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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bachelors, barbecues and the new minjung may be one of the best internet ideas of recent times, but it's also a fantastic way to bookmark everthing in sight and then read none of it. So, to force myself to use it more constructively, I present you with a selection from my recent bookmarks on Korea.

First up, yesterday's news that a quarter of rural bachelors in South Korea are marrying women from overseas, a fairly good indicator I would have thought of the ongoing disintegration of Korean rural society. The great majority of men married Chinese women (it doesn't say what proportion were ethnic Koreans - 조선족), followed by women from Vietnam and then Filipina women.

Next we have John Feffer's entertaining article on the restaurant explosion currently taking place in P'yŏngyang (ok that's slightly hyperbolic). Apparently the recent economic reforms have led to a great number of new eateries in the North Korean capital and competition between them is beginning to heat up. A couple of UN workers have even produced a guide to 50 of the best in the city. Here's the passage that blew me away:
On his most recent trip this year to Pyongyang, Randall Ireson lunched at a microbrewery alongside average Pyongyangites in working attire. "The beer was excellent, a dark ale," says the DPRK Assistance Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. "You could make a meal of it. And they served the best cold noodles I've had."
On a more serious note, this article provides a fascinating insight into the way in which the market is taking hold in North Korea and the state is losing much of its control. In my view, this doesn't look like a deliberate strategy on the part of the North Korean ruling class, like the Chinese turn of the early 80s, but rather emergency measures taken by a state that has little economy left to control. A sort of disintegrating state capitalism. Of course, as Feffer points out, those who will win from these changes (as they did in the Soviet transition) will be those sections of the nomenklatura who take advantage of their connections to become 'red capitalists' - oligarchs, robber barons, or whatever you prefer to call them.

Finally, a plug for fellow blogger Jamie at Two Koreas and his excellent piece on the migrant workers' movement in South Korea. He draws parallels between this recent movement and the 'minjung movement' (people's movement) that formed the basis of Korea's labour and democracy movements through the 70s and 80s. Jamie puts the case for migrant workers labouring in the underbelly of the Korean economy being the new excluded, unrecognised group in Korean society:
Though Korean citizens now enjoy a broad range of civil, political, and labor rights and improved standards of living, I’d like to argue that the collective suffering that once defined the life of the minjung today seems to shape the lives of a new group of people in contemporary South Korea. These people are the undocumented foreign workers who now toil in those jobs done by the minjung of the past, in the 3-D (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) industries where, like the minjung, their toil seems endless and their struggles often go unrecognized.


At June 28, 2005 9:00 PM, Anonymous Antti said...

First up, yesterday's news that a quarter of rural bachelors in South Korea are marrying women from overseas
This brings to my mind what one from our dept told after having been to fieldwork in Eastern Finland close to Russia; can't remember the figures, but the number of Russian-born wives in that village alone was huge. That's the poorest region in Finland, and yet the gap across the border is so huge.
Anyway, I got the impression from her that the Russian brides actually have kept the place habitable, kept from disintegrating a place where only old people and bachelors have remained.

At June 29, 2005 10:01 AM, Blogger kotaji said...

I think this must be something of an international trend and it is certainly happening, on a smaller scale, in parts of Britain too. I'm sure some of your anthropological colleagues are already researching this phenomenon. One thing I'd like to know: what happens to bachelors in countries like the Philipines, Thailand and Russia that seem to be major exporters of women?


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