Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Your Republic is Calling You'

I just finished reading the North Korean spy novel "Your Republic is Calling You" by Young-ha Kim. I really enjoyed it and thought it nicely delved into some of the key identity issues the Korean Peninsula faces.

The story follows a North Korean spy in Seoul who, after living 21 years undercover, must choose between his homeland and the South. One of the ideas that struck me in the book was that of there being three Koreas -- North Korea, the South Korea of the 70s and 80s, and then the South Korea of today. The author argues that the South Korea of 30 years ago is closer to North Korea than today's South Korea. I think that's an interesting way of seeing the peninsula and why the Koreas are so vastly different today.

The BBC "toured" North Korea this summer and had some interesting -- if not, very BBC -- reports on it. After reading Your Republic, I've been thinking about the last video in their series, which you can watch here. (For those of you who have been to Korea, be sure to check out the "cake shop" scenes in Seoul. Priceless parachute reporting!)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bird's-eye view

If you go up the stairs that run alongside our house you'll come to the top of our hill. It's perhaps five or six flights up -- not a bad walk on a sunny day. From there, you can see Namsan Tower (top photo, on top of the far mountain), parts of downtown Seoul, and of course our beloved Mount Bugak (bottom photo).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Walkin' in the rain

The rain has been brutal this summer. Nearly every day we wake up and it's cloudy or drizzling. The weather has meant that we've been spending a lot of time cooped up inside and haven't been able to hike in a long time.

Well, today we decided we'd have enough of that. Despite the rain, we climbed up Mount Bugak behind our apartment. It sprinkled for the first quarter of the hike -- then poured for the rest. We still had fun though; it's great having miles and miles of trails basically in our backyard.

Here's a few shots I took in between the showers. The building in the second photo is Samcheonggak -- an old kisaeng (기생) house that now is a traditional restaurant and tea house.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ethnic nationalism on the Korean Peninsula

For those of you interested in learning more about North Korea, I highly recommend B.R. Myers' latest book "The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters." Professor Myers looks at North Koreans through the lens of their own propaganda and folklore, and he offers a nice counterweight to the perspectives of scholars like Bruce Cummings.

I got to talk with Professor Myers for TBS eFM's "This Morning" show recently. We mostly discussed the role of ethnic nationalism on the peninsula and why so many South Koreans have sympathy for the North. It's pretty fascinating stuff ... you can listen to the interview here.

Terminating trade barriers

As part of my work as a freelance reporter, I got to attend a breakfast with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this week. He was in Korea as part of a trade promotion trip in Asia and spent most of the breakfast voicing his support for the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

I have to say I was impressed by the governor. While I don't agree with all of his political stances he was funny and charming and I can see how he got elected. But I don't think I've ever seen someone so orange! Talk about a fake tan!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Calm before the storm

Rain clouds over Mount Bugak outside our house.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A sunny afternoon in the park

In what has been the rainiest summer in 100 years, the sun came out long enough yesterday for Mike to play a set at Hongdae's Free Market.

By the way, I took the above photo using Mike's birthday present to me: the very cool Canon G11.