South Korean rice farmers look North

According to the Hankyoreh Seoul’s policy of witholding rice aid to North Korea is driving down the price of of the grain, prompting thousands of farmers to take to the streets in protest.

Approximately 30 thousand South Korean farmers convened together for a National Farmers’ Convention to ask the government to address plummeting rice prices on Tuesday.

The main cause of plummeting rice prices is the government’s decision not to send rice aid to North Korea, (they said)… During the previous administration, 400 thousand tons of rice were sent to North Korea annually, whereas the current administration has stocked up over 800 thousand tons of rice. (Protesters) say the excess reserves of rice are one of the main causes of the steep decline in the price of rice.

As if to add insult to injury, Seoul recently offered 10,000 tons of imported corn aid to Pyongyang, which further riled local rice growers and was, being far less than what  was  expected, rebuffed by the North as “narrow minded.”

With this year being a bumper crop year, a bag of 80 kilograms of rice is now traded at around 130,000 won, about 15 percent lower than last year.

Farmers are razing rice paddies out of anger, stacking bags of rice outside as they run out of storage space and dumping the surplus rice in the South while millions of people are starving in the North as they are short of some 800,000 tons of rice…

According to the local human rights group Good Friends, parts of North Korea are suffering from one of the worst food shortages in over eight decades. “People live on acorns and herbs they collect in mountains while the better-off eat mostly porridge to save rice, not just in Hamgyeong but also in South Pyongan Province,” it said.

so many mouths

A more salient factor behind the drop in prices could be the fact that Koreans are simply eating less of the one-time staple, and much of what they are eating is increasingly coming from overseas. As globalization continues to take hold, the local diet has become far more international.

Rice, which once determined a person’s financial status and served as the beloved staple of Korean food, is becoming less symbolic and losing its appeal here as the country increasingly opens its palate to the world and moves toward globalization.

During the 1980s, the average Korean consumed 130 kilograms of rice annually. As of last year, it stood at 76 kilograms, which is roughly equivalent to two servings a day versus four several decades ago.

One of the approaches to resolving the dilemma facing farmers is promoting consumption of rice-based products like makkeolli, the fermented rice wine that goes oh so well with a meal of barbecued bacon.

Exports of traditional Korean rice wine surged by more than 20 percent in the first nine months of this year mainly due to strong demand from Japan, a government report said yesterday.

Exports of makgeolli, or rice wine, reached $3.56 million totaling 4,380 tons up until September, the Korea Customs Service said.

I’ve recently spotted canned versions of the drink, which usually come in plastic green bottles. I even saw a packet of garlic flavored makkeolli. But again, the problem is that most of the rice used to produce makkeolli and similar rice based products comes from abroad, meaning local farmers are not likely to benefit from the stronger sales.


Playing with fire

An editorial in the Korea Times bemoans the country’s lack of fire prevention and overall safety standards, echoing President Lee Myung-bak’s statements that the fire that claimed 10 lives, including seven Japanese tourists, at a Busan shooting range diminished South Korea’s reputation.  A breakdown of tragic fires in South Korea over the past decade:

Eight people died in a fire at a state-run psychiatric hospital in northern Seoul in 2000 and another eight were killed in a blaze at a cram school in Gwangju City in 2001. A fire in a red-light district in Gunsan City claimed 12 lives in 2002. No one can forget the arson attack on the Daegu City subway train in 2003 which killed 192 passengers. Nine foreigners were killed in a fire engulfing the immigration service’s detention center for undocumented visitors in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, in 2007.

Last year, 47 people died in separate fires at two refrigerated warehouses in Icheon, 80 kilometers south of Seoul. The country also lost Namdaemun gate, a 610-year-old landmark at the heart of the capital city, in February 2009, due to another arson attack. All those incidents were blamed on the nation’s widespread violations of safety and fire prevention steps.

Killer coffee

My office is about a 20 minute walk from where I live, with four different routes all of which take roughly the same amount of time. Depending on how spritely I feel — and how many cups of coffee I’ve had — I could either go uphill or down.


Mix coffee it aint

The former winds through scenic alleways before opening onto a view of Seoul’s mountains and the first coffee shop on that particular route. Continue down past the second, then the third and fourth coffee shops and turn left at the Starbucks. In fact, all roads lead to Starbucks, whether its the one on the main strip or the other branch tucked into a comely little courtyard.

The first time I came to Korea ten years ago the hardest thing to adjust to wasn’t the gusting minus 27 winds or the stares and whispers of migukin every time I walked past. It was the fact that the only choices I had when it came to my morning brew were hazelnut or Maxim, the Korean version of Tasters Choice. Ugghhhh. Mornings were horrendous as I stumbled about the streets of Seoul in search of a decent cup o’ joe, like a junkee looking for his fix. I shudder at the memory. But oh how times have changed.

A colleague of mine who grew up in Soeul once recalled the times he used to spend lounging in the local tea houses, or dabangs,which once populated Insadong and other areas. Most of these are long gone, replaced first by Starbucks and later by gourmet coffee houses that even to this long-time addict take the drink just a bit too seriously.

Even in temples, where tea once enjoyed a pride of place not far beneath the buddha himself, old fashioned coffee grinders and black powders from Kenya, Brazil or some other far flung destination have begun to replace the old hand-made ceramic tea sets. The poor old leaf never stood a chance against the bigger, brawnier bean.



A british friend of mine refuses to patronize Starbucks. He says all the little cafes that he prefers have been bled dry by the proliferation of that spawn of Seattle (which he also seems to dislike for some reason). One afternoon we opted for the little no-name place across the way from 스타버크스 (pronounced something like suhtabahkuhsuh), and I ended up with an americano that tatsed like the styrofoam cup it came in.

So as Seoulites are rapidly being weaned off of tea and increasingly suckled by the bitter-sweet brew, I end this with an email I received this morning warning of the ill side effects brought about by coffee addiction. Coffee drinkers beware…

Pesticide Exposure

Chances are the coffee you drink is made from beans grown outside this country.

Coffee beans are known to be a heavily sprayed crop, and the U.S. has limited input and control over the type and quantity of pesticides used in the countries from which we import.

Aside from the damage coffee alone can do, pesticides are contributors to a wide range of health problems, including prostate and other cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and even miscarriages.

Metabolic Damage

Coffee stimulates your adrenals — the hormones that activate your fight or flight re­sponse. If your adrenal hormones are stimulated too often, which is bound to happen if you are a daily coffee drinker, your adrenal glands may eventually burn out.

When your adrenals no longer function effectively, your body will go in search of a re­placement hormone — which happens to be progesterone.

Progesterone has its own full-time job to do, part of which is to keep your body’s estro­gen in balance. As your progesterone is used up compensating for your exhausted ad­renals, you run the risk of becoming estrogen dominant.

Estrogen dominance can lead to osteoporosis.

Coffee also raises the acidity level of your blood, causing calcium to be pulled from your bones and teeth for use as a buffering agent. The combination of estrogen dominance and high blood acidity puts you at an even greater risk for osteoporosis. In fact, research has established an undeniable link between coffee consumption and hip fractures.

A Pick Me Up? Don’t Kid Yourself!

Fatigue is the number one daily complaint among Americans. Are you using coffee to combat feelings of tiredness and low energy?

Caffeine is a strong stimulant and will deliver a temporary jolt, which may feel like a burst of energy to you.

But the truth is, coffee only gives you the illusion of energy and not the real thing. Over the long-term coffee actually depletes your B vitamin supply, and lack of B vitamins depletes your energy.

If you struggle with fatigue and low energy on a daily basis, your body is telling you it’s time to assess your health and lifestyle choices. Drinking coffee is not the answer to chronic feelings of weariness and lack of energy.

A Much Healthier Alternative to Your Coffee Habit

As my regular readers know, my first recommendation for a healthy beverage is always pure water. It is by far the best choice you can make.

But if you’re looking to kick your coffee habit to improve your health, a cup of high-qual­ity green tea can be a great alternative as a warm, soothing morning beverage.

The language of parenting

도봉산의 가을I humiliated a little kid recently, mistook his innocent curiosity for veiled racism and threw it back at him in spades.

It was a warm fall afternoon, the mountainside resplendent in autumn reds and yellows. My family and I had just come down from the peak when the boy pointed in my direction and said something to his mom that began with the word “foreigner.” I pointed back, aping his goofy grin as I blurted out, “look, a Korean.” His smile vanished, replaced by a pained look of confusion.

We had spent the afternoon climbing Mt. Dobong in eastern Seoul. The trail was one of several that branched off at the entrance to the park, each one winding up to the craggy peaks that dominate the skies above. It was a Sunday, when Korea’s mountains are swarmed by armies bedecked in the latest outdoor fashions; a riot of color and sound, the clug-clug of milky rice liquor as it gurgles out of plastic green bottles to quench parched throats and soothe tired muscles.

As the trail gained in elevation it grew more precarious. Large boulders appeared, their rough-hewn faces daring us to continue upwards. My four-year-old decided to meet the challenge, an instant rock climbing expert who was gonna throw a tantrum if and when his overprotective dad tried to help out… which I did, often.

He screamed and yelled as I reached out to guide him while peering over the edges to the valley below that seemed to fall away with each carefree step my son took. My face a knot of fear and frustration, I yelled out in English that it was too dangerous, that we had to go back down, which brought wild howls of protest from my son.

And as we climbed I could see the faces of other hikers, heard their hushed whispers of disapproval. “How could this awful foreigner of a father be driving his kid up the side of a mountain when the boy was so obviously terrified?”

It was in fact the total opposite… my son was driving his terrified father up the proverbial wall.

And so it went until we reached the peak, at which point my son asked to be carried down. He was “too tired,” he said. We chose an easier trail and two-and-a-half hours later, a dull throb in my shoulders where my son sat perched triumphantly, we arrived at the park entrance. And that’s when I snapped at the boy nearby. My wife shot me a vicious glare. “Why do you always have to be so political?”

Students protest high tuition

Cutting hair to cut tuition

Cutting hair to cut tuition

Per Yonhap: April 10, SEOUL, South Korea — A female university student has her head shaved in Seoul on April 10 in a protest rally organized by student leaders to demand the government reduce tuition fees.

Today in Korean history – street lights and the Great Han Nation

1900 — Hanseong Electric, the country’s first electric energy producer, which was established two years earlier, installs street lights for the first time in Jongno, the central district of Seoul, where the royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty were located.

1919 — The Provisional Government of Korea, established in Shanghai earlier to restore their homeland’s sovereignty from Japanese colonial rule, meets for the first time and adopts a modern name for their country, “Daehanminguk.”

1957 — Law students from Seoul National University announce a class boycott to protest the admission of Rhee Gang-seok, the adopted son of President Syngman Rhee, to their school. The president’s son was accepted to the highest-ranking university in the country without taking admission tests.

Blix calls for engagement with North

Hans Blix, former head of the WMD inspection team in Iraq and chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, says engagement with the North is the only way to convince the country that “a piece of paper” will guarantee its safety more so than a nuclear stockpile.

Perhaps a piece of paper could be made more attractive if it were signed by the great powers and combined with a peace treaty. Perhaps it would also be more credible if it were offered in the margin of the revival of international nuclear disarmament. While allowing civilian nuclear power and guaranteeing access to uranium fuel, it would have to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, enrichment of uranium and reprocessing on the whole Korean peninsula[…]

There may be limits to the persuasive power of the Chinese government, but it is significant and there can be no doubt that Beijing has an enormous interest in using it. A nuclear-capable North Korea shooting missiles over Japan could push Tokyo in a direction that would sharply increase tensions with China.