Friday, July 11, 2003

Had dinner at a Chinese restaruant called Wanchai: "A place where you can meet Hong Kong" (translation mine). Apparently the restaruant is famous for its spicy mussels. After seeing several other patrons turn beet red, sweat profusely, and look positively miserable putting down the house delicacy, I was glad I stuck to tangsuyuk (sweet and sour pork).

Strolled by the U.S. embassy. I wanted to take some pictures of the building as part of a larger project of taking pictures of Kwanghwa-mun, the gate that leads to Kyôngbokgung, the main palace complex of the late Chosôn period (more here). The Japanese built their Governor-General Administration building right in front of Kyôngbokgung in a conscious effort to establish that they were the new power in town. Given that the United States set up its main military headquarters at Yongsan, the site of the former Japanese military headquarters (now slated to be moved elsewhere, a long overdue move), and given that the U.S. embassy is just down the street from Kwanghwa-mun it isn’t hard to see why some South Koreans might see the American diplomatic and military presence in the ROK as continuing neo-colonial rule. Alas, my attempts to take photos of the American embassy were stymied by South Korean riot police/guards clad in black uniforms and armed with long truncheons. “For security reasons.” Says a lot about contemporary U.S.-ROK relations and South Korean sentiment.

Seen on a t-shirt: “Rude Noise: It was curiosity that made me go look”

Paid my usual visit to Chogye-sa. The main building and most of the compound is completely under construction but worship continues unabated. Mostly older (but not really old) women with a few younger women and even fewer men thrown in for good measure. Many brought sutras to read or chant, others used rosaries (some were very long), still others simply bowed and rose and bowed in an not immediately appreciable pattern. One guy clearly came only to keep his girlfriend happy. What are they all bowing and chanting to? A rather smallish golden statue of what I presume is the historical Buddha and some considerably larger paintings of big Buddhas, Maitreyas, guards to the underworld and thousands of smaller Buddha/bodhisattva figures. The main hall was plastered with names (of donors, presumably) and lanterns hung from the ceiling in such profusion that one could hardly tell that they were tearing out the roof and replacing it. The sounds of construction above and outside gave it away but the worship continued unabated. Something very casual about it all though. A cell phone rings and its owner matter-of-factly answers it and carries on a conversation. Another lady converses with a friend: "you're leaving already?" "yeah, I've got things to do." I'm sure Korean Buddhism has its hierarchies, strict rules and conflicts; I just didn't see any of that at Chogyesa today.

I’m back in Korea and happy to be here. Arrived in the still sparkling Inch’ôn International Airport (I'm still too traditional to write "Incheon"). There are grand plans to use this airport to make South Korea the “hub” of Northeast Asia. It might make sense for goods, but moving the airport miles away from the main metropolitan center doesn’t seem to make life easier for the business traveler.

NOW HE TELLS ME. Larry Niksch writes in the Far Eastern Economic Review about North Korea
The Bush administration's policy is working. Kim Jong Il's provocations are following the script laid out by Bush. Japan is prepared to join the U.S. in full-scale economic sanctions. South Korea, despite its doubts about U.S. policy, links economic cooperation with North Korea to resolving the nuclear issue. Planning for military interdiction of North Korea's sea and air traffic has moved from internal U.S. planning to multilateral planning with other governments.

So far, so good (if you agree with the fundamental contention that regime change is necessary). After discussing options and obstacles, he concludes:
Nevertheless, the U.S. administration's coercive agenda is under way. If sanctions and interdiction do not produce regime change or diplomatic capitulation relatively soon, the administration may well consider direct military options. American military planning appears to have moved away from a contingent strike against North Korea's nuclear facility to a broader plan of massive strikes against multiple targets. The period July-October looms as a dangerous one to be in and around Korea.

Great! Actually, I'm not too concerned (perhaps I should be?)

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