Archive for May, 2007

Longing for the Mythic World

As childish as it may seem, every now and then I wish I knew less about the world. I fantasize about traveling to far-off cities shrouded in mystery, climbing mountains to hidden temples, and crossing oceans filled with sea monsters and black ships.

This imagined nostalgia was again awaked yesterday as I caught the late-night show of the newest Pirates of the Caribbean – At World’s End. Despite being a major Hollywood summer blockbuster intended mostly for good entertainment, the film had its moments of profundity; I saw subtle references to Guantanamo Bay, and statements about globalisation.

Perhaps the most powerful quote was a line from Jack Sparrow (aka Johnny Depp) that went: “The world isn’t getting smaller, there’s just less in it…”

I feel this can be understood in a number of ways – perhaps he means there’s simply less mystery, or that Western expansion has made things more homogenous (the film deals quite a bit with the Dutch East India Company).

Either way, we now live in a world that is almost entirely explained; all the bubbles have been filled, there are no black spots on the map. Surely we are less ignorant and fearful than generations before, but there is a certain sentimental tug at the idea of exploring the uncharted – though this prospect is hardly possible in a time of GPS, Internet and guidebooks.

But as travelers, perhaps this is what we seek: to awaken the mystery in the world, to venture into the black spots in our personal maps. We seek out the stories of other cultures, and in this process we see the world in its true size and grandure.

When we throw out our assumptions – our prior knowledge and ideas – the mythic world awakens within ourselves. Perhaps it isn’t that the world is getting smaller, but that we just need to look harder to see all that’s out there.

China: Death Sentence for Drug Regulator

The former head of China’s Food & Drug Administration is sentenced to death, according to The New York Times. The official, Zheng Xiaoyu, was charged with corruption and bribery scandals that may have been at the root of the poisonous pet-food incident in the U.S. and the case of antifreeze chemicals getting into toothpaste in Latin America:

In Panama, more than 100 people died last year after consuming cough medicine laced with diethylene glycol that was shipped from China mislabeled as a harmless syrup.

The incidents pose a huge threat to China’s growing food and drug exports and have already led to international calls for new testing and screening methods for Chinese-made goods. [NYT]

While pinning responsibility is essential in cases like these, it appears that China’s corruption problem is a system-wide infection. In other words, killing Zheng will not solve the issue – there needs to be a major overhaul.

Another part of me feels that this is an inherent drawback of globalisation; as we continue to outsource and import we should acknowledge that we are losing a degree of control over what we put into our (or our pets’) bodies – this is a frightening reality, but one we must all face honestly.

VT Students in Seoul: Making it an issue

Newsis reports on the arrival [Kr] of 18 students from Virginia Tech at Incheon International Airport today – they will be in Korea for a month studying Korean language and culture.

Though I try not to be cynical, my question is this: why is this newsworthy?

While many Koreans seem oddly fascinated at the idea that foreigners would want to come to their country, this appears to be a decidedly different situation. Though not overt, the statement read between the lines of this short article is pretty clear: “Look! They haven’t stereotyped us! Even after what happened!”

But making an issue out of VT students *still* wanting to go learn about Korean culture seems a continuation of South Korea’s strange apology for Seung-hui Cho’s murderous rampage. By making this “news” there is the subtle implication that there ever existed a legitimate reason for these students to forsake learning about Korea.

I’m not so naive as to believe there was no significant backlash against the Korean-American community following the VT shootings (I heard from friends who experienced this firsthand). However, those who lashed out showed neither character nor any semblance of cultural competency.

News media bear a significant responsibility in shaping public understanding, and this kind of coverage only furthers the invalid association between Korean society and Seung-hui Cho.

There is no issue here – there is no legitimate reason for VT students to have ever forsaken Korea. Indeed, the real news would be if college-educated students let ignorance and fear stand in the way of their cultural enrichment.

Photo taken from Newsis @ Naver News

This Week’s Wandering News

  • Despite increased news coverage over North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and missile tests, the country is shrouded in seemingly impermeable mystery – but that could be breaking down. World Hum writes about a new photo book, “Welcome to Pyongyang: The City in Photos,” which hopes to reveal the city “on its own terms.”
  • You’re stuck in a cubicle, and going crazy. Worry not, Brave New Traveler has a method of E.S.C.A.P.E.
  • While I posted some decent photos recently from Buddha’s birthday in Seoul taken back in ’05, Seoul Man has some excellent shots from this year’s celebration parade
  • Becoming an expat and working abroad is a great way to fund travel – Vagablogging writes about new job opportunities for foreigners in Singapore, and I came across this older post from South Asia Biz about “Jobs Nepal,” a web resource for those with English and IT skills looking for work in this rapidly changing nation.
  • Kyoto is a city I’ve longed to visit, but part of me is wary of contributing to the tourist mob – luckily, Heath in Wanderland posts some great tips on how to see the city right, including renting traditional rooms and touring by bicycle.

Happy Travels!

Burma’s Junta: “And We Don’t Stop…”

The BBC reports today that the military junta of Burma (aka Myanmar) has extended the detention of democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi:

Government officials went to Ms Suu Kyi’s house in Rangoon and read the detention order out to her.

The pro-democracy leader’s latest period of detention, which began in May 2003, had been due to expire on Sunday. [BBC]

Though the weight of this disappointment is heavy, this news hardly comes as a surprise. Indeed, Burma’s military regime has never showed signs of sympathy for its own people. State officials in Burma have recently allowed an illegitimate vigilante group to round up pro-democracy leaders (including Buddhists and non-profit workers) and arrest them en masse [via FiftyViss].

Despite international pressure to free Suu Kyi [Viss], it is likely that because of the West’s economic sanctions on Burma these cries will consistently fall on deaf ears. The junta, which is apathetic at best, has absolutely no reason to listen to either the EU or the U.S. – and in the economic sense, absolutely nothing to lose.

I’m not sure what needs to happen in Burma; I’ve no faith in bloody revolutions or military intervention, and international dialogue (unless pushed by China, which has its own share of human rights abuses) seems unlikely. Suu Kyi’s freedom would’ve been a good start towards reform, but her extended detention will certainly not mean the end of resistance.

[Photo courtesy Tap Tap Tap]

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May 2007