28 November 2008

Before I leave for Hong Kong

In less than six hours, I'll be gone from this cut-rate Republican colony. I never thought I'd feel more free in Chinese territory than in Korea, but tonight, I probably will. The next several days in Hong Kong will be absolutely great, I am sure.

Here are two photos that pertain to my last few posts, taken from a Korail subway train.

For some reason, this older poster survived the changeover to the new ones. This is from the National Intelligence Service (NIS), formerly the Korean Central Intellgence Agency (KCIA), which is South Korea's state thought police. Up until a few weeks ago, this was what I could expect to find in every subway car, from three (SMRT) to six (Seoul Metro) in each car.

Its message says "National security is national competitiveness." The lower left lists the hotlines: 111 for NIS, 113 for local police, and 1337 for the military. The lower right lists the rewards: 150 million won for spy ships, and 100 million for spies. "Spies" include those from North Korea, as well as industrial espionage from the likes of China.

In a highly publicized case, Chery Motors of China sent industrial spies to GM Daewoo, stole the engineering specs for the Matiz microcar, and ended up manufacturing an unauthorized clone named QQ. The QQ is a death trap in crashes, but is much cheaper than the real Matiz, and as a result, GM Daewoo can't sell the Matiz in China, and is at a competitive disadvantage in other Third World markets where both the Matiz and the QQ are available.

Here is the current poster, which started popping up overnight, and replaced the design above just about everywhere.

Its message says: "Please stay straight - national security awareness in the Republic of Korea." The hotlines and the rewards stay the same; however, there is an additional reward of 30 million won for reporting domestic left-wing activists.

South Korea, using its confrontation with North Korea as an excuse (a valid excuse, technically, as the war never ended with a peace treaty), maintains the National Security Law, which allows severe punishments for any and all seditious activities, including and up to death. The list of seditious activities has varied over the years, depending on the ideology of the government. In recent years, merely being left-of-center was protected under the constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience, and in any case, nobody in South Korea has been executed since 1997. However, 2MB has vowed to put an end to all of this, use the death penalty extensively for seditious activities, and include leftist political leanings as part of that.

This is exactly the same police state that the US neocons, the colonial masters of 2MB, have always dreamed of, and almost made reality in the US.

I was very tempted to cross out the "Republic of Korea" portion and scribble "Third-rate colony of the discredited US Republican neocons" in instead. And while SMRT trains have lower ceilings, and therefore fewer places to post these thought police posters, the higher-ceiling Korail trains feature a few more of them, though neither match Seoul Metro's enthusiasm.

Travel around Seoul today: I traveled to downtown for meditation. I made sure to stay away from Seoul Metro at all costs; my routing involved Line 8 to Line 5 into downtown. After meditation, I took a bus, then Line 1, to Yongsan for a cheap Thai lunch, before taking the Korail Jungang Line to pick up Line 5 again and retrace my route back to Seongnam. Given that my farecard is scanned only at the origin and destination stations, my fare is always calculated based on the most efficient route possible between them, regardless of my actual route taken; if the "best" routing includes Seoul Metro lines, Seoul Metro will get a cut of my fare. It stinks, as many downtown routings make most sense using Seoul Metro. But I am still avoiding Seoul Metro if only to feel a bit more empowered. For the Line 1 section into Yongsan, the most logical routing would've involved getting off the bus at Seoul Station, whose subway station is Seoul Metro; I refused, and traveled another stop to Namyeong, the first Korail station south of downtown, and entered it using Korail turnstiles. A train pulled in, but it was a Seoul Metro train - actually, the very rare one made up of old extra insert cars; I refused to board it, and waited for the next Korail train, even though I only needed to go one stop, wholly on Korail tracks, and Korail would've gotten all my money anyway.

I felt much better as I returned to Seongnam, but I still don't feel line taking another lengthy ride to the airport, using the subway and staring at the thought police posters. I'll shell out a small fortune and take a deluxe bus instead; thanks to the colonial currency depreciating like there's no tomorrow, I can afford the bus ride anyway.

Other items:
  • There is a bill under consideration (probably from the Republicans) which would allow taxicabs to drive on bus-only lanes. Cabbies welcome it, as they consider themselves to be part of Seoul's mass transit network. Bus operators and drivers oppose it, as Seoul has way too many cabs - even more than places like New York or London - and the cabs will jam up the bus lanes. Every Seoul bus now carries a banner expressing strong opposition to this bill.
  • Throughout downtown Seoul, there are many television displays, sort of like the ones from Times Square. Most are owned and operated by Chosun Ilbo - which I now consider to be as much of a propaganda organ as North Korea's Rodong Shinmun. The City of Seoul likes to use them as well to spread city news and propaganda. They make me sick to the stomach.
  • Seoul certainly saw some poorly-executed but nevertheless beneficial traffic and other improvements. I'll give 2MB, the former mayor, credit. However, he was trying to do this not to serve the citizens of Seoul, but to (1) buy crucial support for the presidential run, (2) build up his resume while at it, and (3) ensure that his hand-picked successor, current mayor Oh Se-hun, would succeed him. Oh is pretty much wrecking the entire city as I speak.
  • A decal on a Bundang Line train showed strong opposition to widespread standardized testing in public schools, part of 2MB's plans which echo his master W's "No Child Left Behind"program. No Child Left Behind was a program with a great premise, as it vowed to improve schools and keep them accountable to students and parents, but instead, it ended up creating an examination hell just like the ones here in South Korea. Students are no longer learning; they are just preparing for meaningless tests. South Korea currently devotes its entire public education curriculum to such meaningless test preparations, and 2MB's plans will only worsen it.
  • Another aspect of 2MB's education agenda is school choice. Standardized testing will allow parents to pick the most desirable school for their children. Sounds good, but as school choice is really a means for America's Christian extremists to send their children to propaganda schools at public taxpayer expense, it's also a means for South Koreans to kill off the public schools they don't like. In conjunction with this, the numbers and lists of all unionized teachers at each school will be made public. The connotation: schools with lots of unionized teachers will feed your children leftist propaganda - so stay away, and force them to close, and force other schools to fire their unionized teachers.
  • Speaking of fears of leftist propaganda, the textbook publishers have agreed to roll over dead and cave in to the demands made by the colonials, for a more right-wing history textbook. News reports I am hearing clearly identify the Republican colonial government and the various New Right organizations as the main driving forces, though the "Ministry of National Defense" (which is more like a subdivision of the US neocon command, as it will defer to the US in wartime, and even though the US would like to relinquish command, it doesn't want it) is also strongly behind this. It looks like "New Right" doesn't just refer to the New Right Foundation, but rather the entire South Korean-style neocon movement, where it's patriotic to sell out to Japan and the US Republicans, and treasonous to be an independence fighter or a nationalist.
  • Speaking of the military, South Korea's Marines, whose first major accomplishment is "quelling the Communist uprising of Jeju Island in 1948" (which wasn't all that Communist at all, in real life), is truly a subdivision of the United States Marine Corps. The slogans are merely Korean translations of the USMC ones, including "Once a Marine, always a Marine." The colors and the decals are identical as well. I know the USMC - it is certainly the most reactionary of the military branches - and the "ROK" MC can only be worse.
  • The international crises - a terrorist bombing in Mumbai, and a pro-democracy uprising in Bangkok - do make major headlines. This is NOT a time for 2MB to terrorize his subjects, but rather, to respond appropriately and ensure stability and democracy to prevent future events like this. Sure, Thailand has a long tradition of modern democracy, and a streak of sovereignty that remained unbroken through the colonial era (only China and Japan can claim that elsewhere in Asia), but the military and corrupt politicians have been too vocal. Over here in South Korea, the military had two major coups in recent memory, and even though democracy has been safe for the past two decades, it's now destroyed thanks to 2MB, and the reactionary military commanders may get emboldened to again start killing the very people they are sworn to protect.
  • Last, but not the least, Seoul's extensive subway system can be too much for some. I had to give directions to some fellow passengers - and Seoul isn't even my primary home anymore. (And I don't want it to ever be one again - and it looks like my next return to Seoul can wait a few months.) But it felt good to interact with the good everyday South Koreans again. I was also reminded of other overwhelmingly complex subway systems around the world - namely the New York Subway and the London Tube, both of which I know well. The major difference is that both New York and London are run by one agency (though New York used to be three separate systems), while Seoul uses two city companies to run the system, thanks to the utter ineptitude of Seoul Metro. If Seoul Metro were actually any good, it would've gone on to oversee Lines 5-8 as opposed to having to create SMRT just for those newer four lines.
  • As I progressed back toward Seongnam, another leggings salesperson came on board - but this was a man in a business suit, with a trousers leg rolled up to reveal that he is wearing what he's selling. Same 4,000 won price. As the quality appears very good, and as it's getting bitterly cold in Seoul, I may have to grab a pair at the next opportunity.
Hong Kong, here I come.