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∙ Current position: Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki
∙ Ph.D. dissertation Neighborhood Shopkeepers in Contemporary South Korea: Household, Work, and Locality available online (E-Thesis publications a the University of Helsinki). For printed copies, please contact me by e-mail.
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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Chosun editorial on small businesses

Chosun Ilbo had a few days ago an editorial on the difficulties of small businesses (in Korean; in English) in the present-day Korea. The literal English translation of the original title of the editorial would be "restaurants closing, hairdressing shops taking down signboards" (문 닫는 식당, 간판 내리는 미용실), but no doubt a direct translation wouldn't have conveyed the connotations of the Korean phrase, so a title reflecting more the contents of the text was chosen, "Mom-and-Pop Businesses Need Help, Too".

As a non-native speaker of English it's a good experience to see what English term is used to represent the small businesses that the editorial talks about. My relation to English tends to be technical, without so much feeling for the nuances or knowledge from practical use of everyday terminology. So that's why I'm much more familiar with the use of kumôngkage (gumeonggage) as a term of a kind of small businesses than with the English "mom-and-pop store". Well, at least I understand they are quite close in meaning and use.

The editorial comments the plight of small business keepers, among whom as much as 44% fail to earn the government-set minimum standard income for a four-person family. (This has also been widely discussed in a Donga Ilbo article series, of which I have earlier notes one, two and three). And there was also a Hankyoreh21 article, which questioned the view that there's an oversupply of self-employment in Korea, and of which my note is here.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Destruction in South-East Asia

Someone here in Finland suggested that the money meant to be used for fireworks in the New Year's eve should be donated to the flood wave disaster relief work. Watching whatever fireworks there will be won't be as fun this year.

More info from The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog (via Bighominid).

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Red brick houses of Sillim-dong

붉은벽돌 연립주택 바벨탑(신림 본동) / Babel tower of red brick housing, Sillim bon-dongWas it some Finnish businessman who said that when landing to the Gimpo airport the houses in Seoul look like a heap of bricks had been tossed on the hills of the city. That was in the 1990s, and the red brick color of the city has diminished since, even in Gwanak-gu in southern Seoul, which used to have very little apartment housing but has experienced lots of high-rise apartment building aroun the turn of the century. The main color of housing in Sillim-dong is still brick red; is the affection many feel towards the small housing, besides the idea that life is more "humane" in them than in apartment blocks, a result of the color itself? It is after all easy to think of brick red as a natural color. A wholly another thing is what the life is in this kind of small housing compared to apartment houses, and what the retail value of the house is...

The picture is from Flying City, where it was contributed by one who goes by the name Chôngjiksông (Jeongjikseong). It's an impression, like the picture a couple of posts below, of the housing in Sillim-dong, Gwanak-gu.

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Friday, December 24, 2004


크리스마스를 준비하는 과정에서 뭣보다 중요한 것은 청소다. 선물을 사고 예쁘게 싸지 않으면 크리스마스를 지내지 못 하듯이 청소는 마찬가지다. 집안 청소를 깔끔하게 해야 실제적이고도 의례적으로 깨끗할 것이다, 몸과 마음과 집은. 집을 청소하고 음식을 다 만들어 놓으면 사우나에서 목욕을 한다. 그걸로 일이 다 끝난 것이고 크리스마스의 의례적인 부분은 시작되는 것이다. (하긴, 청소와 사우나도 육체적인 의례적인 행동이다.)
평상시의 상태에서 의례적인 크리마스상태로 통과하는 데에 사우나는 아마 가장 중요한 것이다. 크리스마스뿐만 아니라 다른 때도 자아관찰로 그걸 봤다. 옆학과 친구들과 일주일 한두 번 헬스에 가곤 한다. 금요일이면 주말 앞서 사우나하는 데 좋은 날이겠지만 나의 몫인 집안의 주말청소를 안 했으면 절대 사우나를 안 한다. 그런 깨끗한 몸과 마음으로 청소하기가 참 더럽게 느끼니까.

한국에 있었을 때 청소를 눈치를 보고 해야 했었다. 하숙방과 옆방과 같이 쓰는 부엌 겸 현관을 정기적으로 청소하는 것을 오래된 습관이기도 하고 그걸로 사는 곳을 얼마 정도 나의 곳으로 만들어 보기도 했다. 남의 눈으로 꼭 그렇게 보이지는 않았다. 주인할머니는 내가 무릎 꿇고 방바닥을 닦는 걸 보니까 킥킥 웃었더라. 그때부터 그의 눈을 피하고 그 일을 했었다. 옆방의 젊은 놈이 또 내가 청소하는 것을 보니 떠날 거냐고 물어보더라. 젊은 한국 남자들의 하숙생활 하는 모습을 좀 본 적이 있으니 이해 잘 가는 물음이었다. 불편한 물음도 아니고 공연하게 청소하는 모습을 보여 주었으면 아무리 남자라 하더라도 뭔가 인간이 깔끔하게 살 수도 있다는 기회가 그 옆방 남학생한테 될 수가 있었지만 그냥 편하게 그 사람이 없을 때 청소를 했다.

청소해야 크리스마스. 부모댁에 가야 크리스마스. 사우나도 해야 크리스마스.

Iloista joulua kaikille
즐거운 크리스마스를 지내시길 바랍니다
Merry Christmas for everyone

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Sillim-dong alleys

Browsed through the pages of Flying City ("urbanism research group") yesterday and found all kinds of interesting things once again and spent all too long doing that. One frequent contributor of urban observations at the Wangsomun noticeboard calling him(?)self Chôngjiksông moves around the neighborhoods which I'm familiar with as well. This picture, contributed by Chôngjiksông, is called "Alley" (kolmok), and depicts the alleys of Sillim-dong.

신림동 골목/정직성 Sillim-dong alleys / Jeong Jik-seong

See also the picture "Red Babel Tower" (Pulgûn Pabelt'ap) by the same person in the notice board: impression of red-brick houses in Sillim bon-dong.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

law texts to be hangeulized

The government has decided to present a law bill which would have all the law texts to be written with Korean characters, and Chinese characters to be added in parenthesis in the case there is risk for misunderstanding or multiple meanings (Chosun Ilbo). Laws already written and submitted or passed entirely in hangeul, and the civil code and some other important laws are exceptions from this bill.
Interesting that of the civil code (minpôp 民法), criminal law (hyôngpôp 刑法) and others it is said that hangeulizing them requires meticulous research and consultation. This shows how non-Korean the texts actually are; writing the Chinese characters in them in hangeul would not produce understable Korean. (And now I'm talking of things that I don't know about.) In Finnish, where the law terms are to my understanding rather clear or transparent, meaning that they are understandable also out of context, the legalese itself has a grammar of its own. (For example when a prosecutor decides not to press charges, she does a syyttämättäjättämispäätös; a monster of a word, but understandable at first sight for any native speaker.)

And speaking of law, here Woojay congratulates in his peculiar manner his mate who has passed the Korean bar exam.
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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

is the oversupply of self-employment real

The weekly Hankyoreh21 questions the talk of the oversupply of self-employed and the policy blunders of the recent governments. (For an example of this kind of talk, see for example Donga Ilbo on the "mass business openings" in its recent series on the problems of small businesses. I was going to say that the Hankyoreh21 piece is defending the measures taken by the earlier Kim Dae-jung government to foster small business, but actually it's mainly response to recent remarks by the economy vice premier [the ROK habit of granting "vice premierships" to important government ministers...], that there is going to be "structural adjustments" (kujô chojông) of small businesses and subsequent difficulties (kot'ong) until the level of developed nations (sônjin'guk) is reached.

The article quotes some researchers telling that the current difficulties may as well be because of the economic downturn as because of structural oversupply of establishments. Also it'd be too early to tell whether the dichotomization within the self-employed sector between professional occupations (lawyers etc.) and the "non-professional" sector (like services) is a fundamental characteristic of the sector or a consequence of bad economy.

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Monday, December 20, 2004


I've always been scared as hell when taking a long-distance bus in Korea. Trains I like. If possible, I always take the train instead of any other means of transportation. For the last five years I've spent only a small part of my life in Korea, but been in a long-distance train more there than here in Finland.

Ohmynews has a train story
, deliberately nostalgic, which sort of takes me back there.

Mugunghwa train arriving at Gupo station in Pusan. (Linked from Ohmynews) ⓒ2004 정윤수

Twilight at Miryang station. (Linked from Ohmynews) ⓒ2004 정윤수

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Grandfather Kwon: family, marriage

The following text is partly what I've been writing lately about grandfather Kwôn, partly direct quotations from my fieldwork notes, and a few lines have been added for the blog entry.

Grandfather Kwôn's laundry in Sillim-dong in 1999

The previous entry about Mr Kwôn.

The first time I went to see Mr Kwôn in his laundry, he told before I especially inquired about his background that he was born into one of the three illustrious lineages originating in Andong, Northern Gyeongsang province (Andong Kwôn lineage homepage). As he mentioned, the founders of the three lineages were bestowed their names Kim, Kwôn and Chang by the first king of the Koryŏ dynasty for their merits in the establishment of the new dynasty in the early 10th century. The lineage that Mr Kwôn was to in the late 1920s had produced the second highest number of passers of the highest state examination munkwa after the royal Yi lineage of Chŏnju during the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910). After asserting his pedigree as a member of a yangban (scholar-official) household, the high status of his birth in premodern terms almost completely disappeared from his accounts, and from that on, the wealth of his family, and money and wealth in general came out as the important and relevant motives and as sources of influence over people.

The wealth of Grandfather Kwôn's home was based on enterprising: they had a large-scale rice mill (chŏngmiso) and a wine brewery (yangjojang). He mentioned also in passing that his father had been a "wealthy farmer" (taenong), but mostly he referred to the commercial enterprising as the source of their wealth. Despite of the death of his father to an illness even before he was born, the wealth of the household did not dwindle and the remaining members of the family were spared of economic difficulties. Kwôn was able to receive a good education in the standards of that time, and he was sent away from home to attend school in Daegu, which is the main city of the province. He graduated from high school, and had also elementary school teacher's qualifications, which made him in his own words an int'elli, an educated person, which with the wealth of the household made him popular among girls and a highly qualified bridegroom candidate. (The hardships in life and disadvantages in educational opportunities due to the early death of parents significantly affected the lives of Mr Pak of the rice mill and Chông of the "entrepreneurial couple".)
My popularity among the girls was like the popularity of H.O.T. (a dance music group) today. Our home was wealthy, we had a brewery (yangjojang) and a rice mill (chŏngmiso). I had to be careful with girls so that nothing went wrong, because the consequences could be severe. (…) I was 16 when I was taken by a woman for the first time (yŏjahant'e tanghaessŏ). There was a 20-year old girl living a few houses away. My own room was in a separate building in the courtyard. One night someone knocked on the door, and there was the girl from the upper house, asking if she could stay for the night. At that time a family usually had two rooms, and if they had three, the one room was usually rented out. Our house had electricity, and hers did not. Her brothers were much older than she, and she seems to have been curious to know about men. (…) "Here's nobody to see us, it doesn't matter. You already saw mine, you must show me yours." At that time it was really difficult to see the body of the opposite sex. I didn't know what it was that we were doing, I only did what I was told."
Grandfather Kwôn got married in the 1950s during his time in the military police. There had been a girl with whom he wanted to get married, but his grandmother wouldn't allow it because she had been a Christian and it was expected that she would refuse to help preparing the ancestor rites.
How did he meet his wife and get married? His wife was a daughter of a rich house. Her older sister (ŏnni) was a friend of his cousin (sach'on nuna). When he was in the army he got a telegram from his grandmother to come home quickly; because of the telegram he got a leave. Back at home his frightening grandmother ordered him to get married. So he ended up in a marriage forced by his grandmother.
About him getting married (he told about that already last time). "At that time my grandmother was already over 80 – then there were not so many people as old as that... and I was the only son (oedongadŭl), chasoni (子孫) tae(代)rŭl iŏya, the descendants have to continue the family line, and I was born after the death of my father. Grandmother arranged a daughter of a family she knew and set up a date, and I got a permission [from the military unit]. Grandmother said that your wedding will be after one week, so there was nothing to be done. (He was 25 at the time.) I had a lot of experience already then, surprised my wife by taking all my clothes off, ŏlmana tanghwanhaennŭnji...
– How about the marriage, married life? – It was more out of responsibility, ŭimujŏgŭro. Once when you get married you are not supposed to abandon the spouse.
Grandfather Kwôn was in some sense ambivalent about his marriage and all the womanizing. On the one hand he recollected his youth with some amusement ("those were good times"), but admits that now all that amounted to nothing.
Despite of emphasizing the importance of "modern" values like enterprising and power of money over people, he had ended up getting married in the traditional way, to a woman chosen by his grandmother (the men of the family had deceased). In the following quote he speaks in general terms, but it sounds as if he spoke about his own marriage. (His wife had passed away in the mid 1990s.)
Even if the wife has been a bad wife (akch'ŏ 惡妻), a man will remember her as one who raised his children (and took care of him?), one will be regretful (huhoegam) and have a guilty conscience (choech'aekkam).
[From a later occasion]
I have had my share of women, I've had relationships (oedo), but now all that thing has no use, soyongŏbsŏyo (he must mean himself). (a moment later) One must make a good marriage (must succeed in marrying a good woman)… no matter how much one earns money one must have a good wife.
Even though he clearly hadn't been emotionally very attached to his wife, grandfather Kwôn still admitted that the relation as a husband and a wife had been important to him. When she died, he had it really difficult to get back to normal life.
The most difficult (kodalp’ŭda) time was when my wife died. She lied in a sickbed for 2 years, and when she died, it was difficult because I had become accustomed to getting everything done, like being brought the ashtray. After wife’s dead life was a mess (nalli nago) in the shop and at home, I did not clean.
He tells about his wife. She was so sunbakhada (simple, honest, unspoiled etc.) that she could even have a room prepared in their home if he got to know a nice girl. It actually happened once. At that time a woman couldn’t pack her things and leave (pottari ssaji ank’o), a woman couldn’t make even a sound.
“There was a p’ach’ulbu who came to work in our house, and I treated her politely, and she mistook that for something, and started to think of marriage… but for me, no way, I’m not going to get married again. I didn’t clean much in the house for almost 6 years, never lifted or took out the mattress, only swept some around it, but nowadays I do everything, wash clothes, clean up... chigŭm ch’ŏri tŭrŏssŏ.

Following parts in the series:
• Money
• Mr Kwôn, Korea and other countries

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Friday, December 17, 2004

replacing of diplomats, and kumeongkage keepers

A few years ago when I was in Korea there was a small commotion in the diplomatic and political circles when a retired diplomat published a text very critical on the practice of replacing diplomats all too frequently. He used the metaphor which sort hit home for me quite well: "also in a corner shop business will not be good if the keeper changes often" (구멍가게 주인도 자주 바뀌면 장사가 잘 될 리 없다).

I couldn't but think of this when I heard the news that the Joongang Ilbo chairman Hong Seok-hyun had been named ROK's new ambassador to the United States (see Oranckay's blog for details and background and about Hong being the chairman of a major newspaper company, Joongang Ilbo). By all accounts Hong will make a good ambassador, but it's been only one and a half years since Han Seung-joo was appointed to the post. Ohmynews has the Yonhap piece which tells that Han had expressed a will to spend the last year before his retirement back at his professor post, so the change wasn't unexpected, but still. The frequent uphaul of top diplomatic posts cannot but be detrimental to the interests of ROK abroad, but when domestic interests overrun the international ones, this happens.

More about the appointment of Hong Seok-hyun: some commentors at Jinbonuri suggest that it's really about Samsung. Joongang Ilbo used to belong to Samsung, but is now at least formally separate (which in the eyes of many in Korea has not been a convincing separation). Samsung would need a messenger towards Roh's government to protect the interests of the owning-managing Lee family (chairman Lee Kun-hee and son), especially the precarious position of the son because of the way Samsun properties have been transferred to him, and the maintenance of the control over the company in general. (That commentator doesn't mention how Samsung would've influenced the appointment.)

Update. Pressian has a detailed article on the background of the appointment of Hong, and how the attitude of Joongang Ilbo towards the president changed since autumn last year (haven't been reading Joongang so much that I could tell the difference). The Blue House (president's office) and Joongang leadership have been planning this move already for two months in secret. It also tells, borrowing Joonang Ilbo which quotes in turn a high-positioned government person, that in the government there are hopes that Hong could become a contender for the post of UN general secretary after the period of Kofi Annan is over in 2006.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Octopus and clam in a Jeolla-do village

Ohmynews has a nice story from a village near Yeosu, Southern Jeolla, where people are busy harvesting the sea and the seashores. The small octopus (nakchi, or nakcha in the local dialect) that is caught at night sells at a high price in the Yeosu fish market, and the clam (pajirak) collected from the shores is exported to Japan at a price 50% better than in Korea.

ⓒ2004 Kim Hak-su

The oldest man in the village aged 90 works with the others on the shore. When asked the secret of his long life, he tells: "I'm 90, and our granny is 81. Perhaps itäs because I've been eating the fresh food from the sea all my life. If you talk carelessly you only hurt other people, but when you eat together and share good food with others, that'll make you good."

What's this with the Korean characters on this page? Why don't they appear properly on the main page, but come out good on other archive pages of this blog? (I'm using Firefox.) For example when I go to the permanent link page of each entry, the hangul type appears as it should. Browser-related thing? Explorer shows also this main page properly, but Firefox doesn't.

Now the next day, the hangul font appears as it should. Perhaps the spirits of this blog were just upset for something. But they should have no reason because the hits have been lately up thanks to Oranckay, Marmot, Simon World and others.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Survival 2004"

"Existence" or just "being" are also possible glosses for the word saengjon that Chosun Ilbo uses for the topic in its series of people struggling to make a living, but in this case "survival" catches best the meaning that the newspaper is trying to convey. "2004" in the title means of course that 2004 has been an especially bad year.

First case is a 36-year old man who sells oranges from a small truck. The technical high school graduate migrated to Seoul after school, and held diverse but respectable jobs before starting a business with an excavator machine right before the economic crisis hit in '97. He managed to clear his debts but lost everything (not his family though), but was driven into odd jobs to scrape together some kind of living. He begun trading from a truck in 2000, first going around baking and selling pizza, and now oranges. For some time before competition became severe his income was fairly good, but at the moment it's become quite bad. All the credit card debts (!) have piled up to make him a credit defaulter (신용불량자), and shopkeepers won't let him stay long disturbing their own business. (That was often the case also in the neighborhood where I dod research.) His wife works at home making cellphone accessories. [There'd surely be better-paying respectable jobs available, but it's surely the family circumstances with two small kids that keep her at home - or the husband's insistence. Can't tell, it's not mentioned in the article.]

The second case is a woman from the Jagalchi Market in Busan. She is introduced as "Jagalchi ajimae" (=ajumma); it's a same term with which a woman apparently from the same marketplace became famous after giving a support speech for Roh Moo-hyun in television during the presidential campaign.
Click here to see the support speech (wmv file)
I'm just wondering if Chosun has deliberately chosen another Jagalchi ajimae to illustrate the difficulty of life under the Roh government... Mrs Chu's economic downturn (or the downturn of the whole Jagalchi market) started way before the present administration; the urban structure of Busan changed from the vicinity of Jagalchi market, and dept stores and discount stores have appeared. And the Jagalchi women, who have been the epitome of Korean women's "life capacity" by not complaining of small things, are losing their energy:
그래서인지 억척스런 아지매들의 터전인 자갈치시장에 예전에 없던 일들이 벌어지고 있다. “아프다”며 가게를 닫더니 아예 나오지 않는 아지매들이 늘어난 것이다. “다른 곳은 몰라도 자갈치 아지매들만큼은 아무리 어려운 상황이 와도 억척스레 ‘괜찮다 괜찮다’ 하면서 넘겼는데, 올해만큼은 그게 안 되네요”라고 연방 기침을 하며 주씨가 말했다.
But as is appropriate in a story on such a woman, as bad as the economy is supposed to be, she is not going to give up: “아무리 어렵다 해도 포기하면 안 되지요. 죽일라 캐도 살겠다 우기면 사는 게 사람이잖아요. 우리는 할 수 있습니다.”

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

There's only one Santa

Just to correct the incorrect information in this Chosun Ilbo piece that there'd be "three Santa Clauses officially recognized by the Finnish Tourist Board", there is only one Santa Claus, and he doesn't need any official recognitions from no one. (The photo linked from Chosun.)

I think I also need to remind the readers that the US claims that Santa lives in the North Pole are utterly false and prove what kind of hegemonist power the US really is, by taking away Santa Claus from its rightful owner. Also the Swedish nonsensical claims that Santa lives in their country shows that they to treat us as just a part of Sweden like in old times and not as an independent nation.

Park Chi-man' wedding, 2000 visitors

Park Chi-man, the son of the president Park Chung-hee, whose marriage plans I noted last month, has now had the wedding, tells Chosun Ilbo.
As seems to be the practice with people whose weddings are going to draw a lot of attention, this was supposed to be celebrated only among family members and close friends, but in the end 2000 people turned up to congratulate the couple (or to make an appearance). The names mentioned in the article make like a list of who is who in Korean politics in the recent decades, beginning from Kim Jong-pil (founder of the Korean CIA, one of the "three Kims") and Park Tae-joon (long-time Posco chairman etc).
Another recent practice of high-profile weddings: both the bride's and groom's families refused any congratulation monies (ch'ugûigûm), and also sent back all flower wreaths except the one sent by president Roh.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Korean nationalism - Prasenjit Duara and else

Hankyoreh reports in detail the recent visit to Korea by Prasenjit Duara, the historian from U of Chicago, and carries an interview with him.

Hakyoreh's interest in Duara stems from the use of his scholarship by the "conservative media" in promoting "post-nationalism". (최근 보수 언론 등을 통해 크게 ‘각광’받고 있는 탈민족주의의 ‘원형’을 직접 살필 기회라고 봤기 때문이다.) Hmm, does so much need to be response to what the conservative press says?

Duara tells in the interview that in case (manyak) Korean nationalism is capable of self-reflection it will be very beneficial, and not turn into seeking domestic and foreign foes and building a great and powerful nation. He also adds that "popular nationalism" (taejungjôk minjokchuûi) needs to be reflective in order not to combine with state nationalism to produce disastrous results.

Later in the interview comments it is written though as if Duara had given a positive appraisal of the Korean nationalism as being "reflective" (sôngch'aljôk).
구체적으로는 미국과 일본, 중국 등 주변 열강의 패권적 접근에 저항하면서, 그들을 다시 연대의 장으로 이끌어내는 일의 고단함을 충고한 셈이다. 한국의 성찰적 민족주의가 구현할 ‘새로운 근대적 실천’이라 할 때, 그것은 탈민족주의의 전범처럼 등장하는 유럽연합과도 구분되는 대단히 독특한 모델이 될 것이라는 점을 강조하는 것이기도 하다.
Further, "Duara does not suggest the abolition of nationalism per se, but recognizes the value of the reflective nationalism which appears in the Korean conditions." I haven't read a single line of Duara's text and wasn't either present in the interview, but it really looks like the writer is stretching his interpretation of Duara's interview.

In an adjoining Hankyoreh article, the conservative press is found to be the biggest benefactor of the talk ("since Roh's government took office") about China's hegemonism: "the imagined Chinese hegemonism (chunghwa p'aekwônjuûi) has been made to appear as a bigger menace than the actually existing US hegemonism" especially in reference to the question of the Gando are, which many see as having belonged to Korea until 1909

And behind this has been the conservative press; perhaps in part (here's Chosun Ilbo editorial, which maintains that the govt cannot stay silent in front of all the material which should show that Gando has belonged to Korea; also the Chosun special section about the Gando question), but among the Korean lawmakers the most enthusiastic about the return of Gando to Korea has been Kim Won-woong of the ruling party (Ohmynews piece); the same Ohmynews has neither kept quiet about "Chinese hegemonism" but published a series of special articles on the topic. The scholar quoted in the latter Hankyoreh article suggests "peaceful coexistence (평화공존) based not on European post-nationalism which emphasizes similarities but on East Asian natinoalism of resistance, which advocates difference (tokchasông." Resistance (chôhang); that is one fashionable term in social and human sciences, to the degree that I sometimes almost worry that my own research isn't about resistance to anything but about accommodation.

I wouldn't mind seeing some kind of a beneficial nationalism to appear, good for every nation in East Asia, but I just don't see much prospects for that. The "resistance" would be of course not against other East Asian nations, Japan included, but against United States.

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

Grandfather Kwon

Welcome all the visitors from Oranckay's and Marmot's sites. Seems that making a series of posts on this old gentleman and his views on the topics of women and sex, money in Korea, and Korea among the nations would be appropriate. So look forward for some new stuff soon.

Have been trying to find a suitable pattern to fit the story of Mr Kwôn (or Grandfather Kwôn) into my dissertation. The data I have on him is so different from the others, so it can easily appear as incongruent with the rest, but on the other hand his case is so interesting that it'd be a pity to leave him out. Ok, it takes some pondering how to use the following kind narration for a thesis on contemporary keepers of small neighborhood businesses (of which Grandfather Kwôn was one at the time of my research):
Now he gets back to his favorite subject. He tells about a time when there were a lot of hungry people. "Women were selling their body, and military police had a lot of money at that time. We used to spend time in yogwans. It was better to pick an ordinary-looking girl than a pretty girl (I don't get the reason why). Military police had access to cars and we could take the girls for a ride anywhere… bought meals and bought clothes… Because I had seen porno tapes I knew how to satisfy a woman… could make it last for 30-40 minutes… the longer it takes the more a woman likes it." I could give a perfect service, sŏbisŭ manjŏm. "But that's why I have gotten old so quickly."
Next he tells about the time which was probably when he had a cinema, or was it the time when he had the adult film showings, or was it the time when he had the taxi company. [Note: he had them simultaneously] …we lived well at that time… the women in the area were after me, "let's try it once with him". I was like a star, "oppa, chŏmsim sa chuŏ...". He tells that he met a Danish nurse during the Korean war. She wanted to learn Korean from him. He took her for a ride with a car, which he was able to do since he was a military police. He knew all the techniques well because he had seen all the tapes. [At least now his memory or imagination goes clearly wrong or makes a huge 10 years time leap…] They went to a temple, and stayed there for the night, in the only guest room of the temple. She was astonished that an eastern man can be so strong.
Fortunately, Mr Kwôn's life story as he told it also makes an interesting case of an entrepreneurial career in the contemporary history of Korea: military police (kind of entrepreneurship as well), taxi company, movie theater, inn (yôgwan), pool hall, tailor shop of big proportions ("at best 100 people got their salary from me", "Na Hun-a was my customer"), and finally a laundry at the outskirts of town.

It's time to write a letter to Grandfather Kwôn, ask if he has been well and wish him good health.

Update 2.
The next posting: Grandfather Kwon: family, marriage

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Friday, December 10, 2004

Sewing machines selling well

Grandfther Kwôn at his treadle sewing machine: "It's 30 years old... there is nobody else who can use it but me..."

Now here's a proof conveyed by Hankyoreh that the Korean economy is not good: sewing machines are selling well. Also other devices that help in getting more years out of ordinary commodities are in favor of customers. Well, this info is only from the net exchange site Auction, but the figures are telling: in 2002 3500 sewing machines were sold, in 2003 some 4200, and this year until the end of October, more than 15000 pieces.

I guess the bad economy isn't that bad for "Yumin's mother's" clothing repair shop in Sillim-dong either.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Korean-Confucian adoption at LG

Didn't think there'd be much cases like this anymore, but here's the chairman of LG, Ku Pon-mu (Koo Bon-moo) adopting his nephew (younger brother's son, "yBS" in the anthropologese) Ku Kwang-mo (Koo Gwang-mo?), aged 26 (Chosun Ilbo). Chairman Koo has only two daughters, aged 26 and 8 (!); his son died in the 90s at the age of 19. The cause of the death has never really been revealed.

The LG company tells about the adoption that according to the Confucian family tradition (유교적 가풍), the oldest son needed to continue the family line (장자의 대를 잇다), and a son was necessary for all kinds of family matters." This is supposed to be unrelated to the company management: "Koo Gwang-mo is still young and has not finished his studies, so it's too early to talk about the succession of the company managerial power."

For us anthros it's surely interesting to see this practice used in such a central place as far as Korea's economic life and export industry is concerned, but those concerned with the best possible company management may disagree.
This is the classic pattern of a Korean adoption, in which the younger brother gives one (preferably oldest) son to the older brother, or an older brother gives a younger son to a younger brother. In the so-called traditional Korea the main concern was ritual - a son to take care of the ancestor rituals, and LG wants us to believe that it's also the case here. Why not, as an anthro I should not fully go over to cynicism about the sincerity of chairman Koo's Confucian mindset, but he is a Korean conglomerate chairman as well, and the Confucian family ideology often goes too well with the idea of keeping the ownership and control in the family (Roger Janelli's Making Capitalism: The Social and Cultural Construction of a South Korean Conglomerate is about this, and is based on research conducted at the very same company).

Here's also a more detailed article in Ilyo Sinmun about the adoption case and the Koo family.

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Korean numerals

When learning more than 10 years ago that the Korean language had two sets of numerals, it was at first of course a bit confusing, but as the use of the pure Korean and Sino-Korean sets seemed to make some sense, it was just another part of learning the language. Then in Korea there was the practical use of the language which was not surprisingly different from the principles I learned in the class - yet another necessary part of the language learning - for example that not only pure Korean numerals are used for person's age (55 years, osip tasôt sal) or that Sino-Korean and pure Korean is mixed elsewhere as well (146th, paek mahûn yôsôtche).

An important part of the language learning was also the realization that the use of Sino-Korean set of numerals doesn't really help the Korean language as a means of communication. They are not clear and unambiguous when numbers need to be conveyed with precision, but what can I say when Koreans have chosen to use that set of numbers in so many contexts. Except that I understand that in some instances like in military radio or telephone communications (read it somewhere) Koreans do use the pure Korean number vocabulary to minimize the risk of misunderstanding. Or in a noisy chicken kalbi restaurant I could hear the waiters use the pure Korean numerals for table numbers instead of Sino-Korea ones, which would have been the norm.

I speak mostly Korean with my wife, but when we need to communicate with precision, we always use the Finnish numerals: kaksi-yhdeksän-kuusi-kaksi-yksi-kuusi-viisi for 2962165 leaves much less space for misunderstanding between us than il-gu-ryug-il-yi-ryug-o.

On the other hand, the Sino-Korean numerals are a good memorizing device for their compactness. I have memorized most of my number passcodes as Sino-Korean rhymes, and I've even decided finally to learn the cellphone number of my wife with the help of Sino-Korean numbers... (One doesn't learn to memorize telephone numbers anymore with the cellphones.)

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Haircuts in barbershops and hairdressing shops; ministry ruling

바리캉 / 바리깡
It is not a small matter if the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare really starts to enforce its judgement that hairdressing shops are not allowed to use hair clipping machines devices except when finishing the cut done by scissors (Chosun Ilbo).

The Barbers' Association had made a request at Ministry of Health and Welfare to give a ruling on the legality (!) of the hairdressers' use of a machine in cutting hair. As a consequence, the ministry has sent a ruling to the respective associations that the both professions should operate within their confines, which according to the ministry's interpretation of the law would mean no use of machinery by hairdressers in doing haircuts. "In the hairdresser practical exam, the use of hair clipping machine (ibalgi) is not included. Therefore hairdressers should use only scissors when cutting hair and machine only when finishing the cut, according to the confines of their licence." The ministry tells that there will be a transitional period, but after that they'll enforce (tansok) the matter.

The Barbers' Association representative compares the distinction of licences and permitted work to different kinds of driving licences, and adds further that it's unfair that barbers are not allowed to make perms but nothing happens when hairdressers give haircuts. Hairdresser Association responds, that the use of a clipping machine is within the range of their profession, that it's up the the hairdressers which device they use, and that hairclipper is used all over the world by both barbers and hairdressers.
Elsewhere a representative from the barbers' association says that barbers have lost ground to hairdressers due to "some decayed establishments and out-of-date facilities", but with this ruling and special law on prostitution, those decayed establishments are actively being transformed into exemplary barbershops. Seems he doesn't say anything about giving some facelift to the ordinary barbershops so that younger Korean men might think of having haircuts there instead of hairdressing shops.

Sometimes last year the barbeshop association tried to lobby the ministry for a legislation to prohibit the use of hairdressing shops by men, but to no use. Seems that they've tried to draw this card, knowing that when shaken off, there's no one without any dust (털면 먼지 안 나는 놈이 없다). But on the other hand, who'd think that the ministry will start actively enforce this ruling and control it? And if it did, who'd think they'd be successful?
Anyway, as haircuts make often a major part of hairdressers' work and income (in the cases I know well), having this really enforced would be a big setback.

In the 1980s there were 50 000 barber shops and 15 000 hairdressing shops; at the moment the number of the former is 30 000 and the latter 80 000, tells the article.

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독립기념일 즈음에

핀란드의 여든일곱째 독립기념일이다.
한해에 우리나라를 12월6일에만 살펴봤으면 무슨 전쟁광들의 나라인 줄 알았을 것이다. 전쟁때 적들을 잘 죽였다가 제일 높은 훈장을 받은 병사들은 대통령궁에서 열리는 환영회에서 대통령이 맨먼저 환영하고 전쟁관련 델레비젼프로그램도 여럿이 방송된다. 참 재미있는 형상이다. 이런 날엔 1939-1944년의 두 전쟁이 나라의 정체성에 결국 얼마나 중요한지 잘 볼 수 있으리라. 오늘의 전쟁과 관련된 티비프로그램 좀 보자:
8.15 가족, 종교와 조국을 위하여. 여자들의 전쟁경험
11.45 베를라 공중전투 1941
12.10 피난길 1부
12.55 피난길 2부
13.40 전우 연맹의 설립 1940
10.00 참전 군인 기념콘서트
13.45 "무명 병사"라는 영화가 이렇게 제작됬다
14.45 애르느루트 장군은 역대 대통령을 회고한다
18.15 독립기념일 관병식
22.00 무명 병사 (영화, 독립기념일마다 방송)
10.45 연속전쟁(1941-44), 가을전쟁(1939-40)의 결과
11.20 위기의 시대 1944-48 (공산쿠데타의 위기)
17.00 지옥 이야기 4개 (전쟁 포로에 대해서)
독립기념일 관련 프로 없음

전쟁에 참여하는 것은 핀란드사람임을 뜻하는 것도 소수집단들 쪽에서 참전을 어떨 때 강조하는 것에서도 흥미롭게 나타난다. 핀란드는 나치독일과 사실상 동맹국가였음에도 불구하고 유태인들 총잡고 싸웠고, 집시족은 피를 많이 흘렸고, 타타르족은 "영웅묘지"에(*) 묻힌 남자가 많다 이런 식으로.
(*)핀란드에선 국립묘지같은 곳이 없고 묘지마다 전사한 병사들을 위한 "영웅묘지"라 하는 터가 있다.

라디오 금방 들어보니까 소득층 최하위 20%의 2003년 소득은 1993년과 똑같다. 93년은 어떤 시기였느냐면 핀란드가 세계 공업국에서 유래없는 불황을 겪은 바로 다음 해였다. 그것만 생각하면 그동안 최하위 소득층은 얼마나 살기 안 좋아졌는지 헤아릴 수 있다. 사회복지제도의 소득이전에서 주요 소득을 받는 계층은 복지제도가 삭감됨으로서 실제소득이 줄어들을 수밖에 없는 데다 실업률이 93년부터 많이 줄였지만 여전히 9%정도다. 하긴, 복지국가는 좋기야 좋지. 애들을 공짜로 대학에 보낼 수 있고 여러 가지 혜택을 잘 얻는 중산층이 절대 피해를 입지 않고 못 사는 계층도 뭔가 나온다.

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Sunday, December 05, 2004

grad school graduate street cleaner

Chosun Ilbo pays attention to the case in which the application and acceptance of a 42-year old grad school for a post as street cleaner (hwan'gyông mihwawôn) has been raising attention in Gangneung.
계속된 경기침체로 심각한 취업난이 계속되고 있는 가운데 이씨의 이같은 지원은 씁쓸하고 긴 여운을 남기기도 하지만 가족들을 위한 용기있는 선택이라는 지적도있었다.
Eighteen of the 114 applicants for the eight posts were graduates from at least 2-year universities.

One detail: those with parents to take care of were given precendence in the selection (or actually, the applications of those without parents or other family to take care of were not even screened).

One can see pieces of news like this every now and then; these are very good when the bad state of economy needs to be emphasized: even grad school graduates need to apply for a street cleaning job. (And the courage of the person in question is admirable.)

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Saturday, December 04, 2004

"Self-employment, no rescue": lack of "self-employment culture"

Continuing to see what Donga Ilbo writes in the third installment of its serial "Self-employment, no rescue"; this time the title goes "Lack of culture of self-employment". As an anthro, one gets wary when hearing talk of "lack of culture", but let's see.
In the piece, the "lack of culture of self-employment" means mainly the lack of proper infrastructure. It's interesting that also the Confucian tradition of contempt towards trading is mentioned. (In the Confucian division of occupations into four, merchants were at the bottom: 士農工商 [sa-nong-kong-sang] - scholars, peasants, artisans, merchants. When one-restaurant keeping man told of the treatment he got in the offices when delivering meals, he used the Korean proverb "not even a dog carries trader's money" (장삿동 개도 안 물어간다) to illustrate this phenomenon.)

The persistent idea that "food business (môngnûn changsa) cannot fail" is given as one example of wrong attitude towards self-employment. It's said that such idea stems from the time when the competition was not as intense as nowadays. True, the proportion of services (to which restaurants are counted) of self-employment has grown, but in general the proportion of self-employment in the urban occupational structure has not changed considerably throughout decades, so broadly put the competition has been there all the time. (The tendency to rush into a branch which at some time seems to be successful shifts the areas of competition quickly.)

Self-employment (or small shopkeeping) in Korea is a an occupation which is reproduced in a manner that does not contribute well to formation of "culture" or a time-tested set of practices. Businesskeeping is rarely thought of something to hand over to one's offspring but rather as something to have for the children not to engage in the same occupation. If possible, children are kept away from the shops, especially at the time of their most pressing school duties. Only if the child doesn't show much propensity for school studies, comes self-employment in as an alternative.
(This might be changing with the changes in employment, reduction of steady wage employment. I'm not counting the "professional self-employment" like the venture businesses here, which is conceptually different from the kind of small businesses we're talking here.)
The serial article list in Donga
• The next article: problems with franchise businesses

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Thursday, December 02, 2004

"Self-employment, no rescue": 44% of self-employed "in poverty"

Noting the second article in Donga Ilbo's serial on the plight of small businesses (my previous note here); this one tells in the headline that "44% of self-employed are living in poverty". The article quotes a survey on 1506 self-employed persons done by Korean Labor Institute (한국노동연구원), in which 44% of the surveyed household heads (가구주) in self-employment failed to earn the minimum life expenses (최저생계비) of a four-person family, which the authorities have set at 1.010 000 won. [Note that only the income of the household head is mentioned here; we don't know if the spouse earns on her (most likely "her") own or is an unpaid worker in the same business.]
• Oversupply of small businesses (or "livelihood-type self-employment", 생계형 자영업); the proportion of self-employment in the occupational structure 2-4 times more than in other OECD nations (Mexico is another similar case)
• Government policy mistake in giving support to create masses of kind of small "livelihood-type" self-employment, which has ended up being of low quality, low productivity and low vitality
• Lack of supportive infrastructure; the number of advice and support centers for small business too small compared to the need, and the quality of available support is low; many of the advisors are former civil servants or bank personnel with no experience on self-employment
• Also the general lack of preparation and experience among those who open businesses; too few are those who have a long experience of the branch as waged employees and too many are the former white-collar company employees who suddenly become keepers of restaurants etc.

Oh, now I see that the article that I'm here referring is the introductory one in the series, and that what I made the previous notes of was the article no 1.

"Self-employment, no rescue" series article list
• continues in "Lack of Small Business Culture"

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