It’s been a while, and I apologize. A few posts ago, I wrote about some Koreans’ irrational exuberance concerning mad-cow disease in imported American beef. I stick very much to what I said there, and I think time will continue to tell that American beef products are much safer than meat imports into Korea from other countries, and perhaps even safer than some Korean products. Of course there will be problems, but as long as people remain objective, and don’t let passion and bias be their primary driving force, good will result.

That said, some Koreans might get the wrong impression about me–they might think I  dislike their country because I criticize her people, and that would be very sad indeed because I love Korea. That is why I write about it. That is also why I don’t want to see Korea overrun by passionate defensiveness
against imaginary monsters. There are enough real monsters out there that don’t need competition for attention.

The world, and every country in it, is full of problems, but it is often difficult for a people to recognize her own. Too often, they get caught up in pride or bias, and they take constructive criticism as an attack on their intrinsic value as a society. They feel they have to defend themselves from outsiders, who must be regarded with suspicion as to their intentions.

While their is need for vigilance against those who would do harm, many nations go overboard, and in doing so, they show incompetence in dealing with their problems. Either they know that they exist, but they are more concerned with defending their national image, or they are truly ignorant of their problems and actually believe people are just out to get them. The result is that they won’t even consider the merits of criticisms, because they can’t handle the embarrassment of recognizing the truth.

Korea is particularly vulnerable to its own pride because of its national identity, which is one of the strongest in the world. Most nations have pride, and it is generally a good thing–it keeps them together. However, many a nation has fallen because of pride, their history a sad example of what didn’t have to be.

Lest you think I am singling Korea out, it may be helpful to examine the US. The United States is the most successful country that ever existed in many respects. But it has not yet withstood the test of time, and it is a nation vulnerable to its own pride. Ask people of various other countries about the US government and many of them will tell you its downright snobbish–thinking it can tell other countries what to do because of its superior brains, when in reality it’s more because of its brawn.

Many US citizens routinely overestimate both the brains and brawn of their own country, while simultaneously underestimating merits of other countries. They tend to think that the US is the most advanced country in all things, simply because it has had so much success in a few things. They assume that the US is so advanced and powerful that the rest of the world will just have to follow their lead into the future.

Nothing is inevitable. In fact, the US is already behind many other countries in many different areas. Examples abound: the US made it to the moon, but the Russians are able to conduct routine  missions to outer-space without their ships blowing up in mid-air once every few years. The US has cell-phones and the internet, but there are still dead areas and very slow connections. Koreans don’t worry about that. And while the US GDP is so much bigger than all the others, many US citizens don’t realize there are more than a couple of countries with higher GDP per capita. The US has no monopoly on success. Far from a time to be snobbish, it is a time to learn from others–to realize that the Koreans or the Russians might be on to something that works better than what we’ve thought of.

It is easy to boast of our strengths, but if the US, or any other country, can quickly recognize its weaknesses, then it is truly powerful. Such a country will not stagnate in the success of yesterday. Instead, it will muster strength to change and to improve. Just such dynamism is required for perpetual leadership, but even then there are no guarantees.

There are many who perfectly understand and agree for the most part with what I have written. Perhaps this post is somewhat a waste of time for them. Still, the disconnect between reality and desire, fact and fiction, existence and imagination, is large enough in every country to warrant concern and attention. I repeat nothing is inevitable. No nation is too successful not to fail, too modern not to become history.

Those in desire of a better lot find it useful to search for, identify, and resolve, rather than pretend, ignore, and then regret.

I was just part of a wonderful new years celebration with family in the US. We had a Great time together–movies; watched the ball drop, and saw Robby Kenevil’s crazy jump over an artificial volcano in Las Vegas (all on TV of course). Then it was time for bed around 2:00 a.m. The next day we had an awesome party with the other side of the family–good food, good company, and great games. However, this New Years has reminded me of how different my celebration was last year, when I was in Korea.

I remember one of the men at my church in Seoul explaining to me that we had an activity coming up. It turned out we were going to all meet (that is, those who were extremely dedicated) at around 5:30 a.m. on New Years Day at the start of Gwanak trail, leading up to Gwanak mountain, which overlooks the city of Seoul from the south. New Years Day! 5:30 in the morning!

I remember thinking: “who’s crazy idea was this? How am I going to stay up till 12:00 on New Years Eve, and then get up early enough to get ready and take a bus to the trail head? And why are we going hiking on a FREEZING winter morning?”

I considered not going. There were plenty of excuses I could think of. However, I really wanted to get to know people from my church better, and my curiosity concerning what this was all about got the best of me in the end.

On the last day of 2007, I went to bed early–a dramatic break with traditions of my past. I got up at around 4:00 a.m. got dressed in the warmest close possible, ate a quick breakfast, and took the bus. When I got to the trail head it was still pitch dark, but to my surprise, the place was bustling. The thought crossed my mind: “the people from my church aren’t the only ones that are crazy. What is going on?” I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to find my group. After wandering a bit I saw a familiar face–a young man from my church. We teamed up and it wasn’t long before we found a larger group of our own, who were waiting for the rest. A few minutes wait, and we started up the trail, following groups of other people who were anxious and in a hurry to get up the mountainside. I think I just assumed they were cold and either wanted to get it over with, or needed to keep moving to keep from freezing.

Somewhere along the hike someone explained to me that some Koreans have a tradition of watching the sun rise on the first day of the year. Thus, instead of waiting up late, they wanted to get up early at the dawn of the new year, hike to the top of some mountain peak, and watch the day break.

Well, we didn’t end up making it to the top, but we found a clearing that pointed to the east. Then we waited on the cold hard stone for the sun. Luckily there was no breeze, but it was freezing still. While the sky was brighter by the minute, I realized it would take longer than I wanted to sit. I took a short walk to see a if I could get a different view, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. All the clearings in view were full of people (mostly ajumas and ajoshis in their classic mountain attire).


Only then did I realize that this wasn’t just the crazy idea of someone at my church, but a lot of Koreans have this as a tradition in their homes.

I got back to my group, and the sun finally did come up. We cheered as we saw it. I have to admit it felt exhilarating to be there, and I actually forgot how cold it was for a short time. After a short meeting with our group to say goodbye to the old year and set some goals for the new, we headed back down the mountain.

Since we got up so freeking early, the morning was still new, so we had a get together at the apartment of one of our church members. That too was fun, but I was starting to feel tired due to the earlier activities. Once I got back to my apartment, I kissed my wife and daughter who waited for me at home. A little later in the day we turned on the TV to see the partying that was just beginning in the West. We also made calls to family to wish them a happy new year.

Reflecting back on the experience, I think I would do it again, and I actually hope I get the chance sometime in the future. It was a break with my traditions that was both exciting and pleasant. I know, the fact that I think that way is sick and wrong to some of you. However, if you are ever bored with the same old routine every New Years, try it. Provided there will be a sunrise (check the weather ahead, and don’t go alone) it can make for a very memorable and fun experience. In the US you are likely to have plenty of space on any mountain or hill that you choose to visit (unlike the pictures above), as most people will be sound asleep. Happy future celebrations.

If the last post didn’t discourage you from learning Korean, then perhaps nothing will. Since you are still with me (or more likely you skipped the last post because it was too boring and long–I don’t blame you), below are some online resources for studying Korean that should be well worth your time, no matter what level you are coming from. If you’ve done any searching on your own for study helps, then you know that there is a lot of hastily-put-together crap that wastes your energy and time. If you haven’t, you’re lucky. Here are some of the best online resources that are out there

1. NAVER–Naver is like Google for Korea–it’s primarily a search engine that will deal with queries written in Korean or English. It also contains an online Korean/English dictionary. The site is in Korean, but don’t let that scare you. All you need to know is ‘sajeon’ (사전 = dictionary), find it in the options under the search bar; and ‘yeongeo sajeon’ (영어사전 = English dictionary), which will be one of the search bars that shows up after clicking on 사전. Or forget all of that and just go directly to the Naver English dictionary through this link. If you are more advanced in Korean, you should also know that Naver provides a Hanja dictionary (regrettably not with English translations) and a straight Korean dictionary, as well as several other options.

Naver represents the cream of the crop when it comes to Korean/English dictionaries. I’ve not seen anything better. First, it’s free, unlike those fancy hand-held things. Second, when you type in a word you’ll get definitions, alternative usages, sentence examples, and a few references of where that word was used on the web or in the news. Third, it’s quite user friendly. That said, take each definition with a grain of salt; there are still lots of little mistakes.

2. SOGANG KOREAN PROGRAM–Sogang University in Seoul is recognized by many as having the best Korean program in Korea. It’s noted for helping students to converse quickly. It also has a free website! This is probably the most comprehensive online program you will find without having to pay tuition (and maybe even still). The website contains lessons from background on Korean culture, history, politics, etc. to introductory Korean, to six levels of study (novice 1,2, and 3, and intermediate 1, 2, and 3). Each level has ten different lessons. The lessons contain listening and reading activities, as well as explanations of grammar and vocabulary. If you don’t have the time or money to take a formal classes this is likely your best bet for learning Korean. You should probably get some books though as well.

3. INDIANA UNIVERSITY KOREAN (Center for Language Technology and Instructional Enrichment)–While not as comprehensive as the Sogang site, this is a great resource for listening. At the bottom of the web page find the ‘Languages Online’ section, which will give you links to lectures for first year Korean, semesters 1 and 2; second year Korean, semesters 1 and 2; and fourth year Korean, semesters 1 and 2. The lessons are audio files that are direct readings from the Integrated Korean textbook series out of Hawaii University. If you have those books, these audio files are a perfect complement. If not, they can still be good for listening practice.

4. . MY SOJU–This website is literally an Asian media wonderland, with dramas and movies from several East Asian countries. Just click on ‘Drama/Movie List’ at the top of the page, and then find the links to the Korean stuff. There is enough material to keep you busy for years–it’s also updated regularly. Korean dramas aren’t my cup of tea as far as entertainment goes (my wife loves them though), but they often speak slower and are, well, more dramatic, which makes for easier understanding. The movies are generally faster in speech and often use colloquial forms that are harder to pick up on. The more practice the better though. Some of the stuff even has English subtitles, but don’t use that as too much of a crutch.

5. GOOGLE TRANSLATE–You’ve got to try this one if you haven’t already. It’s as easy as setting the input to English, the output to Korean, typing in your sentences (or copying and pasting from the web), and then hitting the translate button. Surprisingly, it keeps up with quite a few colloquial forms and speech levels. I wouldn’t trust it for answers on a final exam though–there’s bound to be mistakes, especially the longer or more complicated the translation text. It’s great for impressing your friends though on instant messenger. They’ll wonder how you learned so fast.

When it comes to online Korean study, the above are my weapons of choice. At least three more are worth mention though. First, Yahoo maintains a Korean/English dictionary that is pretty good, but NAVER definitely has an edge. The second site is learnkorean.com, which has lessons suited for beginners, 15 short lessons on hanja, and a few other things. Third, is a web page with links to mp3 files for the Integrated Korean textbook series produced by the University of Hawaii (same as the audio files provided by Indiana U.), along with links where you can purchase the actual book.

There’s bound to be other great resources out there that I have yet to stumble upon. If you know of any of them, please enlighten the rest of us in the comments section. Happy Korean studies!

(Be sure to check out my next post for some online resources for studying Korean)
You’ve probably heard, Korean is a crazy hard language to learn; but does it have to be? The answer is partly yes and partly no. Granted, there are many reasons why Korean should be harder to learn than say Spanish, or even Chinese (assuming the position of a person coming from an English background). However, there are also many reasons why Korean should be much easier to learn than it currently is. Understanding why Korean should be hard, and why it shouldn’t, can help a person see more clearly what they are faced with, and how they should go about formulating their study strategy.
Korean should be hard for many reasons. The writing system is completely different from that of English; Korean uses a Hangul alphabet, which any half-serious learner must be able to use; it’s easy to learn at first, but much more difficult to learn to read with fluency. Pronunciation is completely different; Korean has several vowels and consonants (and combinations) that do not exist in English. Also, while the Korean alphabet is phonetic, one quickly learns that there are many exceptions to the rule when characters are read together.
The grammar is completely different; in fact, it’s almost flip-flopped. A proper Korean sentence always has a verb at the end, which is almost never the case in English. The culture is completely different; Koreans say many things that might sound funny, or just make no sense at all, from an English speaker’s point of view. Finally, Korean has a huge amount of vocabulary, even comparatively speaking. Part of this is due to the fact that it has borrowed (and adapted) many words from Chinese, and a few from Japanese and English as well, while still maintaining use of many of the original Korean words. This has led to the use of two counting systems (one based on pure Korean and the other on Chinese). If you are counting people, use the Korean numbers; if you are counting days, use the Chinese numbers based system. These are the basic should-be-hard reasons that any Korean learner from an English background will be faced with. Of course there are many more that I will not get into.
Perhaps it will help to look at Korean comparatively. I’ve been told that the US Government puts Korean at 4 on a scale of 1-4 in comparative difficulty, or how long it takes a government official to gain a certain level of proficiency. This is in contrast with Spanish, which is at 1, Chinese, which is at 3, and Japanese, which is also at 4. Many people who’ve taken Spanish classes in the US know that it is no walk in the park. However, Spanish and English have many cognates that are much easier to memorize. Korean has virtually no cognates with English, although South Korea has adopted (and adapted) many modern words from the English language, which are quite easy to learn. While Spanish pronunciation and grammar are quite different from English, the degree is much less than with Korean, especially concerning grammar. On a brighter note for those who have studied Spanish, Korean verb conjugation is much easier than what you experienced ‘hablando el español.’
While Chinese is more difficult than Spanish, it’s still not as difficult as Korean. More specifically, the Chinese writing system is much more difficult than the Korean one, while the difficulty of pronunciation is perhaps about the same (especially factoring in Chinese tones), but the grammar order is where the major difference appears. Chinese sentences are much more in line with those of English. Finally we come to Japanese, which is probably the most similar language to Korean that exists–but that is not saying much. The grammar structures of both are quite similar. The Japanese writing system is much more difficult though. Japanese pronunciation is easier, as the sounds are closer to those found in English. But still, I would argue that Korean is more difficult. To see why, we need to look at the should-not-be-so-hard reasons.
While Korean is formidably difficult, there are a few reasons why it should not be (but still is). The basis of these reasons is that Korean language teaching (especially to English speakers, and presumably to other westerners) is still in the developmental stage–much more so than the other languages mentioned. There are not many materials available and there are even fewer classes, especially for learners coming from a native English background. There are only a handful of Korean programs in the US. If you go to Indiana University, Berkeley, U. of Hawaii, or Brigham Young U. then you are in luck, but if not, then your odds are slim of finding anything (I know, there are some other good programs; if you know one I didn’t mention please give a heads up in the comments). Likewise, don’t expect to find many Korean language materials at your library or local book store. Even online you’ll find that available resources are quite limited. In contrast to this, many universities have well founded programs in Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese, with an impressive line of materials to choose from. I suppose this will not change until there is more interest in the US in learning Korean. (Alas, how can there be serious interest before there are better opportunities? Tis the dilemma)
The problems don’t stop at the lack of materials and classes. It turns out that the materials that do exist are flawed to say the least. Many texts’ explanations are horrible if they exist at all, and they often get worse the more advanced you get. For example, the books out of Seoul National University (the “Harvard” of Korea) don’t contain explanations of the grammar at all past the level 2 book. Grammar explanations from the Ganada Korean Language Institute books, while they exist in English up through the 2nd intermediate level, are often very confusing and very unclear. I concede that these books are among the best resources that I know of available for studying Korean. In fact, I recommend them with a few disclaimers, simply because other options are so few and so poor (or at best, they are on par with these two).
Contrast Korean language learning materials with those of Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese, and you will quickly see how big of a disadvantage you face in learning Korean. Try it, pick up a book that teaches a grammar principle for Spanish, or Chinese; give it a read, and then find a similar grammar principle from a Korean text book. My own experience with this is that studying both Spanish and Chinese is easier because the explanations are both more abundant and better by a huge degree. I’m not left with a bunch of question marks in my head concerning the accuracy, or even just the meaning of the explanations. With Korean however, the severe lack of quality and quantity in grammar explanations has forced me to consult several texts and ask my Korean friends before I gain a comparable understanding.
Furthermore, when Korean is taught (either in books or in the classroom), generally no distinction is given between the literal meaning and the contextual meaning of words and phrases. Sometimes the two are the same, but often they are not, and this gets us into trouble. Take the Korean word Gamsahamnida (감사합니다) for example, which we are always taught means ‘thank you.’ The literal meaning of the word is ‘to be grateful.’ OK, close enough for most occasions; however, if someone compliments you by saying you are smart, “thank you” is a good response, while “Yes, I am grateful” might seem snooty; In fact, it does in Korean just as in English. Likewise, if you heard someone state “Thanks, I have enough to eat and I live happy” you might be more confused than if you thought of it as “I am grateful I have enough to eat and I live happy.” In the absence of distinctions between contextual and literal meanings of words, Korean learners are left to figure them out on their own; or worse, miss them and continue in confusion.
At least one more criticism is in order. Most Korean programs do not integrate Hanja to the level, or in the way that Western learners need. Hanja is the set of Chinese characters used by Korea. A person who knows Hanja well, and more specifically, the meanings of the pronunciations of the characters (knowing how to write and read Hanja is less important), is much better able to deduce the meanings of most Korean words. This is similar to knowing what the sub- means in subway or submarine, or how the compound word bedroom can be broken down into two simple words. Perhaps, Korean is even more like this than English. Most of the words are two syllables, and eighty percent of them can be broken down into two simple meanings, which originate from Hanja. While there are far more Hanja characters than one should spend time learning (especially at first), there are some core characters that make a world of difference once they are known. “Hak” (학) for example, means to learn. Once you know this, it is much easier to remember the meanings of words like “haksaeng” (학생, student), “hakkyo” (학교, school), and “kyeongjaehak” (경재학, the study of economics); it is also easier to see how the words relate to each other, and what other underlying meanings they may contain.
Most people that study Korean in Korea are either from China or Japan, in which case they are already familiar with Hanja. Perhaps that is why language programs in Korea don’t put much attention on it. Another reason may be that they don’t want to over-burden students, or take attention away from other things. However, my own experience is that Westerners are put at a huge disadvantage when they are not taught the building blocks that make up the vocabulary they learn. Westerners will find that their understanding of Korean and their ability to memorize vocabulary will increase, once they have a rather basic foundation in Hanja. If you don’t get it from you school program, take it upon yourself to learn some Hanja–it will help you in the end.

Korean is a very hard language to learn for both necessary and unecessary reasons. Hopefully in the future it will continue to develop so that my criticisms become obsolete. The serious and patient learner can overcome the difficulties and it is well worth the time and effort. If for nothing else, you get the bragging rights of being able to speak a language that very few Westerners know. Seriously, Korea is a very culture rich, and intense society, and knowing Korean well will allow you to connect with and understand the people at a much deeper level. Best of luck.

Living here in Korea, I hear a lot about Dokdo. This year in particular, the issue has been as hot as the August summer. Unfortunately, there is little in Korean news that gives intelligent readers information of value concerning the issue. The value that can be garnered, must be sifted out of the opinion fluff that takes up too much space on the page, making for a tedious read and a great deal of guess work. All too many articles that I have encountered on Dokdo from any given Korean news source have read more like fiery op-eds aimed to convince the populace to unite against Japanese evil, rather than the reports that they inherently claim to be. If anyone knows of some good unbiased news from Korea on Dokdo I would love to know about it. I lament that all too often, the line is blurred between news and opinion, and one can get lost in the charged emotions. 

That is why I truly value good news when it comes along. Today the New York Times wrote an article on Dokdo that puts the issue into perspective for those who are more interested in the issue, rather than an emotional appeal to national pride (don’t we get enough of that in politics). Of course in a better world, the New York Times would never spend time informing us about “desolate dots in the sea,” but Korea has made this into a big enough issue (and Korean news sources have explained it so poorly), that it merits some proper explanations. Here is one that is worth a read. 

I read an article today by Charles Wheelan, PhD on the Yahoo Finance website that does a good job of summarizing some of the big economic problems that face the United States as it looks to the future–problems that threaten the American way of life, but that very few people want to put effort into resolving. 

Wheelan worries that Americans want to much instant gratification (individually as well as collectively), and they are not willing to sacrifice time and money for better longer-term solutions. As a result, the US government has pushed the problems that it most needs to solve under the rug, and it is likely to keep them there until they are too big to be ignored longer. These are problems like entitlements (heath care and social security), lackluster education performance, low savings rate, budget deficits, and a lack of government investment in long-term productivity solutions. Read the rest for yourself by following the above link.

Which is worse? This is Mad Korean Disease (광한국사람병):

(Pictures are from downtown Seoul, Korea, June 2008)

Mad Korean disease has infected hundreds of thousands of Koreans since about two months ago, as it spread to an awful pandemic. Mad Korean disease causes those infected with it to want to hold candles and signs and shout in protest. In more serious cases, Koreans with Mad Korean disease have become violent, overturning buses, vandalizing buildings, and beating on riot police. More on its effects in Korean society below.

This is Mad cow disease (광우병):

Mad cow disease has infected no Koreans. In fact, in the whole world it has infected very few people and very few cows–it is very under control.

So how do the two diseases compare? Well, you wouldn’t want to get mad cow disease. It can make you go crazy and even kill you. However, it is not contagious, and if you trust science, it is non-existent in US beef (and no, one cow that had mad cow disease, but that was put down before it was ever processed into beef, does not count).

The good news about Mad Korean disease is that it hasn’t killed anybody yet (unless you count past strains). The bad news: dozens of people have been physically injured due to Mad Korean disease induced actions. The disease is extremely contagious among Koreans in Korea, and it is able to spread over internet connections. But I wouldn’t worry too much about being online and reading this blog. Mad Korean disease only seems to be contractible by Korean nationals while reading in Korean. Further bad news is that mad Korean disease takes control of the mind so that science and rational arguments are useless as vaccines. I expect more from such a highly educated population, and I am saddened to see those who should know better following the group, just like the lemmings at the top of this page.

So where did this current strain of mad Korean disease come from and why is it so persistent? Press outlets offer a number of reasons, but frankly, none of them are completely satisfying. The first and most straight forward reason is that Koreans are scared of contracting mad cow disease by eating American beef. Rumors flew that the US would export beef to Korea that was sub-quality or unchecked. They were quickly embellished to state that some of this beef was infected with mad cow disease. The craziness continued, as some “study” came out that Koreans were much more susceptible to mad cow disease than other people (don’t plan on it being published in a good scientific journal). This was complimented by fears that mad cow disease could be passed through the air, or by a kiss from someone that was infected. Then there were fears that the tainted US beef would be mixed in with the “better-tasting” (and superiorly pure) Korean beef, so that people would have no choice but to eat it (and presumably die).

Each of these rumors was shown to be just what it was–baseless and false–within a day of its birth. The US would not import sub-quality beef to Korea (For those skeptics who don’t believe, the US has a solid and honest track record of exporting beef to 96 other countries. US beef does not have mad cow disease (or at least it has never been detected in the beef that either the US consumes or that it exports all over the world). US standards for checking its beef are actually superior to those found Korea. US beef would not be mixed with beef from other sources (this is not rocket science, its fairly easy to regulate), and Koreans would still be able to choose not to buy and not to consume US beef. The other rumors are too stupid to be addressed. Because the rumors are so baseless (and easy to counter), the people that are making them have had to make new ones quickly in order to keep doubts alive.

You would think at this point Koreans would say, “Oh, I guess we really were a little too worried, but there is no reason for that now. Where is the US beef? We are tired of paying $50 for a steak size piece of meat that we can only afford every once in a while. We want an economically sane price now.” There are signs that many Koreans feel exactly this way. The handful of shops that have begun selling US beef report long lines and sell-outs from the first day of sales.

Sadly, the direction of thought of Koreans with mad Korean disease is dangerously far from such pragmatic and happy thoughts. The protests have gone non-stop for about 2 months. They have enjoyed support from a wide variety of groups, including students, unions, young mothers, Catholic priests, and Buddhist monks. If you think the protests of the past are extreme, here is a look at just how bad it really could get. The Chosun Ilbo (Union Umbrella goes Ahead with Illegal Strike) reports that one of two of Korea’s Union Umbrellas (which are basically unions of unions) has announced a general strike against the US beef import agreement (included with three other reasons for striking), to begin on Tuesday. I know what you are thinking–this has nothing to do with labor, which is what unions protect–and you are right (it is purely political); that is why the strike is illegal according to Korean law. Hopefully Koreans in the unions will see how ridiculous this is and refrain from participating.

Another report in the Chosun Ilbo (Teachers Union is Using Our Children) stated: “The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union ordered its 9,000 branches in schools across the country to hang banners voicing opposition to U.S. beef imports. The KTEWU also encouraged unionized teachers to send parents letters informing them of the dangers of American beef.” Since when did teachers become so politically charged (not to mention, so moved by rumors instead of educated thought)? This is what mad Korean disease has done to otherwise sober people.

Continuing down the list of interesting articles, here are three more headlines worthy of attention: Beef Protests Disrupt Tourism Industry (Chosun Ilbo), Anti-US Beef Protests Affect Foreign Investment (Donga Ilbo), and Gov’t Adrift as Economy Hurtles Toward Crisis (Chosun Ilbo). The first and second articles explain exactly what their titles state. The second reports that an executive office cabinet reshuffle and boycott of the National Assembly (essentially Korea’s congress) by opposition lawmakers threaten to let the Korean economy slip a couple of percentage points in expected growth.

The real climax of the problem for Korea (that is if Koreans don’t come up with something more spectacular) will be if the protests are successful in banning US beef. That will basically mean no Korea-US free trade agreement. And it could cause another cooling in relations between the two allies. I can’t see how the US Congress would stand for such an unfair deal, as flawed as it is already. While there are many things that Korea can do to grow its economy domestically, if it really wants economic growth, it must be successful in trade, and it needs foreign investment. Barriers like unreasonable restrictions, tariffs, subsidies, and quotas are, in almost every case, a drain on the economy, paid for by taxpayers. If Korea doesn’t learn how to trade successfully, it will be significantly worse off, and it will make other countries significantly worse off by not adding its potential producing and purchasing power to the world stage. Just look at North Korea, similarly known for its own Korean nationalist fervor, but lacking (or rather, choosing not to participate) in most things beneficial to the world economy, or of course, to its own. Mad Korean disease is not good for Korea or Koreans, and especially not for the Korean economy.

The tragedy of the current mess and the mess that will ensue given a failed agreement, will be that it didn’t have to happen. While many Koreans will likely do anything but blame the problem on their own country when the effects really start to sink in, it really does rest firmly in their hands. This is not like global oil prices, that cannot be changed. This is a calculated choice to rebel, with a blind eye and a deaf ear to both the answers and the consequences of the problem. The only hope is to change course, which is precisely what a few of Korea’s exceptionally smart and very courageous citizens are calling for (Lawyers, University Presidents Urge End to Protests Chosun Ilbo).

The voice of reason may be taking affect. Over the weekend, the protest numbers aggregated around 50,000-60,000 by some estimates; enough people to fill some downtown streets, but far from the half-million that the protest organizers were hoping for. Perhaps this is a sign that people are becoming anesthetized to the rumors. 50,000 is still a lot of people who chose to give up their normal leisurely activities to protest. But with any luck, the protest called for by the umbrella union will be a flop, and the people will get over this mad Korean disease as if it were just a prolonged case of the flu.

Korea’s ascendancy up the economic ladder has been regarded as somewhat of a miracle. But Koreans can’t continue to allow or support such baseless protests if they want their country to remain economically strong. The past successes in no way entitle Korea to a future of economic prosperity. Living in Korea has made me a believer that just as Koreans were disciplined enough to achieve admirable growth, they are still stubborn and obstinate enough to achieve a good pace of decline. What a waste that would be. May US beef be distributed quickly and thoroughly so that either it unleashes a fury of mad cow disease (OK that’s ridiculous), or it reminds Koreans of the joys of reasonable prices and good meat, so that they can ditch the protests and get on with more important things in life.