Monday, January 22, 2007

Korea’s particular geographic features, most notably that it is a peninsula, influence greatly its sociology, political climate, and cuisine. As evidenced in our previous post, the country's politics are often guided by the surrounding bodies of water: the Yellow Sea to the west, the East Sea (Sea of Japan) to the, uh, east, and the Korea Strait to the south (the Korea Strait separates Japan from Korea but the Japanese don't seem to complain or try to neutralize the name). The prevalent sea food, sea shanties, sea (name) changes and sea stories comprise a pelagic panoply of maritime culture which affects even the most inland, urban areas. While we are catching up on old news, the most important sea story of 2006 (scroll down to the section “Gambling Scandal") was so damaging, it nearly derailed the FTA talks.

A popular slot machine game, Pada Iyagi (Sea Story), was the cause of a political imbroglio, involving a number of high-ranking government officials. Last year, prosecutors arrested Baek Eeek, the director of the cultural media bureau at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, among others. "Speculation of influence peddling mounted when it was found that Roh Ji-won, one of President Roh Moo-hyun's nephews, worked as an executive of a company acquired earlier this year by Zico Prime, the game’s distributor."

The games pay out winners with vouchers good for discounts at retail stores. Illegally, these vouchers were being redeemed by game-room operators for cash. The game room operators also, quite cleverly, discovered ways to re-program the automated machines to payout more often. The loosest slots in Korea became even looser. In September of last year, reporters claimed “Korea’s gaming rooms now outnumber 24-hour convenience stores about two to one - about 20,000 compared to 9,500.”

In the land of 24-hour convenience stores, this is significant. Unaware of the extent to which these gaming parlors infiltrated the urban landscape, apparantly, “Those arcades were set up even in residential areas, indicating gambling has penetrated ordinary people’s lives. A growing number of people became victims of the games _ many of them who lost money and whose life has deteriorated were those in the low-income bracket.”

EVEN IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS?! NOOOOOOoooooooo! How could these dastardly villains be left to spread satan’s seed, unchecked by the law?! That these rigged/illegal payout Pada Iyagi games are more popular than any of the legal slots suggests the "victims" are not "pathologically addicted", but rather rationally addicted.

Seoulitary Confinement resides in Seoul. But surely even our residential area was safe from the scourge. That is until, heading home, emerging from the subway station one evening after work, the following appeared:

These confiscated machines had been operating right under our nose, rigged to payout more often and hidden in parlors whose owners would readily exchange the winning vouchers for cash. Why had not we frequented these gaming rooms?! Another opportunity missed…

Thursday, January 18, 2007

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
there will be an answer. let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

About 10 days ago, major world media outlets caught wind of a small story with large regional implications. “South Korea has proposed calling the body of water between it and Japan [currently called the Sea of Japan] the "Sea of Friendship" so as to end a naming dispute, a presidential official said on Monday.” The Japanese response was, not surprisingly, an incredulous “No,” followed by an eye-roll, a quick elbow into Russia’s rib and a muttered, “Can you believe this guy?” As this particular dispute seems rather one-sided, the words above quickly came to mind. What is Korea gonna do? Round up the world’s cartographers and get them to switch the name on a whim, for the hell of it? Just let it be. Then again, did Paul just let it be after the Beatles broke up? No. He went off and started a little project called Wings. Did he just let it be after Michael Jackson out-bid him for the Beatles catalogue? Well, bad example. Did he just let it be after Jane Asher dumped him after finding him in bed with another woman? No. He picked up with some chick named Linda. Maybe you’ve heard of them? Did Paul McCartney just sit back and let it be after he lost Linda to cancer? No! He married an amputee/activist and, allegedly, knocked her around after knocking her up. That example isn’t so great either. Well, I guess letting it be has its merits.

Okay, okay, let's take a different tack. A dear friend to Seoulitary Confinement, who was for several years, during his formative high school days, stuck with a derogatory nickname he didn't like, decided to just change it. One day he said, “This is my new nickname, I don’t like the old one and this one makes more sense anyway…” And I’ll be damned if with a lame-but-rational argument and a LOT of persistence, the “Bear” was born. I guess this isn’t without precedent for geographical names either. I doubted the Cape of Good Hope always had such a sanguine name. Sure enough, in 1488 the Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias deemed it, quite appropriately, Cabo das Tormentas (Cape of Storms). How heated was the debate among selenographers before settling on the “Sea of Tranquility"? So we say to the Koreans, do NOT let it be. Keep fighting the good fight! We here at Seoulitary Confinement are behind you. 100%. We shall champion this cause with all of our resources. Together we can change the hearts and minds and maps of the world. That body of water does not belong to Japan! And once we achieve this milestone, we can take up a new challenge, to cease the terrible balkanization of America by bridging the Cumberland Gap, by crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, by uniting the Continental Divide!!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

From everyone at Seoulitary Confinement, have a prosperous, healthy and happy 2007! After a relaxing but all too short tour of the Philippines, we are busily preparing a breakneck publishing schedule to make up for our recent absence. Hopefully, we can cover all the necessary ground before the real new year, the lunar new year, on February 18th.

Readers of our last comment, some whose corporate event experience surpasses ours, asked the woefully neglected question(s), "You got a gift for attending, didn' t you? What was it?" A pen. And a pencil, mechanical. Unfortunately, the slip cap to these fine writing instruments sport a clip smartly emblazoned with the Korea Institute of Finance logo. Otherwise, likely the very same reader would have received the very same pen and pencil, mechanical, as a gift in the 2006 holiday season.