Sardinia 2017

I’m just back from vacationing in Sardinia, so I thought I’d update from previous post.
We didn’t get as much done as I had planned, but I planned way to much anyway.


Day 1:
Pirri, Mariuccia Bar
Poetto local beach
Stroll around Cagliari city centre

Day 2:
Villamsimus, Cala Giunco beach
Cagliari, night drink at Bastione di Saint Remy

Day 3:
Local Market with Joe
Wine tasting at Cantina Trexenta near Senorbi
Nuraghe at Orroli

Day 4:
Nice lunch at il Gato in Cagliari
Jaemin (Jaewon’s brother) and Yunju (his partner) arrive
we walk around Cagliari; Cripta di S. Restituta, Roman Amphitheatre

Day 5:
Boat tour around Pan di Zucchero, beach at Masua, and Porto Flavia
Dinner in Cagliari at Ristorante Antica

Day 6:
Wine tasting at Audarya and cheese tour and tasting at Argiolas.
Pick up Drew (my younger brother) from airport
My Dad makes a surprise visit!
We all head to the Poetto for an evening swim

Day 7:
Rita (Joe’s sister, my some kind of aunt) visits in the morning
We go to San Benedetto fish market in Cagliari
Go to Barumini Nagurhi
then visit the horses at Giara di Gesturi
Yunju cooks paella!

Day 8:
We go to Cala Goloritze beach, 3 hour driving and 1.5 hour hiking in mountain, but worth it!



State Violence

As I was writing yesterday about the Gwangju uprising and the movie “A Taxi Driver” I got to thinking more about state violence. Although May 18th 1980 was only 37 years ago, Korea is a fast moving democracy and we have come a long way since then…. or have we? I am reminded of a thesis I read a few years ago and it still shocks me… “Police, Paramilitaries, Nationalists and Gangsters: The Processes of State Building in Korea” By Jonson Nathaniel Porteux (original link, my local copy). In the process of researching this topic the author embedded himself within  various korean social structures, even including the mob (usually referred to as 조폭 “jopok” or 건달 “geondal” in korean).

He found that gangsters are still used by local authorities and private businesses to handle disputes through physical violence.  Here is the opening to his thesis…

At 2pm on what seemed to be a normal day in Insadong, a historic tourist destination located in central Seoul, South Korea (henceforth, Korea), what seemed to be hundreds of police clad in riot gear suddenly appeared and quickly lined up into formation on either side of the street and in the back alley ways of the district. Ambulances were additionally positioned on opposite ends of the roughly 700 meter long road. 76 Street vendors as well were stationed next to their pushcarts, wearing red protest bands a cross their foreheads. Not long after the police were in position, did a group of 150 young thugs, both male and female, wearing yellow vests, start marching down the street, going from one vendor stall to the next, destroying them and beating any vendor who challenged them. Guiding the yellow clad thugs were a few intimidating men who seemed to be in their early to mid 40s, screaming their well followed orders. The process took about one hour the thugs having moved from one end of the street to the other and back again. The street vendors were selling their wares illegally and were labeled as public nuisances – they didn’t pay taxes to the state – they didn’t pay rent –  and they often sold the same goods as the businesses in the area which had to pay highly to be there. The violence committed against the street vendors however, was also a criminal act, and the services of the thugs were directly and formally contracted out by the Jongno-gu 2 district office. This event did not occur in pre-1987 authoritarian Korea. It occurred on May 24th, 2011 in a country which is often characterized and hailed as being a prosperous and consolidated democracy.
The events which transpired on May 24th are not isolated to either that day or to street vendors alone. Rather, the practice as described above is part of a larger phenomenon in which the state either directly contracts the services of private security firms, or tolerates their use in limited, highly controlled areas. Questions raised in my mind that day are the questions that motivate this study. If the vendors are breaking the law, why can’t the police simply arrest or otherwise sanction them in to compliance? How come Korean society, a society that has a well-documented history of being both contentiousness and in favor of civilian controlled rule, not be able, or more accurately, willing, to hold its elected leaders and the police accountable for allowing such acts to occur? Why would the state collaborate with groups to carry out criminal violence against its own citizens –  in broad daylight and in a democracy no less? This phenomenon directly contradicts the notion of the legitimacy of the state on the one hand, and on the other, the illegitimacy of the groups which engage in criminal violence. This dissertation is an attempt to understand this complex phenomenon.
What [….] are the conditions under which state actors in high capacity, democratic states would collude with private actors in carrying out extra legal violence within their own territorial boundaries, and against their own citizens whom they have been charged with protecting?!


A Taxi Driver and the Gwangju Uprising

A few days ago I watched the new Korean movie Taxi Driver (택시 운전사), directed by Jang Hoon (who was an assistant to Kim Kiduk for many years). I was compelled to see this movie since I became aware that it was a true story about the Gwangju uprising of May 1980. Even though the movie is in Korean with no subtitles, I didn’t want to pass up the chance to see this movie on it’s opening night. So I gathered some friends from work and we went.

The opening of the movie is quite light hearted, as we follow the taxi driver, Kim Man-seob (played by Song Kang-ho, a regularly appearing actor in many great movies by Park Chan-wook e.g. Thirst), around the streets of Seoul. The juxtaposition of the opening with the latter parts of the movie may be deliberate on the part of the writer/director. It draws you in and lowers you emotional guard to what is a deeply harrowing story.

Short on money, Kim Man-seob decides to take a job driving a reporter, Peter (based on the life of the late Jürgen Hinzpeter) to Gwangju, a distance of roughly 300km. Unbeknownst to the driver, the city of Gwangju is on military lock-down and they have to sneak and bluff their way through. This is indeed true, the city was cut off from the rest of the country and no-one knew what was going on there.

On the 18th May 1980, students at the Chonnam National University began protesting its closure. This was met by force from 30 paratroopers. Within a few days and many escalations, the conflict reach a deadly turning point when ROK soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing and injuring hundreds of protesters. The government then blockaded the city and cut off telephone lines and other forms of communication. While inside the city the people declared Gwangju a ‘liberated’ city and had set up the Citizens’ and Student’s Settlement Committees and begun work negotiated with the army demanding the release of arrested citizens, compensation for victims as well as organising funerals, public campaigns, traffic control, withdrawal of weapons, and medical aid.

Peter was the only foreign journalist in Gwangju at the time and was welcomed warmly by everyone. It quickly became clear to him that his pictures and films of the violence and oppression by the ROK soldiers against the protesters must be spread world wide to shine a light on the situation. Within Korea the reporting of the Gwangju protest was highly biased towards the government side, and in fact the most informed Koreans were those living in Germany (there was and still is a large Korean community living in Germany), where the news of the Gwangju massacre first broke.

The movie and the real life story of Gwangju is about the coming together of people against a tyrannical rule; taxi drivers acted at ambulances, house-wifes made and donated food, students and professors organized daily town hall style meetings to give everyone a voice. The movie is also a reminder to be cautious of our own government and the ‘official’ stories that they tell us. Unfortunately, as has been borne out of history, those who are in power will lie, cheat and even kill when that power or their legitimacy is questioned. Nonetheless, it must always be questioned.

[Interesting aside, while the reporter and the taxi driver are both based on real people, the taxi driver was never found by the reporter in real life after they separated. The real Jurgen speaks at the end of the movie, expressing his wish to meet him again. I wonder if, now that the movie and their story has spread, someone manages to find the illusive Kim Man-seob.]

Moebius – An Oedipal dark comedy

Some time ago I watched Kim Ki-duk’s new film, Möbius. Let me start by saying, I had been well warned about Kim’s movies, but undeterred I decided to give it a go, especially after sampling some of his earlier works, namely 3-iron (empty house) and Samaritan Girl. However this sampling was not nearly enough to prepare me for the grotesque movie that unfolded in front of my eyes. Möbius is a deplorable, filthy, indictment to all that is good and pure in the world. It is visually and psychologically disturbing to the core.

If for instance you never want to visualize a scene whereby a father helps his penisless son masturbate violently with a rock, then you might want to avoid this movie. All that being said, I think there are some interesting messages in this movie that are worth some reflection. But if you don’t want spoilers stop reading now. Check this trailer…

The shear repulsion of the visual and at the same time psychological display, forces you to disconnect with the literal story. It is raw imagery with no dialogue giving a sense of presence but at the same time the mind cannot seem to accept it.

At the start of the movie, the cheating father (played by Cho Jae-hyun, e.g bad guy from Master God of Noodles) is avenged by the mother (Lee Eun-woo), not directly but by attacking and severing the penis of the son (Seo Young-joo). The father, devastated by what has happened, searches for other ways for his son to have sexual pleasure. He discovers several techniques, some involve scratching the skin until it is almost worn away and the other is cutting the self with a knife. Both of which are successful in their aim of sexual pleasure but they leave behind painful wounds, reminding us in the most violent way that “there is no pleasure without pain”. The odd thing to notice is that at no time in the movie did the son indicate that he wanted or needed this form of pleasure. His father forced this solution onto him.

The mother reappears later in the movie and can also manage give the son sexual pleasure. But again this is followed by pain and discomfort at a more emotional level. What I understand from this is that the father and the mother both had their ideas of pleasure or happiness, which they forced upon the child. Is this not what is faced by children all the time, particularly Korean children?! For Kim Kiduk, he is just retelling the usual story of a typical Korean boy, caught between the expectation of his parents and their idea of happiness. But he does not become truly happy until the end of the film when his parents die. Because in some sense we all must metaphorically or symbolically kill our parents, and thus kill their expectations, for it is only then that we can find our own way to pleasure and happiness in whatever form that takes.

[ I will add to this, that while Kim got so much right with this movie particularly the balance of dark comedy and serious issues, I feel there was one misjudgment. The young woman who was having the affair with the father, is at one point raped by the sons friends. Ki-duk’s use of this character seemed to imply a punishment for the extra-marital affair, however the woman goes on to later have consensual sex with one of the perpetrators. This did not sit well with me, for if you want to portray a female character as weak in that way, then she must be given more of an individual, nuanced, story and not just an aside. ]