Se-Woong Koo

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College students in Seoul bowing to a statue symbolizing Korean laborers forcibly sent abroad to Japan during a rally to oppose the visit to Japan by the president of South Korea. Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press

When I was a boy growing up in South Korea in the early 1990s, my mother gave me a 60-volume set of biographies. Half of them profiled eminent global figures — the Buddha, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie — the rest were Koreans, many of whom were renowned for one thing: resisting Japan.

I asked why there weren’t more Koreans worth remembering, perhaps for other reasons. “That’s what our history is about, I guess”, she replied. “Fighting Japan”.

For decades Koreans have been unable to move on from Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula — its rapacious rule, the conscription of laborers and “comfort women” sex slaves.…  Seguir leyendo »

Anti-immigration activists protested in Seoul on Saturday against a group of asylum-seekers from Yemen. Credit Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hundreds of desperate Yemenis fleeing civil war — more than 550 — arrived on the South Korean island of Jeju and applied for asylum between January and May. In response, more than half a million South Koreans have petitioned President Moon Jae-in to turn away all refugees. Online platforms have become grounds for refugee-bashing. An actual anti-refugee demonstration took place on Saturday in downtown Seoul.

South Korea has long been intolerant of outsiders, but the outrage triggered by this small number of Yemenis arriving on our shores shows how deep xenophobia runs here. For all of South Korea’s success as a democracy and as a thriving economy, compassion and humanitarian instincts are in short supply.…  Seguir leyendo »

North Korean cheering squads arriving at the Korean-transit office near the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, this week. Credit Pool photo by Ahn Young-Joon

In the run-up to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, some South Koreans have been grumbling that this may as well be the “Pyongyang Games.”

Since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, announced on Jan. 1 that he was interested in sending a delegation to the Games, there has been a flurry of inter-Korean agreements.

Twenty-two North Korean athletes will participate in the Olympics, and they will arrive with some 230 cheerleaders in tow. The two Koreas are fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team. And at the opening ceremony on Friday, they will march under a single flag, the Korean Unification Flag.…  Seguir leyendo »

Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, and Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, on Friday at a welcoming ceremony before a meeting in South Korea. Credit Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press

It was one of the grandest banquets my family ever held. My mother slaved for two days, even hiring a cook to assist her. Lacquered folding-tables, laden with our best dishes, were set up. Then the guests of honor arrived: three American soldiers stationed in South Korea.

As a child of around 9 years old, in the late 1980s, I didn’t understand the event’s significance. Only later did I learn that it was common for South Korean families to host members of the American military in a show of appreciation. Women would set themselves to making their most succulent galbijjim (braised short ribs) and their crispiest mung bean cakes for our great defenders against the Communists up north.…  Seguir leyendo »

A rally in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday calling for the arrest of Park Geun-hye, who was removed from the presidency by the country’s Constitutional Court. Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

There was no hesitation, no ambiguity. On Friday, all eight judges on South Korea’s Constitutional Court voted to remove Park Geun-hye from the presidency.

The historic vote sent shivers down the spines of many South Koreans. Three months ago, the National Assembly impeached Ms. Park on charges of corruption, breach of trust and dereliction of duty. Ms. Park has denied the charges, but the justices disagreed, saying she abused her authority.

Ms. Park is now an ordinary citizen. Without presidential immunity, she will most likely face criminal charges. It is a rapid fall from grace for a woman who became the first female president of South Korea, and now the first president to be stripped legally of her position.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters wearing masks of President Park Geun-hye of Korea, forward, and her confidante Choi Soon-sil, rear, in Seoul last month. Credit Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Park Geun-hye of South Korea was destined to be a political leader. She grew up in the presidential residence as a daughter of South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator, Park Chung-hee. After her mother died in a 1974 assassination attempt against her father, Ms. Park became the country’s de facto first lady. She later was a lawmaker for 15 years, crafting an image as a deft politician while helping to build a conservative party with national security and economic growth as its core message. She became the country’s first female president in 2013.

Ms. Park’s personal history and image as a corruption-free conservative have been her main political assets.…  Seguir leyendo »

My mother fled South Korea for two years in her 20s because she couldn’t stomach her domineering father. On her return, she was married off to my conservative father, whom she gradually realized she didn’t care for. Divorce was still taboo, so she opted to go to Canada with me in tow. The pretext for this long-distance marriage was my education, but it was also for her freedom from patriarchal expectations.

More than two decades have passed. She keeps her address in Canada but now spends considerable time with my father in Seoul. She also dines occasionally with her father, a frail man in his 90s.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters rallied in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul after the comfort women agreement was announced in December. Credit Yang Ji-Woong/European Pressphoto Agency

On Dec. 28, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan announced the “final, irreversible” resolution of the controversy over the sexual enslavement of Korean women by the Japanese military from the early 1930s until the end of World War II. They said neither government will raise the issue ever again.

While foreign media organizations praised the deal and a minority of South Koreans accepted it, there was a strong backlash here across the political spectrum. The main opposition Minjoo Party condemned “President Park Geun-hye’s complacent historical consciousness” for calling on the public to accept the agreement. One survivor, speaking to the left-leaning outlet OhmyNews, was blunt, “We need to replace the president — that pro-Japanese collaborator’s daughter, Park Geun-hye.”…  Seguir leyendo »

South Korea’s Textbook Whitewash

Half my life was spent outside South Korea, but I still cannot forget certain history lessons from childhood in Seoul. Dokdo, rocky islets claimed by both South Korea and Japan, is an inalienable Korean territory. Hangul, the writing system credited to a 15th-century king and used by the two Koreas, is the most scientific on Earth. Even after I wrote a doctoral dissertation on modern Korea and taught Korean studies courses at universities, such nationalistic claims of varying persuasiveness whisper to me.

The administration of President Park Geun-hye also knows that history is a powerful tool for molding young minds. That is why, after weeks of rancorous public debate, on Nov.…  Seguir leyendo »

Most days over the last three weeks, South Koreans have woken up to troubling news about the spread of MERS. More infections, more school closures, more people quarantined. Authorities even isolated the entire village of Jangdeok, 150 miles south of Seoul, in a county known more for spicy red pepper paste than the infectious foreign agent authorities call Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

MERS was first detected in South Korea last month after a 68-year-old man returned with the virus from a trip to the Middle East. He went through four hospitals over nine days before being confirmed on May 20 as having the infection.…  Seguir leyendo »

South Koreans have had to deal with a series of affronts to their privacy recently, but one blow stings more than the rest: The country’s three main telecommunication companies — KT, SK Telecom and LG Uplus — have been funneling subscriber information to law enforcement agencies whenever a request is made, without demanding a warrant or informing affected customers.

They gave away names, addresses, resident registration numbers and other customer information pertaining to more than six million phone numbers in the first half of 2014 alone. All of that data now sits with law enforcement authorities, with no prospect of disposal.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Assault Upon Our Children

After my older brother fell ill from the stress of being a student in South Korea, my mother decided to move me from our home in Seoul to Vancouver for high school to spare me the intense pressure to succeed. She did not want me to suffer like my brother, who had a chest pain that doctors could not diagnose and an allergy so severe he needed to have shots at home.

I was fortunate that my mother recognized the problem and had the means to take me abroad. Most South Korean children’s parents are the main source of the unrelenting pressure put on students.…  Seguir leyendo »