Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Park Geun Hye for President….Watch this space

In Let's Get Political on February 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Korean politics, indeed like all politics, is a funny beast.  Parties merge, defect, and undergo enough name changes that require this researcher to keep a running cheat sheet.  The current president, Lee Myung Bak of the Grand National Party (한나라당), was elected in 2007 in a landslide victory and at the time was a vastly popular choice.  Now three years into his five year term, the former Seoul mayor has largely worn out his welcome.  Popular opinion holds that he is not a man of the people, and his support comes from those with vested interests.  Despite an election being 2 years away, there is already much speculation as to those who will contend the position.

In the lead-up to the 2007 election, the GNP had another strong candidate for the leadership.  No stranger to politics or the limelight, Park Geun Hye was Lee Myung Bak’s greatest threat.  She eventually lost the nomination and had to concede defeat, but she has not bowed out of the game completely.  In fact, she now readies herself for a campaign to take the big seat in 2012.

But who is this woman who could potentially be South Korea’s first female president?  Public opinion of her tends to split violently, and she can be either adored or detested.  So far it has not been an easy case to crack as to why.  Regardless, she has been interesting to investigate.  I have come to my first conclusion that when considering Park Geun Hye and her political favor, there are two people in the room.  She carries the legacy of being the daughter of one Korea’s most influential, respected, mistrusted and some say tyrannical leaders of the past century.

Park Chung Hee became president of South Korea in 1961 following a military coup.  His ascendancy was welcomed at the time, as Korean citizens had endured a sustained period of political instability.  Park Chung Hee’s successes cannot be downplayed as he is credited to be the father of industrializing the peninsula, and Korea’s economic growth was substantial.  However his iron fisted rule sparked numerous speculations of human rights abuses and corruption.  Public sentiment for Chung Hee simmered to boiling after he violated an agreement he had signed, limiting his presidency to only 2 terms.  A spuriously lucky individual, he survived 2 assassination attempts, the second of which saw a misdirected bullet claim the life of his wife Yuk Young Soo.  The third time unlucky, Park Chung Hee was shot to death by the head of the Korean CIA, the same organization he had used to prolong his presidency.

So it would seem that being the daughter of this, one of Korea’s most famous (or infamous depending on your side of the fence) political figures could not help but shadow Park Geun Hye’s career.  Following the death of her mother, Geun Hye became the country’s First Lady at the tender age of 22.  Her life’s calling could not have held many other paths.   She herself has suffered violent attempts on her life, including one assassination attempt, and one occasion where a 50 year old man slashed her face with a box cutter.   Take a minute to consider what it must be like to have both your parents killed for political reasons, and your own life almost following a similar fate.

The wounds that Park Chung Hee inflicted and the broken promises he left in his wake have left a lasting impact.  But the progress and stability he provided at a crucial stage of Korea’s development has also not been forgotten.  Korea has a long memory.  It does not forgive quickly nor forget slowly.   Perhaps Park Geun Hye is supported for her commitment and drive for her political success.  Perhaps she is resented for the sins of her father and likewise mistrusted.  She is outwardly critical of much of the current administration’s policies, making no bones about her continued challenge to Lee Myung Bak.

Taken from Hankyoreh Geurimpan, Feb. 11, 2010__________________

President Lee Myung-bak enjoys a cup of coffee and sits on former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, but becomes increasingly uneasy from the tremors beneath him and asks, “Is it another earthquake?” An earthquake measuring 3.0 on the Richter scale shook the capital region in South Korea on Feb. 9.

The source of the tremors coming from the ground, however, is not an earthquake. Park, who can barely contain her criticism says, “What should I do if someone in a house becomes a thief…?” Observers are interpreting the remark to be criticism directed at President Lee Myung-bak for his administration’s revisions to the Sejong City Development Plan.

President Lee criticized Park on Feb. 9 for her attitude regarding the revisions by saying, “If people come face to face with a thief, they should stop their fighting and work to catch them.”


Regardless of these conjectured motivations, she undoubtedly has support, and in a recent phone poll of 1,024 adults she came out on top with a 35.4% lead.  Of course, I feel less than inspired by the accuracy of phone polls, but they are still numbers.  17.5% of respondents supported her because it was ‘time for a female’ and 10.5% lent support because of her father.  Like I said, it’s still numbers.  But I will no doubt be watching this space.

The Park family bearing a striking resemblance to a Kennedy snapshot.


Kim Jong Wife?

In In The News on February 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Kim Jong Il’s chosen successor, son Kim Jong Un, has been snapped in the company of a woman wearing what seems to be a matching couple ring.  They were reported to be laughing and touching in an intimate manner.  The article, published in the Chosun Ilbo, speculated that the mystery woman could also be his sister…due to her quote “chubby appearance”.  Few articles emerge out of the DPRK which do not comment on Jong Un’s carrying of a little extra weight.  In Australia, it’s Julia Gillard’s flaming ginger hair. In the reclusive North, it’s Jong Un’s chubby cheeks. To each their own.

Waking Life

In Entertain Me on February 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Whilst idly trawling various events websites in search of new local delights, I came across the Laughing Tree Gallery.  A recently new space in Haebongcheon opened by American artist Adam Lofbomm and his wife Jessica, it promises to open its doors to the creative expat community.  One of the gallery’s regular highlights is its 8mm: Art Cinema screenings.  This unique bi-weekly showing of vintage and artistic films will sure to gain popularity in the coming months.  I for one will be fronting up for the March 30th screening of “Waking Life”, a film exploring the dream phenomenon.  I look forward to keeping an eye on the many exciting developments to come out of this space.

I Think I’ll Just Sit Here….

In The Social Fabric on February 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm

A part of what makes Seoul so enjoyable for me is the cafe scene.  Perhaps a byproduct of the fact that most people live with their families, and at very close quarters, there is an abundance of coffee houses large and small to shelter those seeking some space.  Today I’m in a bakery-come-cafe, and find myself surrounded by other like-minded ladies enjoying their solitude.  And that’s what prompted me to write this post, because it seems it is just ladies.  Of the 13 other patrons, 7 are women sitting alone, 2 are ladies catching up, 3 are a female study group, and the last is a man reading a book.  In a culture where being alone is often not encouraged, there are pockets of respite where one can just be by oneself and be.  There’s a real mixture of activities in this caffeine cave.  Some study, their heads bending closer and closer to their text books as if that will make them learn faster.  Some watch TV on their DMB phones.  Some just sit and stare.  I spend hours in places just like this, and they are hours well spent.

Running Man

In Entertain Me on February 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I’ve been watching a lot of Korean TV of late, playing the visa-number-waiting-game.  It’s no secret that my language ability is less than fluent, but I find that doesn’t necessarily make much of a difference.  I particularly enjoy the abundance of variety shows, which are entertaining in the visual art of slapstick.  I often get drawn in by the members and their commitment to their challenges, and before I know it I’ve watched an entire show without being 100 percent sure of what the rules were.  I laugh when they laugh, because it seems like they are having more fun making the show than I am watching it.  My favourite show at the minute, which never fails to have me stitches, laughing shamelessly out loud alone in my studio, is “Running Man”.  I guarantee you, not understanding Korean is not an issue for this hilarious entertainment….though I have discovered a very thoughtful individual who has links to the subtitled shows.  It’s a demanding schedule for the participants of this show, as they begin filming at midnight and are presented with a number of physically taxing challenges throughout the wee hours of the morning.  All for our benefit.  The ridiculousness of the missions only gets better with each episode, and I am guaranteed a giggle from this gem of a show.  Perhaps it’s not for everyone, it’s certainly not an intellectually stimulating hour of your life, but when you already think too much, Running Man is just the right tonic.