Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reporting Domestic Abuse in South Korea

Here's the question:
I have a problem, and I was hoping you might have some advice. In the apartment above me there is frequently domestic violence going on--I hear lots of noise and a girl screaming like she is very hurt. I have called the police multiple times. They come, knock on the door, but of course the people inside won't open the door, and the police won't open it either.
My school asked me if I want to move to a different apartment, but that does not solve the problem. I want to know, what can I do to help this girl? Every time I hear her scream, I feel so guilty. And when she stops screaming, I wonder, is it because the beating stopped or because now she is too hurt to scream?
I have Korean colleagues and friends, but all of them seem unwilling or unable to help me. Please help me help her!
What a terrible situation to be put in. I'm truly sorry that you have to endure being around such violence. I'm pretty sure I heard a little bit of domestic abuse when I first moved to Korea, but wasn't ever certain. As I've learned since, Koreans are sometimes a tad emotional and overly passionate, so screaming and crying might be provoked without violence. Also, Koreans have gotten used to noisy neighbors and tend to block the disturbance--whatever it might be--out. 

I'm not sure if you mean 'girl' as in a child or an adult, so I'll answer for both.  

If it is a child then the situation is a little trickier. Koreans very deeply use and approve of corporal punishment. While the trend might be slowing in the public school system, it is still very much a part of discipline in the home. It all boils down to respect and adherence to the hierarchal norms that Korean society is obsessed with. To some Koreans, if a child misbehaves it's not because they are a child or foolish, but rather that they intentionally chose to disregard the structure of Korean relationships and must be disciplined. The method doesn't matter to them as long as the child understands and follows the pecking order. 

In this sense, a call to the police over what a Westerner might call "child abuse" could prove to be useless. The parents would justify it and unless the child has severe or easily noticeable injuries (not just bruises), the police will probably overlook it. Remember, "culture" is always the excuse offered up when defending questionable behavior. I know that isn't comforting in the least for you, but that's how it goes. However, if you can spot the child out and about around your apartment, maybe say 'Hello' and take a causal look at her neck, arms and legs. If you see something questionable, contact one of the links below.

Now, if the 'girl' is a woman and, therefore, a battered wife or girlfriend, you can take more direct action. You could call the landlord or maintenance person and let them know of the "disturbance". You could try spotting the woman outside her place and having a face-to-face conversation with her (although she probably won't open up to you and language could be an issue as well). You could even try banging on the ceiling or their door while the abuse is taking place. The bottom line is that you need to make sure the abuser knows that other people know what's happening. 

I think calling the police over and over again isn't a bad thing to do at all. Eventually, the locked door excuse won't work (as they often do) and the police will demand entry. The problem is that the victim might not be interested in talking to the police. Koreans don't like legal solutions, nor do they like losing face. This situation offers both. Luckily, you're not Korean and you don't have to deal with the culture barriers.

If the police won't do anything and you're sure that your neighbor is being beaten and/or is in a helpless situation, then you could always go to Korean Women's Hot Line ( or visit the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family ( Both of them have English websites and I'm sure will be able to communicate with you considering the amount of abuse that takes place among foreign-born brides on the peninsula. It also wouldn't hurt to drop by Korea4Expats' post on Help Centers for Abused Foreign Women. Your neighbor might not be a foreigner, but they could at least give you some solid advice or point you in the right direction.

You have a few options for now and hopefully they will work out because this kind of thing needs to stop. Does anyone else have any advice?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Will the North Korean soccer team go to a prison camp?

Here's the question:
I read somewhere that the 1966 North Korean footballers were put in jail for blowing their World Cup match. Do you reckon it'll happen again? Also, will do you know if SBS will be showing the English game live or will they be giving the Yanks that slot?
The '66 North Korean World Cup team did in fact end up in a prison camp -Yodok to be exact. The reasoning for the imprisonment is not only due to their loss to Portugal. That was certainly embarrassing as they blew a 3-0 lead. However, most would say it's because they were seen in public doing very "bad things".

Kang Chol-Hwan, survivor of Yodok and author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang, wrote this:
To celebrate their victory [over Italy], the players went on a wild drinking binge and, by the end of the night, were seen carrying on in public with some girls.
That doesn't seem too extreme considering the odds that were against them to beat the Italians. Pyongyang, however, didn't have the same enthusiasm.
...the national teams barroom antics were judged bourgeois, reactionary, corrupted by imperialism and bad ideas. Upon arriving back in [North] Korea, the whole team - save for Park Dou-ik, who, suffering from stomach pains on the night of the party, had been forced to stay in his hotel room - was sent to the camps.
It's hard to tell whether or not such behavior would have been excused had the North defeated the Portuguese. I assume that the punishment wouldn't have been as severe, but I really have no idea. In fact, one of the North Korean soccer players Kang discusses in his book denies that he was ever sent to a prison camp as a result of such behavior.
Pak Sung Jin, also 59, coaches one of Pyongyang's First Division sides. In 1966, his spectacular volley earned Korea a last-gasp equaliser against Chile, and the crucial point that set them up for Italy. South Korean newspapers claim Pak spent years incarcerated at Yodok internment camp, living off the insects he could catch, but he denies suffering any direct fall-out from his English sojourn.
So do you believe Park or Kang? Park says nothing happened to him while Kang says this:
Among the prisoners I met in the camp was a celebrated former athlete who made a name for himself in Yodok by making it through very long stints in the sweatbox. According to rumor, his survival secret was to eat every insect he could get his hands on. Whether or not true, it won him the nickname Cockroach. Park Seun-jin, as he was really named, had lived his earlier moment of glory back in the 1966 World Cup in England.
Kang also claims that Park had been in the camp for almost twelve years by the time he entered in 1978 and that Park was still there when Kang was released ten years later. It's safe to assume that Park doesn't have any plans on going back to Yodok, or any other camp for that matter, and denying his imprisonment is a good start.

So, do I think it'll happen again to these guys? Well, it's hard to say. I would like to say 'no way', but there are a few factors working against them. First of all, North Korea decided that this game would be the first one aired live in North Korea. They clearly didn't think that a 7-0 walloping was on the horizon. The North Korean national soccer heroes have been humiliated and since Kim Jung-un himself instructed the team to be "unbeatable" it might reflect poorly on him in the bizarro reality that is North Korea. He's not turning out to the a lightning rod for success.

The second issue is one that North Korean defectors raised.

It's hard to know how much credence to give to the claims from the North Korean Football Association that the country's leader has been giving the team personal guidance and help with tactics. But true or not, North Korea wouldn't be alone, of course, in wanting to exploit sporting success for political ends.
Mr Kim shakes his head when he thinks of the fate that might await his former countrymen.
"The result will be blamed on their weak minds," he tells me. "I'm sure the players will have to go though extreme re-education and self-criticism."
They know better than I do and if they fear it then perhaps this current national team should as well. Still, it doesn't appear that the North Koreans did anything outwardly embarrassing(aside from their loss), so hopefully these guys will escape with a slap on the wrist and not a stint in a camp.

As for the games, SBS will be showing the England match and SBS Sports will be showing the "Yanks" game. Go Yanks! Boo England!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why do Koreans smoke so much?

Here's the question:
Why do Koreans smoke so much? I'm from Delaware and am very used to a non-smoking environment. This is a disgusting shock.
For those who don't know, Delaware banned smoking in public workplaces almost a decade ago, so I imagine coming to Korea would be quite the shock. Some foreigners love it and others hate it, but Koreans are all used to it.

Korean men do smoke an awful lot (a trend increasing among women as well). It's hard to walk into a building or a bathroom without catching a whiff of it and while the government is trying to broaden their ban, it doesn't seem to have much of an effect on the prevalence. There are a lot of reasons why smoking among men is so common in Korea.


Aside from the youthful temptations, curiosity and peer pressure, young Korean men must face the most difficult smoking challenge: military service. Up until the mid-nineties, cigarettes were provided to young soldiers along with their coffee and tea. The brands changed (Hwarang, 88, This) but they were free and presumably included in their Type 3 rations. Now, cigarettes are no longer provided, but they are offered at a discounted price. Of course, you don't have to smoke and while no one is forcing you to indulge, those who opted for healthy lungs often got stuck doing more work than their smoking counterparts simply because when you're smoking you're not working. As a result, many young men pick up the habit in the military and when they rejoin civilian life they have trouble shaking the addiction.


If you were to ask a Korean why so many people smoke, they'll say that stress causes them to do it. Some will offer fun excuses like "I'd be much more unhealthy if I couldn't relieve my stress through smoking", but we know that doesn't make sense. Smoking might dilute the physical response to stress yet it does nothing for releasing stress or curing it. Everyone all over the world is stressed. Korea has not cornered that market. What's really at issue here is that Koreans typically don't use proper avenues for releasing stress. Instead of expressing themselves and sorting through the problems, many of them hold onto it (or jump off a building). 

Koreans might seem emotional when it comes to their national pride, but when it comes to themselves or their loved ones, silence is the answer. The reasons for this is a whole different topic in and of itself. In short, the curse of respect shines through. Burdening others with your problems is viewed as disrespectful and selfish. Throw that in with the fact that the Korean language is anything but loving and tender and you have a cocktail ripe for stress. And without a release for their stress, they look for ways to dampen it. Enter tobacco. 

Leisure Time

Yeah, Koreans don't have any. Sure they might go to Jeju for the weekend or a day trip on the slopes, but in general, Koreans do not have a leisurely culture. Because of this, they seek very quick and gratifying solutions. Smoking, drinking, room salons, sexy bars, kissing rooms, screen golf, PC rooms, game rooms and singing rooms are all quick ways to get your jollies. They can move from one to the other in a relatively short amount of time. It's a 빨빨 culture that prides itself on its pace. When generation after generation seeks this type of gratification, smoking will always find its way into the fold. In my building, there's an office where the men take smoke breaks every thirty minutes for ten minutes each time. If you do the math, you soon start to realize why they have to work such long hours.

Work Life vs. Family Life

This is a simple one. Work life is very important to the Korean man. If he's under fifty then you can assume that he'll be working everyday and most nights. It's not that he wants to spend time away from his family, but he has to if he wants to climb the ladder. When family is not the center of your world, then priorities change. At home, you typically want a nice, clean, quiet, peaceful and pure atmosphere that you have some sort of control over. At work, however, it's a fast-paced late-night drinking, smoking orgy of opposition to the atmosphere desired at home. By the time one reaches his fifties and is still smoking, they might say something like one of my older Korean friends did just the other day.
"Look at Korean life expectancy compared with nations who smoke less. Korea is higher than many of them."

And finally, my biggest obstacle: cheap smokes. One of the first thing foreign smokers realize when they get to Korea is that cigarettes are cheap. I remember being pleasantly surprised by this when I first arrived. Except for a few places in SE Asia, it's hard to find Marlboro's for less than three bucks a pack. I'm sure there's some data somewhere to back me up or disprove me, but I'm willing to bet that the smoking rate would drop pretty quickly if the cost of smokes jumped to UK or Canada-level. Personally, I'm still wondering when the health care system will start to take a hit from all the smoking-related illnesses that are sure to continue increasing. (Smokes haven't increased in price since the year 2000. Someone's going to have to pay for the poor health of smokers.) Either way, the low cost is certainly keeping some potential quitters off the fence.

You certainly noticed that I only focused on men. Women and smoking in Korea is an interesting topic and while I'd love to tackle it in my own way at some point, we'll allow James from The Grand Narrative do what he does best and continue on with this topic.