It sounds a bit strange, I know, especially for a country that is largely homogeneous (somewhere around 97.5% ethnic Korean), but my social life here is overwhelmingly dominated by that remaining 2.5%. Which isn't to say that I don't interact with Korean lawyers at work or chat with the attractive nuna who works in the bakery downstairs, but I spend most of my time here with high school and college friends, along with a diverse group of expats. I truly enjoy hanging out with them, but I also don't want to let my fear of cultural differences or language barriers keep me from getting to know some great people.

- Spend more time with my grandmother. Hands down, one of the most energetic and cheerful (and athletic and funniest and best-dressed) people that I know. Deciding to live with DW and James in Gwanghwamun instead of with her in Yeonhui-dong means that I don't spend as much time with her as I could, but I'm making an effort to at least have dinner with her a couple times every week.

- Shop less. It's not that I shop that much to begin with, but keeping one's wallet closed in Seoul is much easier said than done: sleek, 15-story department stores dominate the retail landscape, and boutiques are a national art form. (And since Korea is home to the world's most technologically advanced fashion police force, one either looks good or stays in.) But, though I'm sure I could use a sartorial upgrade, amassing a large pile of unwanted clothes for donation while cleaning out my closet earlier this summer reminded me that I don't really need to fly home with a suitcase heavier than the one I brought here.

- Read more. Life will only get busier once fall comes around and school starts.

- Blog in foreign languages. I fully realize and apologize for the fact that it's obnoxious. But several language teachers have recommended keeping a journal in a different language as one of the best ways to maintain language proficiency. I'm not about to start a separate, private journal, though, so you, dear readers, may have to do some translate.google.com-ing (or just skip some posts). I'm sure the entries will be riddled with errors—which, by the way, I'd very much appreciate having pointed out to me!—but it seems awfully silly to let years of painstaking language study wither away.

- Write regularly to my brother, since snail mail is the only way to contact him this summer.

- Eat more tteok. I'm convinced that this is the manna God provided for the Israelites.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kaesong Industrial Complex

Fraught with complications, but still a beacon of hope:

« While tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years over the sinking of a South Korean warship, the North continues to allow the Southerners to enter the park, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, where 121 mostly South Korean companies employ 44,000 North Korean workers.

At a time when the Koreas have traded threats of military confrontation and cut most economic and diplomatic ties, the Kaesong complex has remained a conspicuous exception. The complex, the largest economic link created during a relaxation of inter-Korean tensions almost a decade ago, has continued to operate even after the sinking in March of the warship, the Cheonan, and the recent closing of other joint projects.

For the isolated North, it is a source of desperately needed jobs and hard currency, pumping $50 million per month into the collapsed North Korean economy. North Korea watchers say it is also one of the few economic successes that the government has to show its people, at a time when the North’s ailing leader, Kim Jong-il, appears to be engineering the succession of his third son, Kim Jong-un.

“The leadership knows that unless it can raise people’s livelihoods, the succession may fail,” said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

For the South’s vibrant economy, the park’s $250 million annual output is just a drop in the bucket. Kaesong has more emotional significance as a symbol that the two Koreas may one day peacefully reunify. Even the administration of President Lee Myung-bak, who has taken a harder line against the North, has been careful to keep the park operating to convey to the North that “the door remains open for improving ties,” as one senior official put it.

South Korean companies say they were drawn to the park by the prospect of the North’s 24 million residents’ becoming a pool of low-cost, Korean-speaking labor. »

Korean Wave (Hallyu)

Continuing with the theme of IR, here's an excerpt from a piece by Washington Times writer Andrew Salmon:

New wave of pop culture redefines Korea

« “Soft power” challenged Korea’s traditional development paradigm. From the 1960s, authoritarian governments had placed absolute primacy on economic growth. Social and political development was de-prioritized as the entire nation was hitched to an economic locomotive that would convey Korea to the terminus of “advanced nations.” It succeeded: economically, Korea is arguably the greatest national success story of the 20th century.

On prosperity’s heels came demands for political freedom. After a decade of struggle, people-power demonstrations overthrew the military government in 1987. Though it had slow and uncertain beginnings, democracy took root. As the 1990s unfolded, political democracy engendered a social liberalism that seeped into society.

...Freedom fighter and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-jung [shot] down [Korea's traditional development] paradigm in a brilliant 1994 essay in Foreign Affairs Magazine, “Is Culture Destiny? The Myth of Asian Values.” Kim argued that his country’s ultimate destiny was to improve Western concepts by reference to Asia’s own ancient traditions of democracy, rule of law and respect for the individual, rather than ignore them.

...This combination of factors was, by the end of the 1990s, generating a creative wave of popular culture This new content combined slick production with professional marketing, underpinned by a key local ingredient - the raw emotion Koreans express so passionately. As Korean music, soap opera, film and computer games flooded the continent, from East Asia through to the Middle East, Chinese reporters coined the term, Hallyu (“Korean Wave”) to describe what was happening: A sudden surge of funky new content streaming out of a nation that had previously exported industrial, but not cultural content.

“Winter Sonata” (2002) drove Japanese housewives wild over its star, Bae Yong-joon ­ better known by the honorific “Yonsama” in the island nation. Bae...reached such stratospheric heights that he was invited to appear on television alongside Japanese prime ministers. Daejanggeum (2003;”The Jewel in the Palace”), featuring the trials and tribulations of a chef in the Joseon Dynasty palaces, became the most widely watched TV program in Hong Kong’s history. And violent noir thriller “Old Boy” (2004) raked in a bucketful of prestige for the local film industry when it captured the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film festival.

Korea’s brand added value at a rate that sent it soaring off all previous charts. “Winter Sonata” did more for Korea’s image in Japan than any PR activity by the Korean Tourism Authority could ever hope to match, as Japanese matrons flocked to Korea to visit filming locations and go on “Yonsama” shopping tours. Moreover, “Daejanggeum” put Korean cuisine on the map region-wide. In Hong Kong, Korean restaurants serving hanjongsik (the table d’hote served in aristocratic and royal households) gained overnight popularity, with hungry viewers reportedly queuing outside their doors. “Old Boy”(2004) would not necessarily attract tourists to its shoddy and violent Seoul backstreets, but it won plaudits from pulp wunderkind Quentin Tarantino and proved that Korea could do thrillers that were as violent, cool and edgy as anything coming out of Hollywood or Hong Kong.

While soaps restricted themselves to social critique ­ albeit, viewed, often, through rose-tinted lenses ­ Korean film took on bolder themes. “JSA”(2000) was a groundbreaking take on national division; “Silimdo” (2004) examined the murky massacre of a secret Korean bloodbath in the Park Chung-hee era; and “The King and the Clown” (2005) dealt with homosexuality in Olde Corea. It is difficult to see this kind of material being produced in some of the region’s more repressive states. For Asian viewers, it became clear that 21st century South Korean society was more open and liberal.

The wave peaked in 2005, when Korea sold $22 billion worth of pop culture abroad. Today, the “Korean Wave” is an old hat. Korean content is no longer new; it has become part of the Asian and ― increasingly the global ― entertainment fabric. Now, with a greatly improved distribution infrastructure ― multiplex cinemas and a proliferation of cable ― it is no longer so necessary for Korean producers to sell abroad; the local market has matured.

...On the political/strategic front, the “soft power” embedded in the Korean Wave may yet impact the steepest geopolitical challenge facing the peninsula: Reunification. Through South Korean films and dramas smuggled into North Korea, decades of Pyongyang’s state propaganda are being undermined: If South Korean society is aspirational for Southeast Asians, how much more alluring must it be to impoverished and downtrodden North Koreans? This aspect of soft power may eventually prove as important a factor in crumbling the walls of Kim Jong-il’s benighted nation as any single aspect of hard power.»

Monday, July 5, 2010

Wirtschaftsentwicklung der Türkei

Auf die Gefahr hin, meine europäischen Freunde zu beleidigen, hier ist ein sehr interessanter Zeitungsartikel der New York Times über das Wirtschaftswachstum der Türkei. Der Journalist schreibt:

« For decades, Turkey has been told it was not ready to join the European Union — that it was too backward economically to qualify for membership in the now 27-nation club.

Today, Turkey is a fast-rising economic power, with a core of internationally competitive companies turning the youthful nation into an entrepreneurial hub, tapping cash-rich export markets in Russia and the Middle East while attracting billions of investment dollars in return.

For many in aging and debt-weary Europe, which will be lucky to eke out a little more than 1 percent growth this year, Turkey’s economic renaissance — last week it reported a stunning 11.4 percent expansion for the first quarter, second only to China — poses a completely new question: who needs the other one more — Europe or Turkey? »

Die Türkei ist ein schnellwachsendes Schwellenland, und die türkische Wirtschaft wird noch fortgeschrittener und noch immer mehr entwickelt. Unglücklicherweise ist die Konjunkturprognose in Europa ganz verschieden. Länder Europas leiden noch unter Konjunkturrückgang, besonders im Süden, und leider gibt es nicht so viel Wirtschaftsentwicklung.

Zusätzlich ist es nicht nur eine Frage der Reife. Es gibt jetzt mehr wahrgenommenes wirtschaftliches Risiko in einigen europäischen Ländern als in der Türkei. Die nationale Kreditwürdigkeit der Türkei, zum Beispiel, ist im Moment besser als sie Italiens und Griechenlands.

Die Europäische Union kann nicht viel länger die Türkei aus wirtschaftlichen Erwägungen ausschließen. In verstärktem Maße wird es immer klärer, dass stärkere Verbindungen mit der türkische Wirtschaft für Europa eine große Wohltat sein können.

Auf der anderen Seite gibt es bezeichnende kulturelle Unterschiede, die man nicht ignorieren kann. Religion ist ein offensichtliches Beispiel. Türkei hat auch eine ganz verschiedene Regierungsform. Und deswegen, trotz der wirtschaftlichen Faktoren gibt es eine erregte Debatte über die Zukunft des Beziehung zwischen Europa und der Türkei.

Aber wie in dem Zeitungsartikel beschrieben ist diese junge, dynamische Türkei zunehmend eine wichtige wirtschaftliche und diplomatische Macht, und außerhalb der Frage ihrer EU-Mitgliederschaft soll Europa diese Änderungen nicht übersehen. Wie in der Zeitungsartikel beschrieben, die Türkei wendet sich auch ostwärts. Zum Beispiel, die staatliche Fluggesellschaft fliegt nach so viele Städte im Irak (drei) als in Frankreich, und sie fliegt auch nach sieben Städte in Russland. Und die Beziehungen zwischen türkischen Firmen und Märkten wie Libyen, Aserbaidschan, Iran, Syrien und Saudi-Arabien werden jeden Tag stärker.

Europa kann es sich kaum leisten, diese
Verschiebung der Macht zu ignorieren.

Napoleonic Justice

At work, the attorneys and supporting professionals all seem keenly aware that the Korean legal system is currently undergoing an important period of growth and transition (fodder for a blog post later this month, perhaps). It's interesting to read about adjustments taking place in other countries' legal systems, even if they aren't completely analogous. The French, for example, have also been toying with—okay, more like vehemently debating—a far-reaching set of legal reforms. Here's an excerpt from an article in Time last year:

« France's investigating magistrates have been a central pillar of the country's Napoleonic justice system for over 200 years. Acting as independent, neutral investigators into crimes, they collect evidence that is then used by justice officials to either try or dismiss a case. Feared and respected, hailed and derided, the juge d'instruction has been immortalized in literature and film. French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac once described his role as that of the "most powerful man" in the country.

Now, though, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he wants to do away with the position in order to "guarantee the rights of people under investigation." Opponents say the move will leave the nation's legal process broken and vulnerable to political manipulation. »

And from today's NYT:

« President Nicolas Sarkozy started his five-year term in 2007 with far-reaching plans to shake up France’s judicial system, a system built on codes laid down about 200 years ago.

Spurred perhaps by judicial scandals, or maybe by his experience during visits to the United States as interior minister, the new president hoped to create a justice system better equipped for the 21st century. In a speech early last year to the ermine-clad judges of the Cour de Cassation, France’s supreme court, he laid out his hope to replace the inquisitorial pillar of the system — the investigating magistrate.

But overturning a system established by Napoleon and imposing a more Anglo-Saxon, adversarial model was never going to be simple. Eighteen months after that speech, the issue appears to have slipped down the agenda and critics of the government sense that the magistrates may have won a stay of execution.

French magistrates were given wide powers in 1810, refined in the 1950s. They can initiate investigations — on the recommendation of a prosecutor or victims — and can raid and search premises, order wiretaps, confiscate documents and summon witnesses. They decide whether a case should go to trial and make their findings available to the defense and the prosecution.

The government argues that magistrates have become anachronistic and unwieldy, with their multiple roles. [Michèle Alliot-Marie, the justice minister], has argued that they no longer conform with European norms and cannot guarantee equality of justice across regions and social groups. »

Recovery Act

A sobering analysis of the U.S. stimulus package:

Is the Recovery Act helping the economy? - CNN

« The job market and economy need a serious jumpstart, but the stimulus program likely won't be able to do it.This summer will be the peak of the $787 billion stimulus program in terms of creating jobs and pumping money into the economy.

After that, it will be a downhill slide for stimulus even as the economy is expected to continue sputtering.

"It's very hard to discern any impact," said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist for IHS Global Insight.

...Some 57% of tax benefits and 60% of entitlement money has already been paid out, according to federal data.

The White House credits the stimulus program with funding between 2.2 million and 2.8 million jobs so far. That figure is derived from a mathematical formula based on the money that's flowed out the door. Officials say at least 3.5 million jobs will be created or retained by year's end, which was the president's original goal.

But it's nearly impossible to know how many people actually owe their employment to stimulus. Recipients of Recovery Act contracts reported that 682,370 jobs were funded in by stimulus in the first quarter, but that figure isn't cumulative and covers only a portion of the total stimulus package.

Bethune, however, says that the government's projections are overly optimistic. Though he agrees that the Recovery Act has juiced the economy, he feels it's closer to a 1 percentage point increase in the gross domestic product in the first quarter, rather than that 2.5 to 2.9 percentage point hike estimated by the White House's Council of Economic Advisers.

"Just look at the number of jobs we created over the past four quarters," he said. "There haven't been a lot."

Unemployment slid to 9.5% in June even as 125,000 jobs were lost. The vast majority of those losses, however, were temporary Census workers. Private sector employers added 83,000 positions.

There are several factors hampering the Recovery Act, experts said. A primary one is that states' budgets are in such bad shape that they continue to shed jobs and slash spending despite stimulus infusions.

Also, contractors have to jump through many government hoops to get stimulus funding, said John Slye, principal analyst at Input, a market research firm for government contractors. That's one reason why a relatively small percentage of project funding has been distributed.

"It's taking agencies so long to get this money out into the economy," he said. »

Dear American economy, please get your act together.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Renzo Piano's Menil Collection Building

« Everyone in town knows The Menil Collection is an intensely special world-class museum. But what's not often mentioned is that the structure itself is a modern marvel.
That's according to Vanity Fair's World Architecture Survey, in which over 50 of the world's leading architects, critics, and deans of architecture schools were asked their opinion on the five most important buildings, bridges and monuments constructed since 1980, and the greatest work thus far in the 21st century.
And with 10 votes, The Menil Collection, designed by Renzo Piano in 1987 to scale with the Montrose neighborhood and known for its ribbed roof creating serene, light-drenched spaces, came in second—in the entire world of buildings.
(Of Piano, The New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff once opined, "The serenity of his best buildings can almost make you believe that we live in a civilized world.")
In first place was Frank Gehry's bombastic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain with 28 votes. Other renowned structures on the list include Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the HSBC building in Hong Kong; Rem Koolhaas' Seattle Central Library and Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium.
The architecture greats that cited the Menil included Rafael Vañoly, Richard Gluckman, Deborah Burke, David Chipperfield, Sir Norman Foster, Paul Goldberger, Thom Mayne, Christian de Portzamparc, Sir Richard Rogers and Annabelle Selldorf. »

Friday, July 2, 2010


Holy cats and dogs. I'm definitely going to need a bigger umbrella.

Day 2

This afternoon, the thirty-some interns here had an opportunity to meet with Ambassador Hong-choo Hyun. What a story: after graduating from Seoul National University and Columbia Law School, Mr. Hyun served as deputy director of Korea's National Intelligence Service. In 1985, he was elected to the National Assembly, Korea's legislature. Afterward, Mr. Hyun served as Korea's ambassador to the UN from 1990-91 and ambassador to the United States from 1991-93. He then came to Kim & Chang, where he currently works as a senior partner.

Among the numerous interesting points Ambassador Hyun made during the conversation, there was one that resonated particularly strongly with me: in response to a fellow intern's question, he admitted that, despite his appreciation for the variety of experiences he's been able to enjoy, he sometimes regrets that he is not a "true expert" in any single field. In his own words, Ambassador Hyun is "only a jack-of-all-trades" (although I'm sure many would argue that he is more like an expert-of-all-trades).

While I don't mean to imply that my life resembles, at all, Ambassador Hyun's either in scope or in impressiveness, I often experience a similar sentiment: regarding both my academic interests and extracurricular hobbies, I sometimes worry that I'm not passionate nor expert enough enough in any one particular area. "'Enough' for what?" some might ask. Well, I'm not sure, to be honest. But it is a source of some anxiety nonetheless, at least during moments of insecurity...

Which isn't to say that I don't have passions: violin-playing, my sixth* love, comes to mind first. But though daily practice routines and weekly lessons and youth orchestra rehearsals and accompanist sessions and recitals and competitions were an enormous part of my childhood, they have since mostly faded into nightmares of my metronome's merciless tick-tock and sweet memories of the spotlight. I still enjoy playing, and it's not that I've forgotten how to do some fiddlin', but I no longer compete on a national level and consider a career in music. I don't regret the decisions that have led to this change, but that's not to say that I don't occasionally feel a pang of what-if when I hear about the accomplishments of former stand partners and rivals and quartet members at music schools and conservatories across the country. (And, in a parallel universe in which I have real feelings, I might be unable to listen to a certain violin concerto because of emotional associations.)

A more recent interest, and one that continues to grow, is my major: cognitive science. Studying how the human mind works fascinates me. Whether it's a lecture on the psychology of law, a newly published study about memory failure or a discussion about consumer behavior, I truly love learning about how people think. But even here, I wonder if this is merely another manifestation of my inability to remain focused on a single field: cognitive science, by definition, is interdisciplinary—my course plan, under the title "Reasoning and Decision-Making", includes courses from the departments of psychology, philosophy, economics and neuroscience, and the School of Management. Perhaps I'm so fascinated by this one major precisely because it is so broad and multifaceted.

And neither cognitive science nor anything any passion keeps me up late at night (well, unless I'm studying for a psychology exam). A newly published copy of Nature might be enough reason to enjoy a slice of pecan pie extra slowly, but it won't make me late for a lunch appointment, even if it's just a scheduled picnic with Niki. I'm not sure if this is the result of a healthy "C'est la vie" attitude or an excessive dose of apathy, but in either case, it's true.

Well, maybe it's not that I'm unable to delve deeply into a single area but rather that I'm unwilling to surrender the array of interests that make my life worth living; somewhere between tennis lessons and Señor Mozo's grammar notes, between Fleisch scales and Frisch plays, between Professor Scholl's lectures and barbecue sessions, I've come to realize that I not only am able to reap but also crave enjoyment and fulfillment from a variety of sources.

It seems to have worked tremendously well for Ambassador Hyun, at least.

And according to a study Professor Ahn described during class, 10,000 hours of hard work in a single field are what is required for true expertise. (About two hours a day for the rest of my life allows me four areas of expertise.) So maybe I'll be okay, after all.

*After my parents, brother, grandmother, and a delightful girl in my first grade class who shared her cookies with me during break time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Speaking of Chinese censorship, here's an excerpt from a relevant New York Times article:

« The Xinhua News Agency, China’s dominant news service and the propaganda arm of the Communist Party, introduced a 24-hour English-language news channel and is preparing to open a prominent newsroom in Times Square, part of an expensive push to increase the reach and influence of the Chinese news media overseas.

The president of Xinhua, Li Congjun, said Thursday at a press conference in Beijing that CNC World, the agency’s new 24-hour news channel, was part of a government effort to “present an international vision with a Chinese perspective.”

The announcement is the strongest sign yet that China intends to spend billions of dollars over the next few years to create a global media empire that can match the country’s rising economic and diplomatic power and more effectively project its views to an international audience.

The new channel, which media experts say appears to be modeled on Al Jazeera, the Arabic news network, aims to provide comprehensive coverage of world affairs, while explaining matters of direct concern to the Chinese leadership in a perspective its producers consider appropriate.

On Thursday, an official with Xinhua, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, said Xinhua was planning to build a newsroom at the top of a 44-story skyscraper in Times Square.

Many media experts say Chinese news agencies, though improving, lack credible and objective reporting and are widely perceived to be propaganda vehicles for the Chinese government.

There have also been reports over the years that some of China’s state-run news agencies are closely tied to state intelligence agencies. Xinhua got its start in 1931 as the Red China News Agency, even before the Communist Party gained power in 1949.

Xinhua still functions as China’s official news bureau, releasing government reports and official statements for Politburo members, and setting the tone for China’s other heavily censored news publications, which are often instructed to republish Xinhua dispatches on major news events without alteration. »

From a similar article in the Financial Times:

« CNC executives insisted the new network was not part of the party’s external publicity drive. They were also careful to compare themselves with CNN rather than CCTV, the main state broadcaster and centerpiece of the propaganda apparatus.

Yet in its own trailer produced by Xinhua, the network said its launch would “boost China’s comprehensive power,” a key phrase used by Communist party propaganda officials. »


Today was my first day at Kim & Chang, where I'll be interning for one month. During the morning orientation session, the new interns were presented with a stack of forms explaining the companies intern policies, most of which have to do with what we're not allowed to do. Among the biggest no-nos is any transfer of case-related information outside the office: basically, we're never to speak about cases or relevant research outside the office, even in the elevator. And all materials are to be shredded when no longer needed. Intern email accounts are for intra-office use only, and any attempt to email confidential files on any network computer will apparently be blocked automatically (and result in a complicated series of undesirable letters and meetings). Kind of like the Great Firewall of China, except that Kim & Chang's policies actually work and have a purpose. (There go my chances of getting a second visa to Zhongguo.)

Before this morning, I hadn't fully understood the scope of this law firm. Kim & Chang, founded in 1973, has become the largest law firm in Korea, with over 700 practicing professionals and an extensive network of support staff. According to their website, these professionals, many of whom were formerly practicing lawyers abroad, are qualified to advise in the laws of the U.S., Japan, China, Germany, France, and the Netherlands as well as of the laws of Korea. Kim & Chang's offices comprise five towers throughout Seoul, including the entirety of the 11-story Seyang Building headquarters in Gwanghwamun (conveniently located across the street, literally, from DW/James/my apartment).

After lunch, we were shown to our work stations. I'll be working in a conference room with four other interns—two from Seoul National University, one from Penn, and another from Princeton (who graduated from Exeter, but let's not hold it against him). Incidentally, the firm was thoughtful to set up my station and computer in English.

Until the end of the month, I am CC050, extension #5137.