London, Dokdo, and Gangnam — Summer 2012 Recap  
Yang Hak-Seon. Gold medal at vault, London 2012 Summer Olympics.

Yang-parents.jpg
Yang's parents and their house in the countryside near Gochang.

Yang's father lost his job as a construction worker, and relocated here in 2010. Since then, Yang supports his parents through a modest income from the Korea Gymnastic Organization.

Yang's coach had been unaware of his family's poor living conditions. After this became known, Yang and his parents received large donations from several individuals including 500 million won (US\$444,000) from the LG Chairman Koo Bon-Moo, a 200 million won apartment from the CEO of construction company Samla Group, 100 million won (US\$88,800) from the head of the Korea Gymnastic Association, and free noodles for life from Nongshim.

One thing that can be learned from Yang's story is not to worry too much about income when choosing a career. Rather, choose a career that you feel you will be the best at, excel, and money will eventually come your way.
09.01.12
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak makes a visit to Dokdo island on August 10th, 2012.

On August 10th, 2012, the South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak visited Dokdo island, marking the first time a South Korean head of state visits the island in recent years. Although Dokdo has been controlled and administered by South Korea since 1955, it is believed by some Japanese to be Japanese territory that the Koreans are “illegally” occupying. Needless to say, the visit by Lee Myung-bak created a big stir in Japan — a japanese friend informed me that this story was talked about continuously in prime time news for more than 2 weeks after the incident.

The visit has to be put into context. In Korea (both North and South) controlling Dokdo is a symbol of freedom from the Japanese empire. (Indeed, Dokdo is considered by Koreans as being the first piece of Korean land that was annexed by Japan in 1905. This was followed by the annexation of the rest of Korea in 1910.) From the 1950s till the 1990s, Japan laid essentially no claim to the island. Since the early 2000s, the Japanese government has been increasingly aggressive towards Dokdo, even including the island in high school textbooks since March 2010. Many Koreans perceive this shift of policy by the Japanese government towards Dokdo as having a broader underlying message. That is, Japan is returning to its Meiji era imperialist roots.

Do I agree with Lee Myung-bak's visit? It may have been a little bit premature. But from now, I think South Korea needs to stand its ground very firmly on this issue. The Japanese government's attitude these days towards its neighbors with respect to disputed islands (Korea's Dokdo, Russia's Kuril) is reminiscent of “bullying”. Perhaps the best way to keep Japan at bay is by showing strength in the first altercations.. This may be sufficient to divert its focus towards someone else...
On a related note, after Korea won the bronze medal soccer match against Japan at the London 2012 Olympics, one of the players on the Korean team — Park Jong-woo — grabbed a sign from the crowd and displayed it in front of the cameras: “Dokdo is our island!”. He was eventually stripped of his bronze medal by the event organizers for intermingling politics with the olympics. I hope this will discourage similar behaviour in the future. After all, displaying a sign claiming that “Dokdo is our island” may send out the wrong message — it may be interpreted by many as entailing that Dokdo is not controlled and administered by Korea. To the contrary, Dokdo island is controlled by the Korean military and if some foreign state wants the island, it has no alternative now but to engage in an armed conflict with South Korea.

I hope individuals refrain from making similar “weak” political gestures on this issue because such statements can be misinterpreted and may make the situation worse. For instance, such may amplify the feeling existent amongst the Japanese that Dokdo is not under Korean control, and this may lead to more dissension in the future. A better approach in this case is to send “strong” messages about Dokdo to Japan through the Korean head of state, coast guard, police, and military if necessary — but not through other means. Then, it will become clear to all who controls the island, and this will most likely be respected as such.
09.02.12
Olympic fencer Shin A-Lam was robbed of a medal after a judge made an error costing her a place in the epee gold-medal match.

The epee match between Korea's Shin A-Lam and Germany's Britta Heidemann involved perhaps the most controversial referee decision of the London games. The last few seconds of play saw the referee make several questionable decisions favouring Heidemann (adding one second to the clock, letting the fencers be closer to each other than they should be, etc). This led to Shin losing the match, and feeling heart-broken. It was indeed a very sad moment. After her coach appealed, the decision of the referee was not overruled, but the olympic organizers agreed afterwards that a judging mistake had been made and decided to award Shin with a consolatory medal, which Shin did not accept. Nonetheless, she went on to win a silver medal in epee-team a few days later — to the delight of all.

Sometimes, losing can be more rewarding than winning. Shin A-Lam may have lost the match to Heidemann that day — but she won everyone's sympathies.
A summary of this summer's events would not be complete without the mention of “Gangnam Style” — a Korean music video by the singer Psy that went viral on youtube and currently receives more than 5 million views per day.

Psy “live” at Dodgers stadium a few days after Gangnam Style became popular.

What is the song about? Although this is not mentioned explicitly, “Gangnam style” points mostly to a form of “night culture” in the Gangnam district of Seoul (drinking to excess, singing songs, dancing crazy moves, going to a Korean style night club, perhaps inviting hostesses or hosts, etc).

On this note, I hope you had a fun summer, partied hard, and are back in good shape for the fall semester ;)
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