Monthly Archives: August 2016

Aug 22

Chinese counterfeiters add swastikas to Boy London’s Nazi line

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Strange China News

Boy London has been scrutinized for its use of an eagle that bears resemblance to the Parteiadler eagle used by Nazi Germany during the Third Reich.

One Polish shopper quoted by the Daily Mail said in 2014, “I don’t get offended easily but it was like a slap in the face. I showed it to my girlfriend and she said she didn’t like looking at it. It’s quite embroidered on Polish people’s minds, it gives you the creeps.”

boy-daily-mail copy



But the real Boy London collection is tame compared to the fake Boy Chinese knock-offs.

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Yes, the Chinese version goes all the way and uses the swastika as well.

Apologists for Boy London say that the eagle was the “Imperial Eagle,” which has long been used by Germany, but if you look at the versions of the Reichsadler used in history, you will see one in particular stands out.
historical eagles copy

Aug 13

Eating silkworm larvae – Day 15

By Mitchell Blatt | Food and Leisure , Korea Trip 2016

I arrived in Busan, a city of 3.6 million on the south coast, yesterday and went out to try the local cuisine. The Gupo Market is nearby my hotel, so I went out there. A few streets were crowded with pedestrians, flashing lights, and brightly lit signs, so I joined in the crowd and searched for a local-looking restaurant with a lot of people in it.nightlife

Finding a small restaurant full of Koreans with pictures of seafood on the outside, I walked in and found a menu on the wall. No pictures, no English, and I didn’t have my phone with me with a translation app. So a perfect real Korean experience.

I picked a dish off the wall at random, garibigu (가리비구), and then the wait staff brought out plates of tomatoes, cucumbers, silkworm larvae, and shells that you have to suck the meat out of.Continue reading

Aug 10

12 random thoughts on Korea – Day 12

By Mitchell Blatt | Korea Trip 2016 , Travel

After more than a week in Korea, here are a few notes about a random array of topics:
1.) The mass market beer is pretty good compared to Chinese beers. Cass has a sweet corn malt to it and a crisp drinkability. Of course, I am comparing it to Chinese beers, so anything is good when you use such standards.

2.) There are Kpop shows on TV every day and on some channels all day.
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3.) Baseball is full of singing, stick-banging and cheerleaders.
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4.) The subway in Seoul uses a strange system of taking making you return your cards to a machine to get your 500 won deposit back.

5.) Some restaurants really do give you 5, or 6, or 7, or 8 banchan (side dishes) before your meal.
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6.) Continue reading

Aug 09

Transportation in Seoul: Don’t lose 500 won on each subway ticket – Day 11

By Mitchell Blatt | Travel

The first time I used the Seoul subway, I lost 500 won (US$0.46) because of its stupid ticketing method.

When you get a ticket issued from the machine, you pay a standard fare–about 1,350 won, or more depending on length–but there’s also an additional 500 won highlighted on the screen. If you, like me, want to try to take out the subway machine in its local language, then you will click around on the buttons until you eventually order a ticket, but you won’t comprehend what the extra 500 won is for.

It’s not until the next time that you use the subway machine and you reach into your pocket and find that you still have the old subway card in your pocket and then you try to reload your subway card and find that you can’t, then you click the buttons to buy a ticket, and the 500 won is still on the screen, and the machine issues you a new card, that you finally realize, WTF.

In fact, the 500 won is a deposit on your card, and you have to put the card back in a card return box at the end of your trip to get the refund back. (Since I still had my card in my pocket, I might have ultimately got the refund back. However, who cares?) For someone who has never used a subway, this might seem like a perfectly reasonable system to guarantee that the cards are returned.

But if you have used a subway, you might notice that many systems issue you a token (Nanjing) or a card (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong) and then the turn stalls have a built-in system for you to deposit the card upon exiting.

So, first point: Remember to deposit your card in the refund box at the end of your trip on the Seoul metro.

Overall, however, I have high praise for the Seoul metro. It has very many cars connected and is not crowded like Beijing or Shanghai or Nanjing often are. Its heated seats are highly praised in the winter.

Intercity Travel

Continue reading

Aug 08

Visiting Chonnam University – Day 10

By Mitchell Blatt | History , Korea Trip 2016 , New Writing

Yesterday I arrived in Gwangju to revisit the sites of the historic Gwangju Uprising of 1980 against military rule. On my first day here, I followed the May 18 Road to see where and how the uprising started out of student protests at Chonnam University.

I wrote about it in detail at Kim Chi Bytes, one of the top South Korean blogs, where I am now a contributor. In part:

Chonnam National University is credited with being where the events of the Gwangju Uprising actually started, and it’s where the first May 15 Road trail starts. When the students arrived on the morning of May 18, the day after martial law was declared over the entire country, they were met with paratroopers and told the university was closed. Students across the country, along with about two dozen opposition lawmakers, including Gwangju local and future democratically-elected president Kim Dae-Jung. According to the May 18 Memorial Foundation, the paratroopers “unconditionally beat the students who were being observed in study in a library.”

As the news spread, more began coming to the university to resist martial law. By mid-morning, about 300-500 students had gathered by the gate in contrast to 30 paratroopers. Yoon Sang-won, then a student at Chonnam, writes that the students chanted, “Soldiers controlled by political commanders, return to your army post.” Other chants by the fifty students who sat down included, “End martial law!” and “Withdraw the order to close the universities!” according to Gwangju News.

The paratroopers warned, according to the account by Na Kahn-chae in South Korean Democracy: Legacy of the Gwangju Uprising, “If you do not return home immediately, you will be dispersed by force.” Students began throwing stones, and the paratroopers attacked. But the students were eventually able to move their protests throughout the city by the afternoon and march to the train station.

The spirit of student protest seems to be alive and well at Chonnam today. Banners hanging from trees voice opposition to THAAD, a missile defense system the government bought from the U.S., and support for students’ academic freedom.

Read the full post here: Visiting the Place Where the Gwangju Uprising Started

Aug 07

Day 9: I arrive in Gwangju

By Mitchell Blatt | Korea Trip 2016 , Videos

To accompany my arrival in Gwangju, where the people protested and took up arms in the course of their opposition to Chun Doo-hwan’s military coup of 1979-80 and his arrest of their local opposition leader Kim Dae-jung, I have produced a summary video of where I am so far in my Korea trip.

Remember, revisiting the democracy movement is a big part of my travelogue–as well as exploring the modern pleasures Koreans can enjoy under freedom and democracy–so put some funds in, or pre-order my travelogue on these topics, at Kickstarter.

Aug 06

Tyranny is all the same: How South Korea and Vietnam whitewash their history – Day 8

By Mitchell Blatt | History , Korea Trip 2016

Water torture, beatings, pins placed under one’s fingernails… Those were some of the torture methods carried out at the Seodaemun Prison in Seoul. In the basement of the complex, which is now a museum, visitors can see a display of a mannequins hung upside down with water being poured over their faces, and of prisoners waiting in a walled room where they would hear screams from other prisoners being tortured next door.

Korea was annexed by Imperial Japan and occupied from 1910-45. After 1945, the exhibition at the Seodaemun Prison Museum mostly ends but for a few vague notes that the prison remained in use until 1987. Nonetheless, the exhibitions on display might give us an idea of what took place in the prison–and other Korean prisons–between 1945 and 1987.

“The mission received evidence that the following kinds of torture had been used against individuals in Korean prisons:
i. water torture–cold water forced up the nostrils through a tube.

iv. beatings–particularly to the soles of the feet.
v. being hung from the ceiling and spun around.
vi. having a ball-point pen placed between the fingers…

xiii. intimidation by the use of screams from adjoining rooms.”

That’s from a report produced by Amnesty International based on a 1975 trip to South Korea. Seodaemun isn’t mentioned by name, nor is any other prison, but human rights abuses and political repression were the norm in South Korea for most of the years up until its democratization in 1987.

Compare and contrast Seodaemun Prison’s text with that of 1975 U.S. Congressional testimony on South Korean human rights issues:

Press Freedom

“Shortwave Broadcasting Listening Incident

This was an incident where groups … working at the broadcasting station propaganda the ‘Chongqing Broadcasting’ and ‘Voice of America’, made by the Korean Provisional Government [in exile], to the public. However they were detected by the Japanese imperialists in December, 1942. As a result, a total of 150 people were arrested and imprisoned.” – Seodaemun Prison Museum

“A handful (four) of top liberal reporters were fired. … One hundred forty men and women, including all the 1 day announcers of the radio station, and most of the producers, took over the presses and the radio on the eighth of March and held them in an attempt to save the one free voice in South Korea. These brave men and women held out until predawn, March 17, when a goon squad broke into the building and drove all the strikers into the street. … Each morning they gather in silent protest… …They pass out a mimeographed ‘True Dong A Il Bo’ stating their case and a little of the truth about current affairs. On April 29, I was there to see the chief of police of Seoul arrive and deliver the third and final warning to the silent and unmoving line of men and women. They would be arrested if they came back.” – Reverend James P. Sinnott, Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, testimony before Congress, 1975

Torture

“There are some records regarding various torture methods. One such example can be described as ‘airplane torture’ in which a person’s hands and feet were tied back while being suspended in midair from an airplane. ‘Water torture’ was also used.” – Seodaemun Prison Museum

“Torture is frequently used by law-enforcement agencies both in an attempt to extract false confessions and as a tactic of intimidation. The methods of torture comprise, inter alla, (a) water torture-cold water forced up the nostrils through a tube, (b) electrical torture, often in conjunction with water torture, to sentivie parts of the body such as the toes and genitals, (c) the beating of persons tied hand and foot and suspended from the ceiling, (d) deprivation of sleep for prolonged periods–one case up to 15 days.” – Amnesty International report inserted into Congressional testimony, 1975

Brief Mention of Dissidents at Museum

“After the restoration of national independence Seodaemun Prison was a historical symbol of Korea’s democratization movement until it was moved to another area in 1987. The victims from the tumultuous political events manipulated by the dictatorship along with the students, laborer and democratization activists who fought against the despotic regime were imprisoned, tortured or died here.” – Seodaemun Prison Museum

(The display elaborates somewhat in Korean)

Here in Korea for two weeks,Continue reading

Aug 05

How Korea made baseball fun (It involves cheerleaders, singing, and beer) – Day 7

By Mitchell Blatt | Korea Trip 2016

Outside the stadium I bought a liter of beer and a piece of dried fried squid and went through the gate with my outside food in hand. Inside the stadium cheerleaders danced to Kpop songs, and a man with a microphone rallied almost everyone in the crowd to bang together thundersticks.

This was no American baseball game. There were no middle aged men sitting quietly with a card and a pencil keeping score. No, most people were making noise the whole game, chanting and singing along to Western and Korean pop songs that had been modified into baseball songs. (The Doosan side sang “Go Doosan!” over the lyrics to “Fire” by 2NE1.)

Vendors congregate around the stadium selling local foods.

Vendors congregate around the stadium selling local foods.

Close to 7 million people attend KBO games each year. The games have an energetic and theatric atmosphere, almost like a Kpop show. The cheerleaders dance in short skirts during inning breaks, and almost all the fans, led by cheer DJs on a platform, eagerly join in the songs.

I attended the second game of the biggest rivalry in the league—the Doosan Bears vs the LG Twins. Both play in Seoul and both share the same stadium, Jamsil Stadium, which played host to the 1988 Olympic baseball games. Doosan (sponsored by a construction and power conglomerate) is coming off victory in the 2015 Korean Series championship and is currently leading the league with a 61-35-1 record. LG is nine games below .500, relegated to eighth place in the ten team league. Doosan won the first game of the series, 12-1, on August 2, the day before I went. But that doesn’t mean the rivalry isn’t intense.

doosan vs lg fans (copy)
Continue reading

Aug 04

How I fell in love with Kpop at the “live show” of SBS MTV – Day 6

By Mitchell Blatt | Korea Trip 2016 , Music

The fans roared. Four girls in short denim pants took the stage. They started dancing to their song “Color,” shaking their hips seductively. ”You’re perfect, I’ve never felt this way before…” But were the cameras even filming?

From my seat at the “live” show of the Kpop music program “The Show” on SBS MTV, I could see the whole glamorous spectacle on display: hosts preparing, fans waving signs, artists performing, and producers waving them off stage.

Music shows are huge in the land of Kpop. Almost every night one of the channels broadcasts its countdown show, from the English-language “Simply K-Pop” on Arirang channel on Mondays to “Inkigayo” on SBS on Sundays, and of course “The Show” on SBS MTV every Tuesday night.

Tickets to the big shows can be a hot commodity. Superfans will go to shows night after night to see their favorite idol bands and then wait outside for an hour to try to catch a glimpse of them leaving. Outside the SBS Prism Tower outside the show, two fans waved a Vromance album at me and said that they were planning on attending every show where the new group performed.

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To obtain tickets, one usually has to apply in advance on a Korean website and hope to be selected by lottery. However a number of tour agencies provide tickets that can be purchased for guaranteed seats. My tickets were provided by HaB Korea tour agency, which also offers Kpop dance class tours and M Countdown tickets.

The Show features a countdown of the top new songs—and other notable songs—as voted on by viewers, including Chinese viewers on Tudou video platform. The performance and production is fast, flashy, and energetic. The stage is adorned with lights. Performers are either pretty girls in short skirts and hot pants or handsome boys in stylish dress. They have their dance moves down to every detail such that when you are watching from the stands and keeping your eyes moving between the stage and the television feed, it looks like they are broadcasting live.

But thenContinue reading

Aug 02

Asian women prefer traveling to Korea – Day 4

By Mitchell Blatt | Korea Trip 2016 , Travel

While researching tourism to South Korea, I discovered that tourism from Asian countries is dominated by female travelers. 62 percent of tourists to South Korea from East Asia and The Pacific are women, according to the Korea Tourism Organization’s figures for June 2016.

Looking at the numbers on a country-by-country basis, as I did, the countries or territories with the most disproportionate rate of females-to-males visiting Korea were Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan, in that order, before the first European country, Portugal, came.

Many Countries Chart

My initial assumption,Continue reading