Don’t Believe the Hype

Created by friend and fellow expat,  Mike Stewart

Created by friend and fellow expat, Mike Stewart

There’s a chance these could be famous last words, but I don’t think so. As tensions between North Korea and South Korea escalate, the western media seems to be having a field day, creating a sense of fear and panic when none is legitimately warranted by blowing (pun intended) everything out of proportion.

While it’s true that I am somewhat jaded and inured to the conflict, having lived in this environment for several years and, at times, freaking out only for it to end in nothing, I still feel like it is more or less business as usual in the South Korean capital. My parents have called, slight panic in their voices, and even my great aunt cranked up her ‘machine’ to send me an email – quite a feat I’m sure. One or two of my co-workers, particularly the American ones, are allowing their panicked friends and family back home to spook them. Another co-worker, who has a Korean wife, said that it was the first time in their years together that she had expressed fear over the situation. There was some macabre talk in the office the other day about what the best way to die would be if something were to happen (it was generally agreed upon that it would be better to be quickly turned to ashes than to lose a leg and live). But, for the most part, everybody is going about their daily lives. Given the discrepancy between the reality of life here and the portrayal in the media, it is interesting to consider the impact, influence and power news outlets like CNN have in shaping our reality.

This is what my American friend who used to work for the American military here (and still lives here) had to say:

Just to let you know the real reason. As an ex-military hand it’s all financial. There is no real threat. Never will be. The news creates a panic and a rustle which works in the favor of the military complex of the USA (which has been coming under some expenditure scrutiny as of late). With a “nuclear threat”, a blank cheque and free license is given to the US military. Meaning more money for the military and its military contractors. They also tend to mark up their costs (sometimes as high as 200%) during the times of “military danger and incursions.”

The 2nd thing is that the military knows it needs more arms here in the Asian peninsula. Not because of North Korea but cuz of the threat of China (and their Russian ally). The USA would be over-run in 48 hrs by the Chinese military. EASY. So when they hype-up the BS of NK they can come send over more arms, men’n’muscle to beef up security in the region and fortify their presence.

3rd, Korea has been wanting to decommission the USFK (at least minimize its presence in Korea. That in itself is contrary to the USA’s long-term hegemony ideals. So what’s the best way to ensure you stay put. Get the media to egg on the noise of war and chaos in the region. It causes the S.K. nation to lose its investments and its economic stability and currency value. Send many USA troops in to the region and investors feel safe to invest again when the noise “suddenly” settles, and they return in force to invest and get stocks which had been sold for cheap during the crisis, boosting the economy. In the end the USFK dont go anywhere. the S.K. govt get ample investors. the region is secured for hegemony purposes. NK get concession. and we all live happily ever after.




P.P.S the most dangerous thing to the USA is a united Korea, cuz that may mean a bond formed with China, the region’s largest powerhouse and, by proxy, China’s ally, Russia. A new power block the USA cannot collectively defeat. Beware the red herrings ad see past the smoke and mirrors.

I’m not politically savvy enough to know if I agree with all of his points, but I get the gist of it. In the meantime, I will be careful with what media I expose my eyes and ears to, know the whereabouts of my passport and credit card and keep calm and carry on.

So Long, King Sihanouk

DSC_3601Today was a special day. I witnessed history as a participant in the procession preceding the royal king’s cremation (that’s King Norodom Sihanouk, Hero King, King Father of Independence, Territorial Integrity and Khmer Solidarity to you).

Along with tens of thousands of others from all over the country, I sat along one of the main roads in 30 degree heat, wearing the mourning colors of white and black, watching an endless procession of gilded floats, monks, military, government officials and other important people as the king’s body was made available to the public one last time before, following Buddhist tradition, it is cremated on Monday (Feb. 4).

Since October 2012 when he died of a heart attack, his body had been kept at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh so that mourners could pay their respects. Today, as the body was paraded around, accompanied by his widow and son, Cambodians, both old and young, sat on the sidewalks quietly weeping, their hands held up in prayer as they said their final goodbyes. Many clutched framed photographs of him as a show of affection and reverence.

According to people I have spoken to and things I have read, he was so revered and loved because he was instrumental in gaining Cambodia’s independence from France, investing in and developing the health and education sectors as well as being for the people. Despite some regrettable involvement with the Khmer Rouge, the people still hold him in the highest esteem.

DSC_3615Such an elaborate farewell is new to the country and represents a turning point in the nation’s future. In a nation so rife with corruption in the upper echelons, the King Sihanouk leaves big shoes to fill. Let’s hope the people get the kind of honest political figures they deserve.

Erection Time

Oops, that was a typo – I meant to write ‘Election’, but now that I have your attention, it is nearly that time…On December 19, Lee Myung-bak (aka The Bulldozer) will be goneski and the people will vote for a new president.

The leading Conservative candidate is politician Park Gyeun-hye. She is interesting for two reasons: she is a woman and she is the daughter of former president/dictator Park Chung-hee. The left are painting her as a privileged right-winger who is power-hungry and not too bothered with the commoners, having a market-oriented political stance.

Her opponent is former human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in who is representing the Democratic United Party. He is portrayed as the erudite, do-gooder Christian and political activist who is for the people. He has a record as someone who fights for the rights he believes in, even if it comes at a personal cost.

Ahn Cheol-soo

However, the most interesting candidate is Ahn Cheol-soo. Or should I say ex-candidate because he recently pulled out of the race in order to give his side (the Democrats) the best chance of winning. He has worn many hats in his fifty years: medical doctor, professor, dean, entrepreneur, philanthropist. He is an almost Bill Gates-like figure in that much of the wealth (millions of dollars) generated by his anti-virus software has been given to charity. Oh, and he also gave his software away to citizens for free.

Why should we care about this man? Because he is a pioneer, a maverick and an anomaly – someone who offers hope in an unmeritocratic society that is so often plagued by corruption and greed.

According to an article in The Economist, “Mr Ahn is a rare self-made success story in an economy dominated by family-run conglomerates. That makes him a role model for many young Koreans.”

In a presentation given to students at prestigious Ewha Womans University, he explained that: “What you do accounts for two thirds of your entire achievement. The remaining one third of the achievement is accomplished by help from society and supporters.”

This is an important message in a hyper-competitive climate that is becoming increasingly individualistic and cutthroat – to realize that one person needs to be responsible for their own actions and achievement, but also that they need support.

Too bad he pulled out – he would’ve gotten my vote (if I could actually vote).