Wednesday, October 30, 2002

A few weeks ago my flatmate and I were arguing whether it was a good thing or not that GIs had discovered Hongdae since the curfew had been imposed. I argued in favour saying that *a few* GIs in Hongdae was not a bad thing, it added variety to the nightclub scene and promoted interaction between the Koreans and Americans. It gave young GIs a better chance to see Korean life and even Korean women who were not the regular prostitutes you see at Itaewon's notorious "hooker hill" and hopefully gave the Koreans a chance to see GIs out of uniform just having a good time like regular people the world over.

My flatmate argued that GIs are crass, rude and prone to get into fights and would serve no purpose other than to spread their well-deserved bad reputation to other parts of Seoul.

My flatmate was right; I was wrong. The emergence of signs around Hongdae refusing entry to GIs based on previous bad experience shows that in the one year since the curfew has been imposed the American serviceman has proved that they just cannot play nice with others and cannot mingle in their host city without causing a rucuss.

On another note. Time this week has a special feature about North Korea.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

I noted in an earlier blog that it was unusual that James Kelly had cancelled press conferences in Seoul and Tokyo following his brief diplomatic trip to North Korea ealier this month. Of course the news has now come out that, during his visit, North Korea revealed that it indeed had a nuclear weapons program. This action is in direct violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework wherein North Korea conceded to freeze its nuclear program and begin developing light water reactors in cooperation with US consortium for energy.

The reaction of the US has been to try and get South Korea, Japan and China to harshly denounce the North for this action. However, Dubya Bush is having less success than perhaps he hoped for in this matter. The major regional nations, while willing to note that North possession of nuclear weapson is a) not desirable and b) and program to get more weapons is also not desirable, the countries have balked at being too harsh against the North.

I think the response shows that the Asian nations have recognised that the North won't just go away if they ignore it. After years of predicting its collapse, the regime remains. War is not desirable, especially now that we know they have weapons so it would seem that the best thing to do is to take on-board this new information and get back to the job of trying to cooperate and work with North Korea and to help it.

Monday, October 28, 2002

This last weekend was the much anticipated Apple Festival in Chung-ju. The event was a rip-roaring success. A little bit chilly I'll grant but such a beautiful clear day in the province. The course ran along the outskirts of town which gave absolutely spectacular views of Wolaksan in full Autum colours of red, golden, brown and green. For my part, I ran the 10km race in 53 minutes 38 seconds well inside my 'less-than-one-hour' target. My friends who joined me all came in before me but only by a couple of minutes.

Following this gruelling feat we headed over to Suanbo Hot Springs to ease our tired muscles in a hot spa....very hot spa as it turned out, even the "warm" bath scalded my delicate skin. Duly rested we then sat down to a large feast of 삼겹살 (barbeque pork that is very fatty and very yummy). And then it was then time to face the traffic and head back to Seoul. But what a great way to spend time with friends and see the country. What a great day!

News now is that there is an In-line skating marathon (22km) coming up at Ilsan in two weeks and a 15km run at Hannam City in three weeks. No details (or links) for these as yet.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Today was the Award Ceremony for the 6th Seoul Metropolitan Government Essay Contest. Decked out in my new (and very spiffy) outfit I made my way to City Hall. Unlike last year when we were unceremoniously herded in 'Annex Building no.5' behind Doksugung Palace, this year we were in City Hall itself. Much more appropriate.

The Mayor, Lee Myung-bak came in and shook the hands of all the winners, including me. And then the ceremony began. It was an aptly short affair and the Mayo presented our certificates and then we turned and bowed to the audience. Of course after th ceremony there was a frenzy of Koreans taking photos with the Mayor and with each other.

Congrats to everyone and thanks to everyone who came and congratulated me.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

As outsiders looking at America it is east to picture the nation as the fabled 'land of opportunity'. From what you read of success stories it almost seems sometimes that getting rich is not just a possibility but if you try hard, it would almost be a certainty. But the New York Times has an article by Paul Krugman this week that reminds us all too clearly that in America the rich are only a few elite who not only get most of the money but also most of the attention.

Without going into the unfairness on society of having such wide income gaps I would like to parallel this article with a session I attended at the World Knowledge Forum last week. In this particular session both Korea and Malaysia presented their government's efforts to develop into knowledge-based societies. Korea emphasised speed and the need to move quickly to keep ahead of competition. But Malaysia, I felt, had a much more well thought out idea. It's plan emphasised development only with equality. The idea being that growth and wealth should only come when it can come to all citizens. This great consideration for maintaining social cohesion and equality (particularly in multi-ethnic Malaysia) seemed to me to be a better path.

As countries strive to develop their economies and become more competitive in the global market, consideration needs to be given to the long term goal. Develop is designed to benefit the peope - all people and not just a few elites. And in the end, if development is not equitible, it will lead to social unrest that could easily unravel any progress made leaving a country in a position worse off than before.

Monday, October 21, 2002

The winners of the Seoul Metropolitan Government 6th Essay Contest was announced today and are listed. I have to buy a new outfit for the award ceremony. How exciting!

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

The World Knowledge Forum is being held in Seoul at the Grand Hilton Seoul Convention Centrefrom October 15th-18th, 2002. Today I had the opportunity to attend the Special Lecture presented by none other than the 2001 Economics Nobel Prize Winner, Joseph E. Stiglitz. So what did he have to say for himself? I'm no journalist and I didn't have pen and paper with me for the meeting (it was durin lunch and I was eating, as is my want). But I managed to make the following notes afterwards based on memory and a copy of the powerpoint slides I snatched:

US Economic Prospects and World Economy

In his speech today at the World Knowledge Forum being held at the Grand Hilton Convention Centre in Seoul from October 15th � 18th, Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz expounded his pessimistic (not very pessimistic, simply pessimistic) view of the US and world economy.

While there are weaknesses in US, European and Japanese economies, Stiglitz noted that China and India have been sources of growth and that countries best managing the global downturn have been those that are now increasing trading with these countries and diversifying their markets to reduce the level of dependency on major world markets such as US and Europe. He noted that Vietnam and Korea, two countries that have significantly increased exports to China have been able to weather the global downturn better than other countries.

Addressing the US economy, Stiglitz believed that focus should be given to how long the slowdown will continue. In highlighting the depth of the current downturn, his somewhat tongue-in-cheek boasting of US achievements over the past 12 months included the growth in unemployment, reduction in investments and the rapid turnaround in the US economy from a $3 trillion surplus (or was that $5 trillion, I forget) to $2 trillion deficit.

He noted that the 2001 recession was a combination of inventory and investment cycles. The weakening investment cycle is attributable in part to the depressing effects of corporate scandals and the threat of war. Other macroeconomic weaknesses in the economy are also serving to slow the economy, including reduced consumption and weak exports, as well as weaknesses in the stock market, labour market and business sector.

Regarding monetary policy, Stiglitz felt that the Fed should not be completely relied on to boost the economy and the fiscal ineptitude in recent times had exacerbated the fundamentals of the US economy. He advocated greater fiscal responsibility in righting the economy rather than putting too much faith in the abilities of monetary policy, citing the Feds inability to stop the current decline.

Recent corporate scandals in the US also highlighted problems with underlying fundamentals in the economy and he called on greater government regulation sensibly noting that if the information supplied for an economy is inaccurate and untrustworthy, it only serves to fuel market instability.

Concern was also noted for the sustainability of the huge US trade deficit and the threat of war in light of the current slowdown.

In the end, Professor Stiglitz saw an optimistic future for the US and world economy if reforms could be implemented to address the current weaknesses systemic problems that were preventing the US economy from rising out of the slowdown to make the economy less vulnerable to those factors which caused the current downturn.

Okay now I think the horror and shock of the Bali bombings is starting to sink in. I've been reading someInformation and news from various sources all of which is very distressing. There is something profoundly painful about seeing the photos of other Australians in such sorrow and anguish. I am rather glad that I am not in Australia at the moment where it could well be overwhelming.

After September 11 many Koreans asked if I was American (which I'm not) and expressed regret for the events but as yet only one Korean has even mentioned this incident to me. Just an observation.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Headline News today is the bombing in Bali which has claimed the lives of many tourists, mostly Australian. I have many thoughts and opinions on this matter, as an Australian and an opponent of the budget which so much focused on defense and anti-terrorist expenditure and to the excessive support given to U.S' foreign policy stance that is provocative and aggressive, but I won't comment any further here.

Back in Korea, I was reading from another foreigner in Korea their comments regarding this article from the New York post. I would like to add my own comments about this article. I agree that it was too harsh. But more importantly I feel that this article and similar ones are forgetting one critically important fact.....Sunshine policy is not the nation's defense policy. At no point has the vigilance, budget or activities of the South Korean military been compromised or reduced for any remote reason related to the Sunshine policy.

The Sunshine policy, mostly dealt with through the Ministry of Unification (not Ministry of Defense) focuses on establishing cultural and economic links as well as providing aid and support for North Korea. In terms of success, there was the historical summit, a greater number of family reunions, joint marching at the Sydney Olympics and now North Korean participation in the Asian Games. True, there have been set backs and some impatient observers critise the lack of pace of progress or results. However, the Sunshine policy is a long term project designed to lay the groundwork that may later pave the way for unification. It was never designed to realise unfication in such a short time. Any lack of progress in railways or other are more attributable to lack of finance in North Korea and perhaps even hesitation by the North to go too fast...afterall, it would be niave to think that they do not feel thier own sovereignty is threatened by cooperating too much with a much more powerful and US backed South Korea.

Criticism of the boat incident and other matters regarding border control and national security are matters of defense, not unification. In other brief comments: I also think it unfair to compare North Korean drought and starvation as being akin to Iraqi treatment of minorities within the borders of that country. And reduced US influence in Asia brought about through restored stability of the Korean peninnsula can only be a good thing. And while China is allied historically to North Korea I don't think the geo-political standing that existed in 1950 are quite the same as they are today to the point where Chinese military backing of the North is *assured*.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Korea is definitely hi-tech and wired in. With the highest broadband connection penetration in the world, by far,it is fast becoming a benchmark for other countries to follow. But as we know, the internet and free and easy access to it, is not 100% a good thing. Broadband internet in Korea gets more publicity for the boom in gaming (and odd places to take your date) than it does for matters concerning productivity or contributions to economic growth. But more than just being not helpful, it seems that gaming addiction is becoming a deadly past time. I wonder if that feat would make it into the World Records.

Yesterday I saw a cartoon in the Australian news of a bunch of sheep stock traders debating about whether they were bulls or bears. I thought it was rather amusing, but even more so after reading about the undervalued status of some Korean shares. I noted earlier in the year in a blog that, in my humble opinion, there was no reason for the Korean stockmarket to be heavily affected by the global economic downturn. The budget is due to be balanced ahead of the 2003 schedule, exports have been increasing steadily at the same time as strong consumer demand which was previously boosting the economy began to settle to more realistic levels. Bank profitability remains good and privatisation of Korea public companies is on track and should have strong momentum to last into the new government. Indeed, in the build up to the election the political climate remains stable and relations with the North are the best they have been in a while. But despite all this, foreign investment into the Korean Stock Market continues to decline. While overseas investors may have little to spare for investment at the moment I maintain my original view that the KSE itself is looking good and at the moment some of the stocks are going at bargain prices that should be due to reap some benefits when the global economy begins to lift.

However the negative side exists as concerns mount over a Korean hard landing and further declines in an already plummeting market.

As for me, I remain optimistic for the Korean market

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

I found the article mentioned in yesterday's blog regarding the relocation of Koreans living in Russia during Stalins rule.

Monday, October 07, 2002

US representative James Kelly has wrapped up his trip to Pyongyang and it looks like everything went smoothly with nothing of substance actually being achieved. But questions remain "why was the press conference cancelled in both Seoul and Tokyo?" No reporters were allowed to travel with the delegation into North Korea and now they aren't even allowed to question those that went. A little fishy it smells.

Also, after much pessimism on my part, Kim Suk-soo has been approved. So South Korea now has a Prime Minister to see things through until the mid-December presidential elections. I like the commentary that the GDP was worried that a third rejection might be bad for them image....implying that it was not that he was suitable for the job either but just that the whole rejection thing was getting tired. Good to see the democratic process functioning for the good of the people.

And in the human interest section of this blog...I was reading an article in the Financial Times about Koreans subject to relocation under Stalin in Russia. I wanted to include the article but couldn't find it on the website...(I read the article in the actual real paper) but I found this article from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies which also addresses the topic. I don't claim to know much of this side of Korean history but its a curious feature of Korean history which, as far as I know, has not been widely researched or investigated. But its interesting to note that during Stalin's reign it was not just a matter of Russians against their own people but many other races and people were affected and killed in Russia during this period. Russia does not imbibe images of multiculturalism but its always timely to remind ourselves that no country is without other races and people dwelling in its borders and through this inevitably their story and history becomes mingled with the country's history.

Friday, October 04, 2002

First and foremost I must apoligise to all those poor people I collided into during yesterday's rollerblading event. The whole speed control thing was quite beyond my blading expertise, I'm sorry. But I promise to practice more and get out there and keep trying till I get at least marginally watch out. But wasn't it just beautiful to get out and enjoy the day in Seoul yesterday?...after the rain cleared and temporarily blew the smog away. You could almost breathe.

This weekend the best looking and most popular person in Seoul (me! - who did you think?) has decided to grace the bustling fashion hub of Daegu with my presence. The info given about some of the mountains looks appealing but we'll leave that 'for another day'. This time I am visiting friends (yes I have some), but unfortunately this trip coincides with my resolution to give up alcohol between now and the Apple Marathon 10km race to be held on the last weekend on this month. But, I won't let that stop me from going out and making a fool of myself on Saturday.

Hobbes once said: "I like to say "quark"! Quark, quark, quark, quark!" - thats so funny I might use it as my pick-up line on Saturday night. Yeah - classy!

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Prime Minister candidate number three looks set to face a rigorous hearing from the National Assembly regarding alleged tax evasion. The Special Hearing Committee is likely to delve into the earnings of his children asserting that Mr. Kim channelled money into his children to diminish his own asset holdings.

Two key points need to be presented here. As I have opined in an earlier blog, it would be a miracle comparable to the economic development of this country to find a person of Korean nationality worthy and “clean” enough to pass the scrutiny of these Special Hearings. As good as such hearings are for democracy, at present they are only serving to highlight how unworthy the candidates are of running government. What's the point of having a democratic government when those in power are still as corrupt as someone who was not popularly elected or approved? The end result is still a corrupt leader serving their self interest often at the expense of the common good.

My second point is that with less than two and a half months until the Presidential elections, the limited-term ceremonial job of Prime Minister under the current administration lumbering under a lame-duck president is a pretty thankless appointment. Especially when you have face a hearing committee which has already highlighted the corruption and unethical behaviour of the two previous candidates in a way that is publicly humiliating. This becomes all the more appealing in a strong Confucius society that frowns upon loss of face.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Work could have been more boring today....but its difficult to imagine how. I slumped into a boredom induced coma around one-thirty...revived for about an hour and lost consciousness again until an hour before going-home time. The most amazing thing is that nobody bothers to wake me or reprimand me for such blatent laziness. Now I have to go out and stay up late so that I can lay my head in my empty in-tray and sleep away my vacant day tomorrow was well.

I couldn't image having to stay awake for days like this.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui