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South Korea’s CARS Epidemic Enters Fourth Decade

A Yangpa News Special Report

SEOUL – The OECD has announced that 5,869 South Koreans died of CARS in 2014, which marks the 30th consecutive year that the number of fatalities from the epidemic has topped the 5,000 mark.

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One of Seoul’s many high-risk areas

CARS, or Catastrophic Automobile Ramming Syndrome, is believed to affect nearly a quarter million people a year in South Korea. In a country of 50 million, this means that nearly everyone can name a close friend or family member who has been stricken by CARS.

Delivery driver Kim Yeseok has had several bouts with CARS and survived, but some of his friends were not so lucky. “Last year I lost two colleagues to CARS,” said Kim, “A Sonata and a Bongo, to be precise.”

While most victims of CARS survive, many suffer a range of severe symptoms, including massive trauma, internal bleeding, paralysis, compound fractures, third-degree burns, lacerations, coma, profuse bleeding, and death.

The World Health Organization has traced the beginning of the CARS epidemic in part to the rise in private automobile ownership in South Korea. “Since 1985, when the number of privately owned automobiles exceeded one million for the first IMG_8976time, South Korean CARS-related deaths have consistently been among the highest of all OECD nations,” said Doctor Park Jin-hyuk.

While there are a variety of treatments for CARS-related symptoms, experts say that prevention is the best medicine, and that people can greatly reduce the risk of CARS by following a few simple precautions. “Slowing down and wearing a ‘safety belt’ are effective,” says Doctor Park, “but the best thing may be merely paying attention to the warning signs. You can usually see CARS coming and take effective countermeasures.”

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Despite the epidemic south of the border, North Korea remains largely free of CARS

Despite the perennially high death toll, the South Korean public maintains a relatively calm attitude about the threat of CARS. “Actually, I am very worried about MERS,” said Seoul pedestrian Lee Soon-ja, voicing a popular concern about a disease which at press time had killed a total of 16 people – roughly the same number who are killed by CARS in a typical day in Korea. “I was just now reading about it on my smart phone as I was crossing the street. It’s utterly terrifying.”

Cheonggyecheon stream, Seoul. Photo credit: Carlos Felipe Pardo

The Offense Rests: a (Rather) Cross Examination of the Jehova’s Witnesses

by John Bocskay


Some years ago, back when I was single, I had an affair with a woman I’ll call Jinhee. We met in Busan through a mutual friend and had a torrid couple of days together before she had to go back home to Incheon.

We kept in touch, and about a month later, I went to meet her in Seoul for a weekend. One steamy summer day found us strolling along Cheonggyecheon, the revitalized stream that winds through the center of Seoul. Once polluted and covered by concrete, it’s now a clean green refuge from the manic hustle of the big city.

As Jinhee and I walked hand-in-hand along the shaded path, a woman approached me and thrust a pamphlet into my hand.

Jehova’s Witness. I had seen this pamphlet before, around 8 a.m. on more than a few Sundays, handed to me across my doorway when I would rather have been sleeping off Saturday night. The cover was hard to forget: a pastoral scene with smiling people carrying large baskets piled with fruit, while other people stroked the fur ofwitnessheaven wild animals, who calmly sit among them apparently for that very purpose.

Jehova’s Witnesses believe that God and exactly 144,000 of the uber-righteous will rule over the earth from heaven, while the great majority who didn’t make the cut inherit the consolation prize: an earthly paradise without sickness or death. The scene that they depict on their pamphlets is the latter, lowball offer, which in itself ought to straight away insult the dignity and intelligence of any potential convert. I suppose the faithful find that a pleasant enough reward, but I’ve always found this particular version of paradise to be wanting. With pent-up retribution for a dozen shattered Sunday mornings, I started pointing out the logical absurdities of this crudely imagined Eden to Jinhee.

“This shit makes no sense. If nobody dies, you don’t have to eat, but look, almost everyone in the picture is holding a mound of food. Maybe humans in the ‘peaceful new world’ eat for pleasure, but, in a world of no indigestion, heart disease, or gout – in other words, nothing holding you back – you’d expect to see a few fat people in the picture. Where are the gluttons?

“Maybe humans eat out of habit or some kind of vestigial craving, like zombies. Charming, right? Or maybe they really do need to eat after all, in which case you wonder what the consequences of not eating would be, if not death. A perpetual hunger like a vampire? That doesn’t sound like paradise to me. That sounds like bullshit.

“Don’t worry, though, because the peaceful new world is a land of plenty. Look at that pile of apples the boy is carrying, and the blueberry bush in the foreground. Food is just lying around for the taking, nobody has to work for it, and they’re all thin and healthy. It’s a magical, all-you-can eat soup kitchen.

“Still, if this is a place where there is no death and sickness, why bother with apples and berries? Why not Cinnabon and cheesecake and 64-ounce Cokes and all the shit that would normally kill you?”

The night before we’d had a few drinks and a lot of laughs, but our walk today was mostly quiet. With this hokey pamphlet as fodder, I felt myself getting on a roll again.

“I actually like that they include animals in the peaceful new world. And why not? Are they not also god’s creatures? The immediate question though is the same one that torpedoes Noah’s Ark: what do the lions eat? Must they kill the other animals, or, heaven forbid, that cute little Hispanic girl who is scratching his snout? That wouldn’t be very peaceful or new.

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Vegetarian massacre

“Nope, no meat in paradise. That’s why they’re all apparently vegetarians. You’d better like fruit though, because harvesting vegetables usually requires the plant to die. Sorry, vegetables! No peaceful new world for you!”

Jinhee was walking slowly at my side, devouring every word, and at this last comment I felt her stir slightly. I paused to recall if we had eaten any meat. I have an uncanny habit of poking fun at vegetarianism in front of people who turn out to be vegetarians, with predictably awkward results. No, we had had bulgogi the last time we met. Fair game. I handed her the pamphlet and carried on.

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Living the dream.

“Check out the boy wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. How were they manufactured? Are there Bangladeshi sweatshops in the peaceful new world? And how do they wash their clothes? Do they go old-school and beat them on rocks, which isn’t really the first activity that leaps to mind when I imagine the things I would want to do in paradise, or are they machine-washed with powerful detergents that pollute that pretty lake in the background? Seriously, apart from picking fruit, why is nobody working? This kind of leisure time you see here implies a lot of labor-saving machinery, but the most technologically complex device in the whole picture is a wicker basket.

“Think about it: if there’s no death, no new people could be born because it would lead to overpopulation, and the children in the picture will never grow up. How could they? Aging implies dying. They would have to be children forever, at least physically. Imagine being a billion years old, with all the wisdom and knowledge such a life would give you, and having to repeat the second grade. Forever. And what kind of idiot would be smiling about it – or is he just really looking forward to chowing down on his ten billionth apple?”

As I spoke, I became progressively more animated while Jinhee listened in perfect attention. It was fun talking with someone so worldly (She had worked in Germany for many years) at such a high level of English about things I didn’t often get a chance to talk about and hadn’t even realized I cared about so much.

7-bored-with-sex-life“Look at the man and woman walking together. What is their relationship like? Do they have sex? If they do, why? Do they get bored and swap partners, or do they just stop having sex altogether? Who sleeps in the wet spot, and how does he or she feel about it? Sorry, but a peaceful new world would probably have to exclude sex. I mean, sex is fun and all, but it’s not generally conducive to peace in the world…”

Here I felt her stir again. Jinhee and I had slept together a few times, but had never really talked about sex, and I realized that my last comment could be badly construed, especially by someone with whom I was in a budding relationship. I’d been rambling for maybe ten minutes, so I paused again to gauge her reaction.

She looked from the pamphlet to me and said, very plainly but with gentle urgency, “That’s my religion.”

“That’s your what? Wow. Okay. Shit. I mean okay.”

I didn’t know what to say except to apologize profusely. Incredibly, she either wasn’t upset or didn’t show it. She explained that her mom was deeply involved in the church, but judging from the way she didn’t immediately tell me to go fuck myself, I gathered that her affiliation was somewhat less devout. I don’t know if she was trying to make me feel like less of a jackass, but she expressed a genuine interest in my opinions, and said that she’d never thought about those things in that way before. She talked a bit about her beliefs, but it’s hard to reconstruct that conversation now, because it was long time ago, and as she talked I was carrying on an internal monologue that went:

“You idiot. You stupid fucking idiot. I can’t believe you said that you fucking idiot….”

We continued our walk hand in hand, and even enjoyed the rest of the weekend, but as it turned out, that was the last time I saw her. Not long after that I met a charming lapsed Buddhist from down the street, who later became my wife, ’til death do us part.handinhand

Top 20 Rejected Names for This Blog Making a Pun on the Word ‘Seoul’

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By Mr. Motgol

Oh, Seoul, you tentacled leviathan! Your tendrils reach into every valley, islet, and far-flung corner of this nation. Nothing goes down in Korea without your stamp; every other prick in the country shrivels with shame. No one comes close to sizing up.

Where would we be without you?

When titling this blog, it was so tempting to pay tribute to your magnificence by turning a nifty pun from your glorious name! After all, you sound like so many words and syllables in English, that the temptation proved ALMOST too great. I mean, how hilarious and clever would it be???

My collaborators and I met to discuss the matter. We squabbled heatedly, with much jostling and even fisticuffs! In the end, such a tribute was denied. This was not due to lack of effort on my part. I, Mr. Motgol (always your humble servant), constructed a voluminous list of Seoul-related names, but alas, my cohorts (being utter rubes and Philistines) rejected them all.

But droop thine divine visage not! They live on in written form! Please allow me to happily present them right here and now for your (and everyone else’s) perusal:

1. HUFFING GASEOULINE

2. CONSEOULIDATED LOANS

3. SEOULITARY CONFINEMENT

4. INSEOULENT PRICKS

5. NEO-ISEOULATIONISM

6. SO SEOULLY, MISTER

7. THE FINAL SEOULUTION

8. NO SKIN CANCER DUE TO THE PARASEOUL

9. SEOULSEOUL DISTORTION

10. TEN MINUTE DRUM SEOUL-O

11. NOT WATER SEOULUABLE

12. ADDICTED TO SEOULVENTS

13. CYBER SEOULILOQUIES

14. DISSEOULVED IN URINE

15. TIERRA, VIENTO Y SEOUL

16. SEOUL’D INTO WHITE SLAVERY

17. ONWARD AGNOSTIC SEOULDIERS

18. WE SEOULED OUR SEOULS FOR ROCK AND ROLL

19. SEMISEOULID STOOL

20. COMPLETE AND UTTER ASS-SEOULS

Another Expat Blog?

Man-at-a-computer-keyboar-006By Mr. Motgol

I live in a large city in Korea, a hissing, crowded place, where the vertigo-inducing choice of eateries seems almost infinite: glance down most any street and you’ll see at least several brightly lit joints serving up pungent, pickled, red-slathered grub. This town is thick with restaurants and I’m convinced that it would take several lifetimes to sample them all. The array is not only dizzying, it’s in a constant state of flux: That great grilled beef place has now changed to marinated duck; what was once a Kimbap Chungook now sells freshly sliced sea creatures, plucked from the aquariums installed out front and dispatched on the spot; the old steamed dumpling joint manned by the two grandmas has been gutted and turned into a garish, smart phone shop that perpetually blares K-pop at murderous volumes. Welcome to gentrification, Korean style.

Nothing rules the local streets more than my city’s specialty dish: dwaeji gukbap. This is a soup made from tender sliced pork, green onion and rice in a milky broth that can only be described as savory concentrate. It’s a big hit all over town, with an impossible amount of restaurants serving up steaming bowls of the stuff. My neighborhood is host to one of the more famous gukbap restaurants in the city. The place is always crowded and rightly so: it’s damned good. The pork is perfectly cooked and served up in portions that are beyond generous. Sometimes you feel as if there is more meat than broth.

In Korea, a good thing is not allowed to stand alone. When I moved into the area, this well-known restaurant already had a copycat boiling up pork just a block away. She was smaller and decidedly more hardscrabble, but the soup was decent enough. Soon, a brand new gukbap house opened directly next door to the established place. Now there were three and guess what? The new joint was really good, good enough to be half full with customers most of the time–a proper spillover coup. We now had a little soup war raging, with three places competing for the almighty won of the neighborhood’s savvy, pork hungry customers. This brouhaha drew a new entrepreneur into the fray; he went all in, opening a veritable Gukbap Palace right across the street from the main two. This place was massive–three times the size of either of the other three–with a huge, gleaming kitchen and a full, at-the-ready staff of red-aproned ajummas. There was only one problem: No one came. The place was doomed to a lifetime of empty tables. Our neighborhood, set smack in the middle of Korea’s dwaeji gukbap metropolis, had finally reached market saturation. The first, shabby impostor shuttered its doors, followed by the big shiny new store some months later. This left just the two: The original, which is still always slammed with customers, and its less-busy next-door doppelganger, a fine place that also happens to serve up a damned good bowl of soup.

*          *          *

Welcome to Sweet Pickles and Corn. We are a blog. An expat blog. In Korea. This should impress no one. Sometimes I think that Korea needs another expat blog like my neighborhood needs another dwaeji gukbap joint. Cyberspace is filled with foreigners–both fresh-faced and jaundiced–who vent forth their feelings about living life in a strange land with strange people and even stranger food. Haven’t we already read it all? The internet has turned so many expatriates into wannabe Hemingways, Londons, and Therouxs, with most failing to rise to the greatness of their heroes. This is fine, as not everyone is aiming for literary heights or vying for  a book deal. Some folks blog about their expat adventures as a way to keep their friends and families in the loop; others use public writing as a kind of pressure-release valve. Sometimes it just feels good to rant.

So then, who are we? 

We are a collective of foreigners living and working in South Korea. Most of us are experienced bloggers. A couple are new to the form. All of us are writers. Those of us who have solo blogged before realize that there is power in numbers, so we’ve decided to band together and concentrate our efforts in one happy venue. And here it is. Hoo-ray.

We are all using pseudonyms, though those of you who know us will easily find us out. Hell, one of us even uses his actual photo in his avatar, so secrecy isn’t really the point here. We just thought we’d each choose a nom-de-plum as a laugh, and to also keep the focus on the writing, instead of the person. Who knows, like KISS, we may one day appear without our makeup, shattering the mystery once and for all. But never did KISS suck worse than they did sans greasepaint, so for now, fake names it is.

Why Sweet Pickles & Corn?

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I hate sweet pickles. They are detestable snacks soaked in rat piss and jarred in the swampy furnace of Satan’s kitchen. Koreans love them though, so much so that packets of the things are included with every pizza delivered throughout the country.

I like corn on the cob, but free kernels somehow fail to elicit my affection. Yet it’s all over here. Corn, like sweet pickles, shows up in strange places in Korea, often paired with dishes like donkasuor as a topping on pizza, which itself always arrives with sweet pickles (see above paragraph).

Both sweet pickles and corn are an example of Korea embracing something Western and somehow failing, at least in the eyes of many of us. These vegetables are just weird, really–overly processed and canned. One is obscenely uniform and comically green, while the other is electrically yellow and passes undigested through our bodies, ultimately studding our shit like tiny nuggets of gold. Sweet pickles and corn: the both look and sound just plain silly. It’s our aim to add a taste of this absurdity to this blog.

What do we hope to accomplish?

We are a Korea blog only by default. All of the writers live in Korea, so Korea will color most every word typed and posted. I don’t think we really need to worry about that. This, however, does not mean that all the pieces will literally be about Korea; often, prima facie, they will not. This is an anything-goes type of forum. I expect we will see a lot of memoir, some criticism, lists, rants, short stories, and above all, humor. We only have one aim: Like my neighborhood’s dwaeji gukbab, we want the writing featured here Sweet Pickles and Corn to be damned good. And I am confident that the cast of characters assembled for this endeavor is up to the muthafuckin’ task.

What you won’t see are pictures of temples, accounts of afternoons spent hiking, or enthusiastic reports of that life-changing day when we learned to make kimchee with our church group. Nor will photos of food be prominently featured for their own sake, though it could happen once or twice. While definitely eschewing the bright-eyed, Pollyanna, “Isn’t Korea amazing?” schtick, we also hope to never venture into the tired, played-out terrain of the bitter lifer, crapping on Korea and our fellow expats at every chance we get. Is there anything more tedious than a Westerner bemoaning the fact that he got elbowed in the subway, damning the local supermarket for discontinuing his favorite brand of soda, or hating on someone who has the audacity to have lived here for less than 7 years?

So, once again, welcome to Sweet Pickles and Corn. Come on in and set a spell. I know that the internet is big and the choices might be endless, but who knows? You might just like what we’re offering up. It just may be damned good. If not, you can always get your money back. This, we guarantee.