B A L A N C E of C U L T U R E
Besides the North Korean prison camps that Google's map coverage recently detailed to the world, the country conducted its third nuclear test today--which also happened to occur right next to coordinates labeled "Nuclear Test Road." Needless to say, neighboring countries like ally China and even Iran have condemned the test.
It seems like all of the American media is focusing on the Richardson/Schmidt trip to North Korea instead of how Pyongyang has reportedly enlisted German economists and lawyers to lay the groundwork for foreign investment. In other words, North Korea may be getting ready to finally open up.
Details are still sketchy, but one economist involved in the dealings has confirmed the existence of a "master plan" for North Korea to open its economy as soon as later this year. And interestingly enough, he signals a lean towards the Vietnamese economic model, which allowed specific companies to be recipients of foreign investment, instead of the special economic zoning model of close ally China. For econ geeks out there, that's a pretty juicy update if true.
Who knows how accurate this news is, but there are two elements that make this development pretty compelling. One, we're talking about economists and lawyers from Germany--a country that knows a thing or two about opening up a closed off economy amid reunification. And secondly, this foreign investment news certainly affords a new perspective on Gov. Richardson's and Eric Schmidt's humanitarian trip to North Korea. I don't mean that their trip's purpose isn't to bring back the recently arrested Korean American held there, but I wonder how much more is going on considering a Google executive is on North Korean soil during rumors of opening up to foreign investment.
The photo below of the Khumbu glacier near Mt. Everest is already beautiful, but click here to see an absolutely breathtaking panorama shot of the same scene in 2 billion pixels!
It just sounded too good to be true at the time for a reason. The notorious Camp 22 gulag in North Korea, which was believed to have been shut down in June due to mass defections, appears to be "operational."
"Operational" is a vague term in this context, but it mainly alludes to the continuation of harvesting crops and producing coal by prisoners. Camp 22 is known as the most sordid of North Korean gulags--it's located on the most northeastern corner of the country, bordering China and the ocean. This is the camp that prisoners dread the most because surviving this particular location is so rare.
I've been privileged to work side by side with some of the talented people at HRNK. Their satellite imagery of North Korea (provided by DigitalGlobe) virtually paved the way for the images we now have of Sudan, for example. They really deserve more kudos in this regard.
Can you imagine if we had this technology during WWII? It might have given those Holocaust-deniers something to chew on. But perhaps I'm overestimating people, as I still sometimes encounter "bubble-dwellers" who are still defiantly skeptical of what's going on in North Korea to this day despite the information we have now. I know, some people simply don't like to learn about atrocities on this scale if they took place outside of WWII. Which is too bad, because these kinds of manmade problems certainly are not exclusive to one war or time period--history has shown us this over and over again.
After reading the news of Japanese telecom giant Softbank buying 70% of Sprint yesterday, I learned that Softbank's CEO Masayoshi Son is a Zainichi Korean who was educated in the US! He apparently graduated from UC Berkeley, where he connected with all sorts of video game and tech people (often attributed to his success later on).
My own family has some personal history and connections within Japan so I'm always interested in these "temporary" Korean-Japanese citizens. Zainichi Koreans are the second largest ethnic group in Japan and are known to have settled in Japan in the early 20th century during the Japanese Imperial Period (basically 1910-1945). They are distinguished from other ethnic Korean-Japanese who migrated there later, mainly in the 1980s.
Softbank has recently expanding their influence in Japan by getting involved in aiding recovery after the earthquake/tsunami disaster of 2011--investing in solar energy as well as paying for 1,200 of the hardest hit families' living expenses and relocation.
The company's humanitarian angle certainly makes Son's nickname, the "Bill Gates of Japan," pretty understandable.
One of my favorite bloggers Xeni Jardin has a great post today commenting on a recent New Yorker piece titled "Factory Girls," which looks at the "cultural technology" of South Korea's global K-pop machine.
The New Yorker article is, according to Carl Hamm (radio/club DJ who regularly spins K-pop), "one of an endless stream of articles I have read that sort of 'warns' of a pending K-Pop invasion. But the fact is, it's already happened."
This FP blog had a similar but slightly altered take on the subject, stating that the West is "actually late" to the K-pop party, which is enjoying considerable success throughout Asia.
While most music lovers heard of Psy only this year through his hit "Gangnam Style," he's been around for some time now. The first time I heard Psy on regular mainstream radio was months ago in Hawaii on KISS FM, probably a few weeks before KIIS FM started to play it in Los Angeles.
But when was the last time you heard K-pop on the radio before the horsey-dance hit the web--or any foreign song, for that matter?
This year's US presidential election is perhaps the most compelling one in a very, very long time. We have a clear social divide happening in America--both Democrats and Republicans in their respective conventions alluded to how our votes this November will mark one of the most important political and social crossroads of our lives.
I think as voters we definitely feel some sense of a crossroad ahead of us. Obama represents the "new(er)" path for many, while Romney embodies a predilection towards the "traditional." This juxtaposition is quite fascinating for American voters but interestingly enough, plenty of Chinese citizens are also highly captivated of our current political interchange.
Of course this Chinese fascination can be credited to the explosion of online social media in recent years, where anybody with an internet connection and communication device can tune in and have their say on an infinite number of subjects around the world. But the interest level probably wouldn't be the same for them if it were not for critical analyses they feel appropriate towards their own politicians and leaders:
"When our leaders stop lecturing us with a stern face, when their wives stop putting on airs to give us a lesson, when they can reach to us with sincerity, as 'one of us,' that is the time when China will become civilized," states Wang Weija on Weibo.
China's authoritarian political atmosphere certainly gives their citizens a different lens with which to observe US politics and speeches. Many Chinese have a decidedly more "innocent" approach to political speeches in the US, where facts and lies run rampant at times. They may not understand the extent to which our leaders stand at a podium and bark inaccuracies for half an hour (ex: Paul Ryan), but it isn't difficult to see why so many of them have started supporting President Obama for another term.
Speeches in China may be more straightforward and fact-checked than ours lately, but information and certain freedoms remain questionable in most circumstances there. Chinese citizens are more educated and progressive then ever in the country's history; they know what they want for themselves and the future. Let's recognize the possibility that the values they project onto our elections are significant not only to those in China, but also to those forward-thinking communities in other parts of the world. Unlike 2008, many more people abroad will watch our election this time--through their laptops, phones, TVs, iPads, you name it.
I'm just glad that even China's web users are leaning towards the future in our own American crossroads. They know that even though this isn't their own country's election, the outcome is something they'll deal with for four years regardless. It's a positive sign so far.
Some images from this past weekend at LA Navy Days 2012 with family. We heard that last year's event was a bit chaotic but this year was super mellow and fun (perfect weather, too). (Some sad news surfaced the very next day regarding film director Tony Scott, which was the last thing on our minds during the walk-through.) We had fun talking to the sailors on the missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), who told us their sea sickness stories, showed us their living/eating quarters (couldn't take pics there), and demonstrated the impressive technology on the ship.