17 November 2005

Some Thoughts from Busan

Just a few hours ago, I returned from an all-day trip to Busan. I didn't get as much sightseeing done as I had hoped, due to W being in town and closing up some attractions; nevertheless, I was able to make some observations.

As I boarded the train in Seoul, the train's television screens reported that John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, is suggesting an organization to replace the United Nations. This is absolutely disgusting. Because the UN is not going along with the US's ridiculous war plans and cowboy diplomacy, Bolton is going to work on an organization that will cower before him. No wonder the entire world hates the US. Here in South Korea, the UN was instrumental in helping the US defend South Korea from the Communists during the Korean War, and even the conservatives who would rather turn South Korea into the 51st State than put up with the current left-wing regime agree that the UN is a valuable organization and not to be messed with.

Once in Busan, the Railway Workers' Union had banners alerting me that the female workers of the KTX bullet train service were all underpaid temps, and that they had neither the pay, the job security, nor the benefits of their male counterparts as a result. On my way back to Seoul, I noticed female attendants wearing subtle red ribbons on their chests announcing the same. I guess South Korea is the only country advanced enough to run bullet trains AND primitive enough to discriminate workers on the basis of sex.

A sign at a women's restroom in Busan, warning "men" not to enter or risk a misdemeanor charge, seemed to be targeted less at voyeuristic men, and more at people like me, and that made me feel uncomfortable. Busan may look like San Francisco in its geography and its large foreigner population, but it does not have San Francisco's progressivism.

I've run into a few lunatic Christian missionaries screaming "The Apocalypse is coming! All disasters are God's wrath! Repent and believe in Jesus to save yourself!" in Busan. I'm still incensed at them, since I come from a country, the United States, where their ilk has done severe damage to the society and the economy. It didn't help that I was thinking of their figurehead, W, being in Busan as I was visiting.

While riding the Busan Subway, I was given a bilingual (Korean/English) flyer, produced by a pro-labor organization, regarding Samsung's foul practices. It described Samsung as a neoliberal (read: libertarian) evil empire hell-bent on gaining political influence in the South Korean government, rewriting laws in its favor, replacing South Korea's national health system with its own, and quashing any attempts by its employees to organize. To think about it, I've heard about union activities at other large Korean companies like LG, Daewoo, Hyundai, Hanjin (Korean Air), and Kumho (Asiana Airlines), but never at Samsung. There indeed has been a major scandal in South Korean politics, dubbed the X-Files, where Samsung officials have been implicated. And it is alleged that Samsung is using Wal-Mart like tactics to crush any attempts by workers to organize. I'll check with other sources to verify these allegations, but it appears that Samsung seems to be a really bad corporate citizen and an enemy of the average Joe, up there with Japan's Toyota. One could argue that Samsung's products are competitive, but the truth is that Samsung is good only at manufacturing, and not good at R&D and engineering, even today.

Many thoughts as I made the trip to Busan and back to Seoul. I am wondering if the Korean society, which has not been kind to the female railroad workers and Samsung employees, has room for the likes of me to fluorish in business, or if I am just wasting my time here and should start looking at other countries. Even with all the wireless Internet hotspots, the bullet trains, and other modern conveniences, I still see primitive customs still persisting, and that may hurt me in a big way.