"New employee" Casey Lartigue

I just got a double hit in the Korea Herald

The roundtable discussion I organized featuring Andrei Lankov got quite a bit of media coverage by the Korean press. Here's the text of a Korea Herald article. As the host of the event, I had many considerations.
1) Three different speakers who all have a lot to say about North Korea
2) More people than I expected showed up.
3) Keeping the spirit of a "roundtable discussion" while having a lecture from Lankov and discussion with special guests invited.


The Korea Herald followed up with a nice little article about our rap video.

The Korea Herald, September 29, 2011

Signs of market economy in N.K. emerging: expert

A market economy and new business class have emerged in North Korea since the 1990s even though their government will not acknowledge it publicly, a panel of experts said Wednesday.

Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Center for Free Enterprise in Yeouido, Seoul, professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University said that the populace was forced into adapting to a new market economy after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Following the collapse of its main benefactor, there are sources that suggest that the North's industrial output was halved by 2000 compared to what it had been in 1990, and that half a million to 1 million North Koreans perished, he said.

Unlike in former communist countries where the government chose to adopt capitalism or the people demanded it, "in North Korea it was just a way to stay alive," he said.

"Only top officials survive on salary," he added.

Walter Klitz of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty said that in his periodic visits to North Korea he has seen the effects of the new market economy on the populace, as those in some rural areas of the nation are relatively well off.

"They don't have a food problem, they have a distribution problem," he said. Furthermore, he has witnessed traffic jams in urban areas apparently spurred by increased economic activity, something unheard of just a few years ago.

This also indicates that sanctions imposed on the North have been bypassed, particularly through increased investments from China.

The increase in this market activity, however, does not mean that the nation is no longer a planned economy, as the main institutions are still in place, they said. For example, laws against activities such as traveling outside of one's home county or exchanging foreign currency are no longer enforced.

The North Korean government attempts to contain such market activity, but no longer attempts to clamp down on it since the botched currency reform of late 2009, Lankov said.

Furthermore, the presence of this new business class ¡ª primarily made up of women because men are required to keep up appearances at their state-approved jobs ¡ª does not mean the nation is more prepared for reunification than before. Lankov said that North Koreans who have succeeded in business would likely be swamped by competition for the South, and much of the nation would form a "permanent underclass" should unification take place.

"You would see much of North Koreans disadvantaged and never recover," he said.

After each member of the panel made their remarks, they took questions from guests, with many questions relating to the succession process from current leader Kim Jong-il to his son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un.

Lankov said that he does not like to talk about succession often.

"I don't know anything about Kim Jong-un, period," he said. Whether or not he is more reform-minded than his father or grandfather, though, may not matter.

"His logic ¡¦ will be much more defined by the political situation than by his own inclinations," he said.

Another panel member was Donald Kirk, Korea correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. In response to a question comparing the unification of the two Koreas to East and West Germany in 1990, Kirk called a comparison between North Korea and East Germany "fallacious."

"East Germany was the most powerful economy in Eastern Europe," he said. "It was not a starving country. It was certainly not a failed state."

By Rob York (rjamesyork@heraldm.com)
This article was originally published in the Korea Herald on September 29, 2011.

Rap gets down to business

2011-09-29 20:05

Complex economic arguments such as the appropriate role of government in the economy are likely to be met with groans of boredom by many outside business and politics.

But one Seoul-based fee market think tank is seeking to change that and get people thinking about economics ¡ª by rapping about it.

"We Can Do It," a rap battle tackling the question of whether the government should protect small businesses from bigger players, is the Center for Free Enterprise's latest endeavor to bring economic issues to unlikely audiences.

"For us, why not try something different? Companies must always innovate, try different things, so the same thing is true with us," CFE head Kim Chung-ho told The Korea Herald.

"We will still mainly focus on research, writing, events, this is just an added feature. A rap battle seemed to be a good way to present both sides of this debate over the role of government and political intervention into the marketplace."
Kim Chung-ho (right) and Kim Mun-kyung go head-to-head over the government and small business. (CFE)

In the video, the think tank's second through rap, pro-free market Kim faces off with Soongsil University Professor Kim Mun-kyung, whose rhyming skills are put to the test in defense of small business.

A "Fail Harder" sign Kim had seen at Facebook's head office in California last year had inspired him to be daring with education when new employee Casey Lartigue Jr. directed Kim to a rap video from his native U.S.

The video, pitting fictional representations of economists Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes against each other, inspired the CFE's first foray into music, "More Grasshoppers than Ants." Before long, a second video was in the works.

"At many companies, the boss is in charge. At CFE, whenever we want to do something new, he (Kim) says, `yes, let's make it big!' We have no excuses here, we have a boss who sets the kind of atmosphere that makes it okay to try and to have no shame if we fail," said Lartigue.

For Kim, if their dalliance with a genre more readily associated with guns and girls encourages people to take themselves a little less seriously and have some fun, so much the better.

"I hope people won't think it is crazy to have some 50-plus-year-old guys rapping and jumping around. We are amateurs at this, but we hope it can even be inspirational for people who feel restricted by social pressure to stop having fun once they become `adults.'"

You can watch "We Can Do It" on www.eng.cfe.org or Youtube.

By John Power (john.power@heraldm.com)

This article originally appeared in the Korea Herald on September 30, 2011.


"We Can Do It" music video

I am the "referee" in a new music video produced by The Center for Free Enterprise. Here is the link at the CFE site. I will be posting the translation and other information related to the video there, so bookmark it for updates.

Yes, I have a tough job. Who would have ever thought a think tank geek would be making a music video?


"Yoegi Anjuseyo!"

* I have a short reflection in today's Korea Times about an encounter with an unfriendly looking Korean man on the subway. It was a reminder not to be too quick in judging people in Korea.

09-13-2011 16:47

'Yeogi Anjeuseyo!'
By Casey Lartigue Jr.

The recent incident in which an American English teacher bullied an elderly Korean man and other passengers on the bus reminded me of a more pleasing incident from years ago.

I was on the subway, taking the train outside of Seoul for a work assignment. I have the habit of standing on the subway to strategically position myself near the doors in case my stop magically appears.

On that particular day, there was a Korean man STARING at me. Not just looking at me, but intensely staring at me.

He had an incredible frown on his face. Not just for one stop, but for several stops the guy just kept staring at me. If I had known more Korean then I would have been able to curse him out or to tell him he had 10 seconds to start looking at something else ― and that I would start counting at nine.

If I had to guess, I would say that he was a farmer, probably in his late 40s or early 50s. He was poorly dressed. He seemed to be headed for a Hollywood casting call for the role of a Korean farmer eking out a living during the Korean War.

Then, the person next to him stood up to get off the train.

An incredible thing happened.

The frowning farmer began to point at the seat next to him, and was almost shouting at me...

``Yeogi Anjeuseyo! Yeogi Anjeuseyo!"

Even if I had not understood ``sit down” in Korean, his body language made it clear that I had to sit in that seat right then!

No one was trying to claim the seat. I was stunned for a moment but quickly sat. He then had a huge grin on his face, as if he had accomplished something by securing that seat for me. He turned to face me, just looking at me, grinning. Had he saved me from a burning building? Helped me cheat on my taxes? No. He was pointing to a seat that had just been vacated. Perhaps he feared that an ajumma would bump me out of the way and claim the seat.

Sitting there, I was embarrassed that I had been so wrong, and frustrated I could not explain it to him. So there we were sitting, unable to communicate, but with enough good feelings that we could have brought peace to the Korean peninsula all by ourselves.

Then, when it was time for his stop, he stood up, forcefully shook my hand, and said good-bye in Korean. I stood up, not knowing the proper protocol for such a situation, said goodbye to him as we bowed to each other on the subway.

After that day, ``yeogi anjeuseyo" joined ``nunchi," ``ajumma," ``han," ``skinship” and a few other phrases in my lexicon of favorite Korean and Konglish words and phrases. But when I tell Koreans ``yeogi anjeuseyo," I don't just say ``yeogi anjeuseyo." It is more of a command, the type I heard on the subway that day:

``Yeogi Anjeuseyo! Yeogi Anjeuseyo!"

Of course, Koreans advise me not to say it so forcefully. I agree with them, promising not to do so again. But I do.

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Other announcements:

* I will be hosting a roundtable discussion on September 28 with Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University about North Korea.

* I will be attending a discussion on K-pop featuring Fulbright Researcher Emilie Chu this Friday night (Sept 16, from 6-8 p.m., at the KAEC Mapo-gu building). You may email them directly at executive.assistant (at)fulbright.or.kr to register and may :cc or :bcc me cjartigue(at)yahoo.com. Emilie will be speaking from 6-7, then Grace Ha will be speaking on Haenyo, Jeju, and the Future of Marine Conservation. RSVP ASAP.


Yogi Anjuseyo

People often ask me, now that I am back in Korea, how things are different. My main responses: 1) I'm different. 2) Koreans seem more open-minded 3) The expats seem more educated, but have many of the same complaints and are using the same analysis I was hearing then.

Robert Neff writes in the newest edition of the Korea Times about the recent fight on the bus. He mentions:
"Scribblings of the Metropolitician brought up an interesting observation ― one that bothers him a great deal ― the empty seat. According to him, regardless of how crowded the bus is and the number of people standing, the seat next to him is always empty. It is insulting to him that no one wants to sit next to him.

"But not all expatriates in Korea have that problem ― some find themselves with unwanted seatmates."
Seoul subway line 5, Sept 8, 2011.
--Casey Lartigue, Jr..

That is one of the low-rent issues I remember from the 1990s. I have learned that Scribblings of the Metropolitican is a 40-something year old mixed race (Korean and black) guy who seems to fancy himself to be a social critic. He recently discussed his secret desire to beat up various Koreans who annoy him on public transportation.

I wrote about this empty seat issue back in the mid-1990s and 1999. If I were to write it today I would write it somewhat differently, probably even more dismissive of the complaint.

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August 4, 1999
While Abroad, Chill Out by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

 It is natural that people living abroad have trouble adjusting to a new culture. Numerous personal essays, scholarly research papers and books have explored the various phenomena associated with culture shock, adjustment and cultural differences. While some of the complaints of visitors to Asia may be valid, some border on paranoia, if not downright childishness.

 When I was living in South Korea, one complaint I heard from more than a few expatriates was that Koreans avoid sitting next to them on public transportation. Apparently some Koreans remain standing when a foreigner is sitting alone, next to an empty seat, on a crowded bus or train.
 If only that were true. While I secretly hoped that no one would try to sit next to me, I could always count on an oversized ajimah with two or three bags to squeeze into the seat next to me. She'd usually give me a big smile after she was all squeezed in. I suspect that most riders on the public transportation are more concerned with their own comfort than with the national origin of other passengers.

 Let's assume for the moment, however, that the expatriates aren't just paranoid. There could be any number of reasons that someone may not want to sit in an empty seat. People who have been sitting in an office all day might dread sitting even more. In some cases, someone who may be getting off the bus soon or isn't sure exactly where to get off might not want to sit. In others, the person may want to give you the "personal space" so many expatriates have complained they don't get in Korea .

I'll even offer a new theory. Some Koreans have been said to suffer from "telephone phobia." Unable to rely on visual clues to help them through a conversation, they will just hang up the phone when confronted by English. Likewise, some Koreans may be suffering from "empty seat phobia." Unable to speak English fluently, they may avoid sitting next to you out of fear that you will talk to them. In short, there are any number of reasons that someone may choose not to sit.
 If the fact that someone doesn't sit next to you when there is an empty seat means that you are being discriminated against, what are we to conclude when Koreans single out expatriates and demand that they sit? Or what about Koreans who often offer to hold the bags of people who are standing on public transportation? If one action is discrimination, then the opposing action would seem to be favoritism, if not downright nice.

 This is not to deny that there are some xenophobic Koreans who avoid sitting next to expatriates. There probably are some Koreans who hate non-Koreans enough that they would refuse to sit next to a foreigner--in which case, you should consider yourself lucky that such a person doesn't want to sit next to you. Who the heck wants to sit next to a xenophobe? Let her stand. Just give her a big smile and enjoy your ride.

 I heard other complaints from expatriates. Some are  bothered by the personal questions many Koreans ask. Some also complain about the lack of personal space and privacy that they have in Korea . By far, the most incredible complaint I heard is that some expatriates feel unfairly singled out by drunks and smart-aleck children shouting, "Hello!"

 Now that I'm back in America , I can see that drunks here aren't exactly the most dignified of souls. And many of the kids will tell you to "go f...yourself" if you tell them to tie their shoes. In our respective countries, when encountering rude or playful children, we say, "stupid kids." While in Korea, far too many Americans will say, "stupid Korean kids," attributing the "hello" to a character flaw in Koreans.

 Some expatriates even plot strategy to handle kids shouting "hello" at them. As a kid, I would have been surprised to know that an adult was plotting strategies to counter my antics. Not that such adult strategies would have been completely unwarranted.

 In my neighborhood, when we weren't shooting arrows or BBs at each other, we loved tossing water balloons at cars and people passing by. From the roof of a house, tossed with just the right trajectory, you could hit a man square on the head from 30 yards away with a water balloon. It was also fun to wait until our friends were playing in the front yard, then to blindly toss two or three water balloons from behind a fence when the first adult walked by. Those stupid kids would get blamed for it while we made our getaway. We'd get a whipping if we caught got, but the thrill was worth it.

 We had fun looking up dirty words in the dictionary and randomly shouting them at each other. Or telling adults to "go f... yourself" if they told us to tie our shoes. Ringing someone's doorbell and then running off before they could open the door was fun, too. Boobytrapping the door in a neighbor's house was worth a laugh or two before we got whipped.

 But I digress. Those Korean kids, winding down from another pressure-packed day of studying for 14 or 15 hours, really shouldn't be yelling "hello" at hypersensitive foreigners. They should be yelling something much more appropriate, like "Yankee, go home!" And "home" is where some people need to be. There's no place like home. Some people never should have left.

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Previous version from 1995 or 1996

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Yogi Anjuseyo
by Casey J. Lartigue Jr.
The Korea Times
c. 1995 or 1996

    Koreans may not know it, but many expats here in Korea feel discriminated against on a daily basis. Some complaints have been voiced on many occasions. Koreans point and stare at non-Koreans. They yell obscenities. They are nationalistic, xenophobic, racist. One complaint Koreans may not have heard is that some foreigners feel that Koreans avoid siting next to them on public transportation. Apparently some Koreans remain standing when a foreigner is sitting alone, next to an empty seat, on a crowded bus or train.

    Recalling my own initial experience in Asia, I'm skeptical. After about a week in Taipei, Taiwan, two things quickly irritated me: 1) Taiwanese shopkeepers seemed to be following me around the store. That's a sure sign in America that the shopkeeper doesn't trust you. 2) Taiwanese shopkeepers often did not hand me my change directly. Instead, they would often place it on the counter for me to pick up. Instead of jumping to conclusions, I decided to observe Taiwanese people interacting. Sure enough, the shopkeepers followed the other customers around. Not only that, they placed the change on the counter for Taiwanese customers to pick up. I'm sure they weren't putting on a show just for me, so I assumed that was normal behavior in Taiwan. After a few months, I found myself walking out of stores when shopkeepers did not pay attention to me within a few seconds. I even started leaving the money on the counter for shopkeepers to scoop up. I guessed that I was blending into the local culture. 

    Likewise, I think some culture vultures here have spotted racism where it isn't present. Could there ever be a legitimate reason for someone to leave a seat vacant? One reason could be that some people just prefer to stand. People who have been sitting in an office all day might dread sitting even more. I would guess that some women, especially the lawbreaking, miniskirt wearers, might be wary about sitting next to any men. You might look harmless, but that doesn't mean the person who might later take your seat will be. It might be rude to remain standing when there is an open seat, but it is doubly rude to stand up after someone else sits down. Some Koreans who haven't learned to speak English may fear that *you* will talk to them. Still others may prefer to stand if they think their stop is coming up soon. How many times have you complained about people who remain seated until two seconds before the bus driver gets ready to take off for the next stop? In short, there are any number of reasons that someone may choose not to sit.

    While some expats have stories about sitting alone on a crowded bus, train, or subway, there are just as many expats who can tell stories about aggressive Koreans who are all too willing to fill that empty seat. I've had people actually grab me and physically try to force me to sit. I've seen others similarly accosted. Other Koreans already sitting will hold your bag for you if you're standing. That some expats feel discriminated against by Koreans who allegedly don't want to sit next to them is all the more ironic because many expats complain exactly about the opposite thing: far too many Koreans are all too willing to sit next to them. Some of them want to look at what you're reading, some want to hit you up for a free English class. Complaining about both being ignored and approached might lead some Koreans to conclude that expats can never be satisfied. After years of hearing that foreigners need "personal space" and detest personal questions, I personally wouldn't blame Koreans for avoiding expats.

It seems that some are attributing racism to some very natural occurrences. On public transportation around the world, vacant seats are often as lonely as the last piece of chicken at a picnic: everyone sees it, but no one takes it. Most of the people who believe that Koreans don't want to sit next to them are probably newcomers who have come to Korea expecting to be discriminated against. It has become fashionable in America to picture oneself as a victim. Some have even drawn parallels between themselves and "disenfranchised" people.

    If you seriously believe Koreans standing nearby are discriminating against you, try saying, "yogi anjuseyo." (Have a seat). Beware, however. They may never leave you alone. You might end up with an invitation to dinner. On a bus or subway, I suspect that most Koreans are more interested in their own comfort than about the national origin of other passengers.

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Update: People of Color discussion about race in Korea.

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