Archive for the 'News' Category

Seoul Journal: Tell Me What It Mela-Means

Beef protest in northern Seoul, June 2008. Photo by Mr. Matt.

Beef protest in northern Seoul, June 2008. Photo by Mr. Matt.

SEOUL — DAWN IS AN OPALESCENT SOUP of haze and refracted sunlight. I pour a bowl of cereal, shuddering slightly as the flakes and bran twigs tap out a quiet cacophony on the porcelain, and reach for the milk. I pause, vaguely wondering about toxic proteins from New Zealand. The thought passes.

I take a jog through my neighborhood and see a woman selling dairy from a yellow pushcart, one of the many found in this city in the early hours. I wonder how her business has been affected. At the office, a co-worker asks if I’d like an instant coffee. I tell him tea would be better for both of us; there’s probably melamine in the creamer. I eat a sandwich for lunch and wonder briefly about what went into the cheese, the bread. At night, my wife brings home some icecream for dessert. We check the label and see “China” listed as an ingredient’s country of origin. We chuck it.

The globalization of the food chain has exploded the range of China’s melamine debacle. But here in such close proximity to the new world power, the likelihood is even greater that people are ingesting, buying, selling or giving contaminated foods to their kids. The industrial chemical that has claimed the lives of at least four infants in China has been found here in fish feed, snacks, dairy and candy. There are growing concerns that it may have been used as a pesticide on imported vegetables. The nation — indeed, the region as a whole — is facing a food safety crisis of unprecedented pervasiveness.

Yet months after South Korea’s citizens cried for the ouster of the Lee Myung-bak government, claiming his decision to open the local market to U.S. beef created a public health risk, there is no visible uproar over the melamine issue. The Korea Food and Drug Administration carries out its tests of products containing imported dairy, announces the results, and then — presumably — consumers change their behavior. No one is up in arms about Mars shirking the news that melamine was found in its products (the levels detected are supposedly too low to pose a health risk), and no one is blocking the ports where Chinese products are arriving, as happened when the first U.S. beef shipments arrived.

The belated reporting of the melamine crisis has revealed a gaping vacuum where morals, corporate responsibility and oversight should have been. China’s citizens are crying out, though due to the country’s media sieve, the outside world likely hears only a muffled echo of the true anguish felt by the tens of thousands of parents whose babies are suffering in hospitals across the country.

Why Korea’s people have chosen to stay silent on an issue that affects them more intimately and poisonously than mad cow disease ever will is a mystery that invites speculation: Perhaps, like smoking, the idea of gradually-accumulated chemicals causing harm is not immediate enough to stir panic. Or it may be simply that there’s just no real way to pin this one on the wildly unpopular President Lee. Either way, Korea would do well to meditate on what it means when the country’s largest trade partner is growing increasingly toxic, and spend an extra moment thinking about what might be floating in the milk.

[Edited on 2008.10.06]

‘Suicide’ Shines Light on Brokered Marriages

IN A DISTURBING EXAMPLE of a brokered marriage gone wrong, a Vietnamese woman was found dead shortly after divorcing from her South Korean husband in what appears to be a suicide. But a number of confounding details have trickled out of the case, says the JoongAng Daily, leading to a police investigation and drawing attention to problems plaguing the marriage industry.

Back in February 2007, I discussed a growing trend of South Korean men heading to Vietnam and other SE Asian nations seeking brides, and posed questions about whether these women were being treated as commodities. The death of Tran Than Lan certainly makes an argument for the affirmative; her marriage to a man identified only as Ha dissolved after about a week. No considerations appear to have been made for the language barrier, and a series of difficulties ensued:

[Tran’s] diary, written from Jan. 17 to 29, revealed the typical problems in marriages between rural Korean men and women from developing countries.

“My husband slapped me across my face,” Tran wrote, “maybe because I didn’t do the chores the way he taught me. But I still don’t know what he’s talking about.”

The initial investigation showed that Tran “jumped ― or somehow fell ― on Feb. 6 from the 14th-floor balcony of the apartment she shared briefly with her husband.” She was 22-years-old.

Tran’s mother, Huynh Kim Anh, says that when the matchmaker who brokered the marriage between her daughter and Ha called to inform her that Tran was dead, she refused permission to have the body cremated. But it was too late; Tran’s remains were incinerated the day before.

Ahn is now in Korea searching for answers about her daughter’s death. Another mysterious aspect of the case is that Tran bought a ticket back to Vietnam the day before she was found dead — unusual behavior for someone contemplating suicide.

It appears not much has changed since last year. Resources to help foreign brides adapt to Korean life were largely absent then, as they appear to be now. This is irresponsible. While the local government may have little room (and little right) to interfere in issues of marriage, it has a duty to make sure its citizens — Korean-born and otherwise — are healthy and safe.

Madison’s Tibetan Community Rallies

Tibetan monastery in Zhongdian, Yunnan. China, May 2006. Photo by Zara Jarvinen.

MADISON, Wis. – Roughly 100 people protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet converged on the Capitol Square Monday morning, chanting angrily into megaphones and waving signs that read “Free Tibet” in English, Tibetan and Chinese.

The demonstration marked the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when tens of thousands of Tibetans revolted against annexation. Protests around the world commemorated the date, and had an added potency this year because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

Tsering Kunga, a Madison resident and Tibetan who held a banner towards the back of the procession at the capitol, said he doesn’t feel China deserved the Olympic nomination because of the country’s human rights record and lack of religious freedoms.

“We really don’t have any freedom,” Kunga, who has lived in Madison for two years, said of his home country. “Especially the freedom of religion is not at all in China, so this is the main thing that we are uprising against.”

A monk marched out in front of the protesters as they rounded the capitol. A man draped in a Tibetan flag shouted into a megaphone, leading the crowd in call-and-response. “China Lies,” he yelled. Protesters boomed back like an echo, “People die.”

Read more at The Capital Times.

Looking for America

IT WASN’T UNTIL I spent a year abroad that I realized how American I am – that I understood the subtle yet ingrained connection to land of my birth. But, like many Americans in recent years, the absurd political and moral situation of our country has torn me open and forced me to question, Where the hell is this nation going?

The International Herald Tribune writes an insightful and readworthy opinion piece on this note today, “Looking for an America we can recognize again”:

There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Like when we read about how men in some of the most trusted positions plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by CIA interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.

It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement. Not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.

The country and much of the world were rightly and profoundly frightened by the hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President George W. Bush and his advisers panicked – how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

(Read Full)

GR50: Contemporary Asian-American Art

ONE OF THE FOREMOST publications on Asian and Asian-American pop culture, Giant Robot, is rapping up its 50 issues art exhibition this weekend at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. As a long time reader of GR, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the artists represented in this exhibit nor their caliber of talent.

Among the ten GR50 artists is Seonna Hong, who is perhaps most famous for her delicate paintings on wood canvases of cartoonish characters who evoke empathy, nostalgia and a subtle sadness . Also in the exhibit is work from Adrian Tomine, who most recently released illustrated and authored Shortcomings. Tomine achieved recognition through his Optic Nerve comics (which first appeared in 1995) and his cover illustrations for The New Yorker; Tomine’s comics deftly and poignantly examine everyday life.

If you’re in the LA area, don’t miss this show – it ends on the 13th.

Graphic nabbed from the official GR50 Web site.

Christmas in Baghdad

WHATEVER YOUR FAITH, WHEREVER you are in this world, best wishes to you and yours for the season and in the coming year.

In that spirit, I thought I’d share this – from the International Herald Tribune:

By Damien Cave

BAGHDAD: Inside the beige church guarded by the men with the AK-47s, a choir sang Christmas songs in Arabic. An old woman in black closed her eyes while a girl in a cherry-red dress, with tights and shoes to match, craned her neck toward rows of empty pews near the back.

“Last year it was full,” said Yusef Hanna, a parishioner. “So many people have left — gone up north, or out of the country.”

Sacred Heart Church is not Iraq’s largest or most beleaguered Christian congregation. It is as ordinary as its steeple is squat, in one of Baghdad’s safest neighborhoods, with a small school next door.

But for those who came to Sacred Heart for Mass on Christmas Eve, there seemed to be as much sadness as joy. Despite the improved security across Iraq, which some parishioners cited as cause for hope, the day’s sermon focused on continuing struggles …

[Read Full]

As Long as You Ride It….

YESTERDAY MARKED THE INAUGURAL run of the South Lake Union Streetcar in Seattle, opening a 1.3 mile track in the downtown area for public use. The completion of the streetcar is the first in a string of several projects to give the traffic-choked Seattle area better transportation alternatives.

Prior to completion, the streetcar picked up the unfortunate (if logical) name, the South Lake Union Trolley – or S.L.U.T. A neighborhood coffee shop began printing t-shirts reading “Ride the S.L.U.T.,” which have been selling out. It’s unlikely that Mayor Greg Nickels was too thrilled about the acronym, though he concedes that it’s here to stay. “I don’t care what you call it,” he said, “as long as you ride it.” (P.I.)

On the more serious end, the trolley has gotten flak from the local cycling community, which argues that the embedded metal tracks are hazardous. From experience riding in the area, and in Portland and San Francisco – where tracks are much more ubiquitous – a little extra caution near the rails and you should be fine. Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club has pushed for future trolly tracks to take either inside lanes or the median, so riders don’t get pinched – I wholeheartedly agree.

Amid all the hubbub about the streetcar being a new viable transporation alternative, it’s also worth pointing out that the track could easily be walked from start to finish – one has to wonder how much this will really affect traffic conditions.

But the new trolley system should be looked at within its greater context; when the area’s light rail system is completed in 2009, travelers will be able to step off a plane at Seatac and be zipped from the southern suburbs to north downtown without setting foot inside a car or bus. As the Seattle area grows as both a city and tourist destination, this is a step in the right direction towards cutting carbon emissions and creating a better quality of life.

Learn more about the Seattle Streetcar.

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