Caveat: peninsular psephological observations

I decided to take a break from documenting my visit to Oregon and my uncle's health crisis to address the elections held this week in South Korea.

As my sister said, off-handedly, just now, "there are no coincidences in politics." Thus, the fact that the Kim-DJT summit in Singapore was held this week, right before the elections, can hardly be imagined but to have been some bit of orchestration on the part of the South Koreans. And the incumbent president Moon Jae-in and his left-leaning 더불어민주당 [deobuleominjudang ~ "together democratic party"] clearly had decided that the blustery leaders' drafty summiteering would benefit them electorally. It did. 

Arguably, Korea experienced a "blue wave" such as some are forecasting for the US elections this Fall. Which is odd not just because Korea isn't in the US, but because this is a kind of Korean mid-term, and as such, just like a US mid-term, you'd expect things to swing the other way. Since Moon had won in 2016, it seemed that things should swing rightward for this election. That didn't happen. The main right-leaning party remains in disarray following the impeachment scandals that led to Moon's election, and Moon is benefiting from domestic fears that Mr T is going to mess things up for South Korea.

So it goes. It's interesting to compare the 2016 electoral map and the 2018 electoral map. You see the "blue wave", barely noticeable and somewhat ambivalent in 2016, engulfing the country this time around. I have the 2016 map in my blog post from that election. And here is this year's, below.


I like electoral maps. They're interesting. Call me an amateur psephological cartographer.

[daily log: walking, 5km]

Caveat: What about alcohol?

Here is the Korean zeitgeist, as revealed in an offhanded comment by a sixth-grade girl who goes by Mindy:

Sometimes alcohol is necessary.

She said it in a chipper voice, as if conversationally stating the obvious. That would sum up the Korean perspective, easily enough.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: la même chose

Every Spring is the same, in northwest Seoul. Smoggy. So… every Spring I become grumpy and "under the weather" – almost literally.

Actually this morning isn't so bad. But the weekend seemed so, and last week was horrible. Such is life in the megalopolis.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Random Poem #155

(Poem #456 on new numbering scheme)

신의 은총이 없었다면 저도 저렇게 되었을 것이다.

My coworker was sad. Her sister died.
The cancer had declared its wish at last.
The funeral was all the way across
vast Seoul. These Koreans mourn the dead
as they live – with kimchi and alcohol.
The grace of god descended, so we kept
our silences while poking rice with spoons
and fetching bits of food with chopstick-thrusts.
Of course my own unlikely failed demise
was apropos – but felt indulgent too.
I spoke about it with reluctance till
at last we drove back down the Han to home.
The night was cold. It carved heavenly paths;
expressways sought to give us maps of hope.

Caveat: 3653 days

Ten years ago, today…

On September 1, 2007, I arrived in South Korea for my first teaching gig. I didn't blog about my arrival until a few days later – I still hadn't adopted the one-blog-post-per-day habit. 

My first place of work was in a building less than two blocks from where I work now. One of my coworkers at that first job is still a current coworker, despite an intervening complexity of 6 different institutional employers. I had met two others of my current coworkers within the first 6 months.

Although Goyang is a city (suburb) of over 1 million residents, the Hugok neighborhood where I work is a village within the city, and over the decade it's really changed very little, and many of the faces are the same. 

The intervening 10 years have seen a few memorable adventures (including my year teaching down south in Jeollanam in a public school) and a long, drawn-out near-death experience: cancer, anyone?

I believe that the latter experience has fundamentally changed my personality. Perhaps not even for the worse – but I seem to have a much less adventurous spirit, now. I rarely fantasize about travel, anymore, whereas that was a near constant in earlier versions of myself. That, of course, is on my mind, since I'm going to be traveling, starting tomorrow, for only the second time since the cancer thing. 

I still don't have any clear feeling that this Korean life is permanent. There are strong reasons why it might not be – there's some precariousness to it. Nevertheless, on a day-to-day basis, I operate on a fundamental assumption that this Korean life has, indeed, become my permanent lifestyle. It's convenient to think that way, even if it's not really true. It's comfortable.

More later.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: North Korea’s ICBM Program Makes Me Safer

I genuinely believe that North Korea's ICBM program makes me safer. 

To understand what I mean, consider that I'm speaking, specifically, of me – I don't mean, here, some generic "me." I mean, I am a guy who lives about 20 km from North Korea. On a clear day, I can see North Korea from the top of a nearby hill – and that's not Sarahpalinesque hyperbole, either.

To be clear, North Korea's ICBM program probably makes the world in general a much more dangerous place. But my specific spot in the world becomes notably less dangerous.

Here's why.

You see, this spot, 20 km from the DMZ, and 25 km from the muzzles of North Korean artillery, has always been quite dangerous. For the last 70 years, it's been in the targeting sights of North Korean bomb delivery systems.

This has not changed. But with ICBMs, the North Korean has military has acquired a vast new selection of possible targets. 99% of these targets have greater strategic value, and fewer downsides, than bombing their own relatives in their own front yard. 

What North Korean military planner wouldn't prefer to bomb Guam, or Washington, or even Okinawa or Nome, Alaska, over Ilsan or even Seoul? 

So the chances of bombs suddenly raining down on Ilsan go down, each time they add kilometers to their overall ICBM range. 

That's pretty basic. 

In fact, I feel as if, to the extent that North Korea is able to attack the US directly, South Korea in general becomes safer. Why damage territory you hope to annex, when you can just directly attack that territory's current "protector"?

Now that doesn't mean I'm anything like complacent that I'm completely safe. To the extent that irrational minds (both in Pyeongyang and, increasingly, in Washington) walk down a path toward military confrontation, things get more dangerous, too. There might be an actual war, and if that happens, of course Ilsan is on the front line, so to speak. But the chances that Ilsan will be the "first victim" in some North Korean preemptive attack are fading quickly, and thus the area becomes a spot where "waiting out the war" becomes more plausible, to the extent you can accept that it seems unlikely that the North Koreans would be ultimately able to take any actual South Korean territory. I take that as a given in the current military climate. The North can only be preemptively retributive, if that makes any sense. 

Maybe I'm just being unreasonably blind to military strategy and risks. But this is how I see it.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Baekje Rising


Korea voted for president yesterday. I was quite confident already that the left-leaning candidate, Moon Jae-in (문재인), was sliding to victory. The right has been in disarray since the scandals broke around Park Geun-hye last year, and her impeachment and removal from office a few months ago, leading to this accelerated presidential election schedule, somewhat guaranteed that the electorate would swing leftward.

The main right-leaning candidate for the new Liberty Party (the previous Saenuri Party, trying to rebrand itself in the wake of the scandals), Hong Jun-pyo, didn't help matters by having Trumpesque crude sexist language come to light in his own past, including bragging about a date rape while in college. I had one coworker tell me that she would normally vote Saenuri (i.e. conservative, and probably, I speculate, because of her evangelical religious affiliation), but she couldn't vote for Hong because he was "repugnant and disgusting." I can only wish that US evangelicals could have been more morally upstanding vis-a-vis Trump.

So the conservatives shot themselves repeatedly in both feet, and the normally minority liberals wafted into the presidency, despite almost everyone disliking Moon almost as much as Americans seem to have disliked Hillary Clinton.

If one thinks in terms of policy and ideology, I also suspect Moon's position was strengthed precisely because of Trump's victory in the US. The Koreans deeply distrust Trump because of his being on the record to reevaluate the US "protection" of South Korea. Thus Moon's stated intention to reexamine the relationship with the US probably resonated as well. How all this plays out vis-a-vis North Korea, I can't really say. My instinct is that, to the extent the US and South Korea are NOT getting along, the North Koreans will be pleased and therefore LESS likely to do anything dangerous. So in fact my personal feeling, which is perhaps misplaced optimism, is that Moon's election will be good for lowering tensions with the North.


Having said all that, I want to return to something I looked at during the last election cycle: the ghosts in the electoral map.

Moon's victory map seems to parallel the 900AD "Late 3 Kingdoms Era" (후삼국시대 [husamguk sidae]) in Korea. Look at the two maps: the conservative "rump" in the southeast is later Silla, long past its glory days, while new Baekjae and the ascendant Goryeo dominate the peninsula – see the maps along the right.

I was thinking about this "ghosts in the map" idea because I also ran across someone who mentioned that Macron's support in the recent French presidential election eerily paralleled the Plantagenet lands (i.e. English control) in 12th century France – see the maps below.


[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]


Caveat: giving witch-doctors a bad name

As the evolving scandal around President Park Geun-hye and her "spiritual advisor" Choi Soon-sil continues to dominate the media, I have ambivalent feelings.

On the one hand, this reminds me a little bit of the potential scandal that never really took root around Nancy Reagan's reliance on astrologers. Imagine if it had turned out that there was documented evidence that Nancy's astrologers had been writing policy speeches for Ronald Reagan (and maybe this was true, but there was never any "smoking gun"), and that said astrologers had made billions of dollars through extortion and influence peddling to business leaders. 

On the other hand, there is an element of "moral panic" about this scandal that is quite distasteful to me. My concern lies at the intersection between certain very conservative social forces in Korean society (linked to both Evangelical Christianity and traditional, Joseon-Era Neoconfucianism) and the long-standing cultural habit of condemning and persecuting the ancient shamanistic practices which are the substrate of Korean culture. These practices go under the rubric of "Muism" and have been persecuted and suppressed for at least 1500 years, since Buddhism became the state religion in the Three Kingdoms Era. Yet they remain quite strong, and they have always been connected to a kind of Korean "counterculture" that seems have an almost hippie-pagan flavor (in the sense familiar to westerners) yet is also deeply traditional. It helps to imagine Korean hillbillies.

I despise that this scandal is serving to reinforce the "superstition against superstition" that especially Evangelicals use to condemn nonbelievers. Yet the behavior of the President and her friend, in this context, has been self-evidently reprehensible. This is the sort of thing that could serve to increase the Christian right's stranglehold on South Korea's polity, if carefully spun.  

As I've said before, there are positive ways that Christianity's weird, unprecedented takeover of South Korea during the last 50 years has enabled the culture to leapfrog out of its most xenophobic and caste-driven tendencies that were its premodern heritage, but I have always seen Muism and Buddhism, as well as Korea's many vibrant, unconventional syncretistic cults, such as they remain, as important counterweights to the excessive "holier-than-thou" moralizing and intolerance emanating from the mostly American-influenced, Pentecostal churches. 

Actually, I find the odd links between one of those bizarre cults, 영세교 ([yeongsegyo], called "Church of Eternity" in English) and the Park dynasty (father dictator and daughter current president) fascinating. They might lend some insight into the Parks' odd relationship with the Korean establishment. That "church," founded by a former Buddhist monk, seems to be equal parts Christianity, Buddhism, and Muism. The daughter of the founder is the one at the center of the current scandal.

picture[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Got my smart uniform / And my duty to perform

I was in the US Army, stationed at Camp Edwards, Paju (Geomchon), South Korea, in 1990. I hated my sergeant – he was corrupt, which distorted my chain of command.

He would volunteer our squad for details (extra tasks, like cleaning post latrines or moving boxes at the warehouse), currying favor with the Company CO, and then promptly disappear, to meet with his girlfriend at the post NCO club (bear in mind that he was married, with a wife and kids back in the States, and that his girlfriend, as an enlisted member of the same battalion, was off-limits due to rules about fraternization). The rest of the squad was on the line for getting the detail done.

The sergeant was a terrible hypocrite, and it was only a matter of time before I got out of line and said something insubordinate. When I did, I was disciplined. The company CO put me on an "extra duty" detail that was, in fact, the best thing that happened to me in the Army.

I was obligated to ride as a "US military presence" with a group of Korean civilians whose job it was to go onto US bases all over Gyeonggi Province and collect boxes for shipment of personal effects of US service personnel, via civilian courier, back to the US (or to other US military bases around the world). I think basically I was with them to provide a kind of "peace of mind" to the US military personnel who were entrusting their possessions to the Korean civilians. I accompanied an ROK NCO who was functioning as a "Customs liaison" – his job was to make sure no US soldiers were shipping contraband. My job was just to tag along so that the military presence was "bi-national," as far as I could tell. I had no actual duty whatsoever, although at the start of the duty I'd been forced to memorize a set of Korean customs regulations as applied to US service personnel.

I was never called upon to make use of this information, however. Sometimes the ROK soldier would make me hold his clipboard. Typically, the Korean soldiers always enjoyed chances to be "in command" of US soldiers, and I was happy to go along with it, for the most part. None of the Korean NCO's I worked with were in any way corrupt compared to the US NCO's at Camp Edwards, who, with the shining exception of  Staff Sergeant Jones (a few links up my chain of command, and the closest kind of "friend" I had during this period), were all a pretty bad bunch.

1_1Enter2ndDiv1The ROK soldier, who was a different person on different days, was really the only person who had any English competency at all. The Korean "ajeossis" who packed the boxes and drove the truck had only a few limited phrases. They were exceedingly kind and friendly toward me, however, and during my 3 months of special duty, I became a part of their "team," in a way that never occurred with the ROK soldiers. I was their pet American. I spent between 6 and 8 hours a day with this team, 4 days a week. I loved riding around the Korean countryside with them, from US base to US base, from Panmunjom (several times) all the way down to Osan. I got to visit every single active US military installation in the region, while spending most of my time in transit between, stopping at bunshik joints at the side of the highway and eating excessively spicy ramen with slices American cheese floating on top – a favorite of these men. I learned some of my first phrases of Korean. All these years later, they are still the few phrases that come most naturally to me.

There were long waits, sometimes. I carried my current Dostoyevsky or Gogol novel and would read. The Camp Edwards post library inexplicably had an excellent collection of Russian literature in translation, and thus my year in Korea was when I worked my way through most of the Russian greats. I also had my little Sony Walkman (this was 1990, right?). I only had 4 cassettes, however. So they were on constant rotation. 

One of those tapes was Nik Kershaw. Even now, if I hear one of his songs, I become exceedingly nostalgic for those road trips along the DMZ with those ajeossis. This is even stronger when the day is drizzly and gray, late Summer fading into early Fall, and I look out my window at the same Korea I saw then (with a few buildings added). The picture (found online), above right, shows the south check point, back in the day, which I remember vaguely. It's less than 10 km from my current home. I start craving spicy cheese ramen.

What I'm listening to right now. 

Nik Kershaw, "Know How."


Got a badge upon my chest
I'm a cut above the rest
So I can tell you what to do

Got my regimental hat
Got my "by the good book" chat
So I can tell you where to go

I've got a job to do and I'm telling you
I intend to do it well
It's easy when you know how

Got my smart uniform
And my duty to perform
So I
Don't care you who you are

I'm the only one who can spoil your fun
With one shake of the head

It's easy when you know how, know way
Know where and know today
Know mercy, know time
Know reason, know rhyme
Know how

I can tell you I'm the law
With my medals from the war
So don't tell me what to do
With my narrow point of view

Though I know you're probably right, I guess
It's still not easy saying yes
It's easy when you know how, know way
Know where and know today
Know mercy, know time
Know reason, know rhyme

Know how

[daily log: walking, 1.5km]

Caveat: The Kimchi Croquette

KimchicroquetteIn the weird fusion culture that is South Korea, 2016, I can walk down to the corner Tous les Jours franchise (a pseudo-French bakery chain) and buy a "kimchi croquette."

I couldn't resist trying one. Actually, it wasn't that unpleasant – sufficiently moist and squishy, when heated up, that it was not difficult to eat for my jangae mouth. And the kimchi added a nice bite to what would otherwise just be a greasy blandness.

Today begins the most important holiday of the year, the Korean thanksgiving ("추석"). It's always "8-15" on the old, lunar calendar, but it floats around the September/October timeframe on the Gregorian – every year is different.

I have vast, megalomaniacal plans to do as little as possible with great mindfulness and intentionality.

[daily log: walking, 2km]

Caveat: 2016총선

Korea voted for parliamentary representatives yesterday (this is called 총선, "general election"). The atmosphere as I walked to work was quite strange – a "real" holiday. The schools were closed and workers are given time off (half days or complete off days depending on their work type and schedule, but the hagwon business, such as where I work, is exempt from this and so we worked as normal). There were lots of senior citizens going in and out of polling places, and parents were out in playgrounds playing with their kids. It was nice, and the feeling was vaguely festive.

My friend Peter has been blogging in a very detailed and interesting manner about election-related issues. I have enjoyed reading his thoughts. I haven't, myself, been following these elections as closely as in the past – I have been feeling a kind of bitter resignation about the phenomenal lock on power held by the conservatives in Korea, and this election appeared to be only a further entrenchment of this "neo-Parkism," embodied by the presidency of the dictator's daughter, with a fragmented opposition that seemed destined to do badly.

In fact, the opposition didn't do so badly, on preliminary results – I have been looking at Naver News' summary coverage (in Korean). The president's 새누리당 (Saenuri Party) lost its parliamentary majority, Ahn Cheol-soo's new third party, 국민의당 (People's Party) did remarkably well, and even the 더문주당 (Minjoo Party) surprised at least me by turning Gyeonggi blue on the electoral map, despite losing their main stronghold in the southwest to the upstarts. Turnout was higher than in the last several elections.

I walked past 4 different polling places on the way to work (all schools). Below is the Ilsan Service Industry Workers Vocational High School (called, optimistically, the "International Convention High School", but really a dumping ground for Ilsan's least ambitious students), with a polling place banner across the entrance gate.

2016-04-13 polling place

[daily log: walking, 7km]


Caveat: 혁신도시

Korea's "New Cities" have always fascinated me, given my own proclivities as an unfulfilled urban planner as well as my current long-standing residence in one of Korea's largest and most successful New Cities, Ilsan. There are many aspects of the the New City concept and process that are interesting to me, but perhaps what I'm most curious about is why some can be so successful, while others fail. What are the factors which cause this? What decisions are made that influence the success or failure, and what sociological factors beyond the control of planners influences the success or failure?

Ilsan is quite successful. If you came to this city of half a million residents, you might be surprised to learn it was less than 30 years old, and that nothing existed but a small village when when I first visited the area in 1991, while in the US Army stationed in Korea.

On the other hand, there are large New Cities which feel like ghost towns. They are not empty, but they have not managed to coalesce into a city-type place. They have atmospherics which resemble those of some US suburbs (or exurbs), contrasting only in being much higher density.

I was thinking about this recently, having watched on the TV a fairly in-depth report on a New City being built down near Gwangju, the other Korean metropolitan area that I have called home. The report first caught my attention because the name of the city is 빛가람 [bitgaram], which struck me as a weird name for a New City – it means "Bright Monastery" or "Bright Cathedral" and so what struck me as odd was the apparent religious aspect of the name. I suppose it could be seen as a "Cathedral of Capitalism."

It is being called "혁신도시" [hyeoksindosi = "Innovation New City"] – the term "innovation" in the name seems to be… an innovation. What are they trying to build? Gwangju has a history of trying to reinvent itself as a high tech city, from its old character as agricultural center and "car town" (it is the original home to KIA motors in that company's pre-Hyundai merger days, as well as home to the Kumho chaebol, maker of car parts and tires and buses). I have described it as Korea's Detroit. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but I think there is a reputational aspect that matches up, too. 

Bitgaram Innovation New City is being built in the city of Naju, which is Gwangju's older but much smaller neighbor to the south, but which is now absorbed into the Gwangju metropolis. Naju was one of two capitals of the pre-modern Jeolla province, and dates back to the Baekje kingdom era, I think.

Toponymically (and to digress), the name of the other capital, Jeonju, along with the name Naju, are the origins of the name of Jeolla province, since Naju was originally La-ju (a natural sound change from medieval to modern Korean), and thus Jeon+La = Jeonla->Jeolla. Originally, there were two provinces, Jeonju and Laju ("ju" just means place or province, after all).  I have always wondered why, when the modern Korean government decided to split Jeolla, they named them North Jeolla and South Jeolla. Why not just return to Jeon and La (Na)? It would be as if, say, Iowa and Minnesota merged, to form Minnesotiowa, and then split again to form North Minnesotiowa and South Minnesotiowa. 

This blog post is rambling a bit.

My real question is, will this New City if Bitgaram be successful, like Ilsan, or less successful, like e.g. Ilsan's western neighbor, Unjeong? I have been to Unjeong many times, and even have had coworkers and students who live there. But despite the ambitions attached to it, it has so far never evolved into anything more than a bedroom suburb, unlike Ilsan. It's a bit younger than Ilsan, but that doesn't explain its failure to develop its own city character – Ilsan had its own city character well-established even 15 years ago, which is Unjeong's age now. Unjeongians always commute to Ilsan for their city-type activities. I wonder why. 

The one trend that I find disturbing is that the newer New Cities seem to lack the commitment to diverse public transit that the older New Cities seemed pretty good at. Thus Unjeong is not built along a subway line (as is the case with Ilsan, really along two lines) but rather off to the side of one. Gwangju's subway (which is, anyway, a joke) will not connect to Bitgaram, as far as I can tell. 

Here is an image of Bitgaram, fished off the internet. It is a "rendering" – not an actual view – the city is still under construction.


[daily log: walking, ]

Caveat: Head Tax

I got a very strange tax bill the other day.

Not strange in the sense that it was wrong. But after living in Korea for 8 years, I didn't really expect to discover a new tax obligation out of the blue. Did they just recently realize I existed, and finally get their stuff together enough to send me a tax bill? Did the law change? My coworkers seemed familiar enough with it.

It was strange in a kind of annoying way, too, because it was for such an insubstantial amount: 5000 won for a year. Wouldn't the cost of collecting this tax be more than any possible amount collected at such a rate? Maybe this is why they never bothered to collect it until now. 


[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: When North Korea Attacks, Cancel Homework

We are in class, it's about 7 pm. 

A student says, "Teacher. Are we going to cancel class?"

"Why would we cancel class?" I ask. I took it for typical teenage "joking." 

"Because 북한 [bukhan = North Korea] just shoot missile at Yeoncheon." 

Yeoncheon is the county just north of Paju, whose border, in turn, is just a few blocks from our current location. I may even have had students who commute from Yeoncheon, a few times. 

"Really?" I ask. I think the students must be inventing something. But Yeongjin shows me the news on his smartphone. It's true. Later, I will read about the details in English, where they are easier to understand. 

Anyway, it's believable enough, on a Korean news site. "When did this happen?" I asked.

"About 4 o'clock," one student said.

"Wow," I said. "What should we do?" I guess I meant this collectively, and not necessarily with respect to the current class setting. The students took it more immediately.

"Cancel homework," several said in unison, as if it were the perfectly logical and obvious response to a North Korean attack.

I made a retort: "I think, if North Koreans are attacking, we should study English even more." 

"Why?" one boy asked.

"Because you will need English when you have to leave the country." This was excessively grim, and largely facetious. The students didn't really get what I was meaning. I decided it was too dark to explain.

Keep calm and study English.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]


Caveat: Vigilant Disregard

On my work blog's admin page, hosted on the website, which is Korean, they will put up these little "prompts" to suggest blog topics, in Korean.

Yesterday, on June 25th, appropriately, they had the question:

6.25전쟁과 같은 전쟁이 다시 일어나지 않으려면, 어떻게 해야 할까요?

Roughly, it asks, "How can we avoid another war like the 6-25 war?" ("6-25 war" is what South Koreans call the Korean war, since it started with the  North's surprise attack on June 25th, 1950). 

The answer that popped into my mind immediately was: "Just keep doing the same thing that's been done."

Why such a flippant answer? Well, it's worked for 60 years, right? 

I would characterize the South's approach to the North with the oxymoronic phrase "vigilant disregard." Vigilant because the Korean military is large, well-trained (relatively speaking), and well-supported (e.g. financially, by the U.S. alliance, etc.). Disregard, because, despite this vigilance, there is little coherence or intentionality to be found in the broader policy portfolio. It is mostly reactive, but tempered by a strong conservative tendency to hove to the status quo and avoid provocation. I've always said that South Korea seems to mostly see the North the way a Korean family would regard a mentally ill elderly relative. Something to be embarassed by, to try to ignore, but also to be controlled as best possible. 

Anyway, I answered that naver blog question here on this here blog thingy. 

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: MERSland

Am I worried about MERS? Not particularly. On the one hand, I suppose if it gets bad, that would be, well, bad. And my own weak immune system would not be helpful, either, if it started spreading around Ilsan. 

It is true the Korean health authorities have somewhat mismanaged the outbreak, too. 

If I was in America, it's worth noting that authorities there were mismanaging Ebola, not that long ago. So far, so much the same anywhere you choose to be. 

In any event, I think 90% of the current MERS situation in South Korea is hypochondria and media-driven public panic. The fact is that if you stay away from hospitals, you're fine. 

Authorities are trying to correct their earlier mis-steps. I got a MERS-oriented public health flier the other day at my apartment. 


I guess I view it as one of those incipient, unpredictable but inevitable calamities, like earthquakes or typhoons or North Korean aggression. They happen if they happen, and meanwhile, the smartest course is to not worry and try to live life as normal.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: The $200 Argument

Well, I have bad news and good news.

The bad news is I had to pay a fine of $300 (₩300,000) to the immigration authorities, because I violated a rule that said I had to report a change-of-address within 14 days. In fact, it was 1 year and 14 days since my move. Heh. I sort of knew about this rule, in the abstract, but in the mess of having cancer last year, and the move (while Andrew and Hollye were here, who helped me move), and everything else… I just forgot about it, and Curt never thought about it… and so we never reported the address change.

The good news is that I did, in fact manage to renew my contract and visa for another year. It seems as if time has flown by very fast, this past year.

They originally wanted to charge a fine of $500 (and in fact they had legal discretion to fine me up to $1000 and/or deport me, according to some websites on Korean immigration rules). Curt, however, was with me, and he decided to argue with the immigration officer for 40 minutes (continuously, in his best school-teacher, Korean-Confucian-pedantic style), and this (maybe) got us the reduction of $200. Curt was very pleased with the result, and I have to admit that if I had been alone, I'd have simply paid the $500 without even trying to negotiate. This is a Korean vs US character thing, in part. In Korea, officers giving fines and fees seem to have a lot of discretion (this is a carry-over from the days when it was outright corruption – I don't actually think there is that much corruption now, but this capacity to negotiate the terms of minor legal infractions still seems universal in the culture).

Curt said, "Wow, 200,000 won for only 40 minutes work. It sure was tiring, though." Indeed, he'd worked up a sweat in the air-conditioned office with his passionate debating. One thing he conveyed to me, later, that I hadn't captured in overhearing the Korean, was that the immigration officer had said at one point, to Curt, "Why are you arguing this? – it's the foreigner who has to pay the fine." Curt subsequently harangued the officer about the idea that that was the kind of "pass-the-buck" attitude that caused so many social problems in Korea, and further, it was a little bit "anti-foreigner" (i.e. racist).

Well, thus it is. I will view the $300 as part of the cost of my cancer last year, since ultimately the fact that I never reported my change-of-address is best explained by the distraction of that illness.

SeollongtangjointPrior to the immigration office adventure, Curt and I had had lunch together, at a 설농탕 joint down the road from KarmaPlus a few blocks. Curt had said, "this is an old restaurant," drawing out the "old" to show emphasis.

I said, "Really? When did they build it?"

"Oh, 1998 I think," Curt answered. 

We talked about how I had come to Ilsan in 1991, when I was in Korea in the US Army, and how at that time, it had been mostly rice-fields and a decrepit neighborhood around the train station, rather than a city of half-a-million.

Ah, life in the 신도시 [sindosi = "new city"]. 

[daily log: walking, 6km]