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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

FINAL UPDATE ON KOREA




Some final photos from Seoul. If you look closely, you might see me in one of the windows on the right taking this shot.



As I prepare to leave the country, I thought a few final thoughts might be of interest. Good thing, too, for The Korean Herald today had a front page article about North Korea decimating this city with a nuclear bomb. The following top ten from Korea today:

1. Another Korea Herald front page report is a news analysis on their spiraling debt. From 94 trillion won in 1999 to 500 trillion expected in 2013. Like the USA, they are just printing money. Terrible? Nah! The debt this year will be 407 trillion won, which is a mere 34% of their Gross Domestic Product. The U.S. is nearing 100% (or 60%, if you ask the CIA) and Japan is closer to 200%.

2. South Korea is hosting the G20 finance ministers next month and the full G20 in November.

3. The Korea Institute for National Unification says North Korea leader Kim Jong-Il may be near death, and will not survive by 2012, thus that front page issue regarding the fallout from chaos.

4. Incheon will house a 1,320 megawatt tidal power plant (world largest by far), at a cost of $3.4 billion, providing 44% of the electricity to the city by 2017. Environmentalists are complaining, but, watch...this project will be built. A 254 MW facility will be completed at Sihwa Lake by the end of this year.

5. The economy is recovering as overseas trips this month will increase by 67% from last year and 135% next month. Student expenditures for study abroad jumped by 89% in November from the previous year.

6. Universal Studios will build a $2.7 billion theme park in Gyeonggi Province (37 miles southwest of Seoul). Paramount Pictures and MGM will also construct resort parks in Incheon. Eight such Seoul developments are expected to be in operation by 2012, and fourteen when you count the rest of the country. They hope to attract lots of visitors from China and Japan. HAWAII, WHAT ARE WE DOING?

7. There is a provocative op ed piece by Mathias Specht on the "Sex Industry in Korea." Twenty percent of adult males between 20-64 purchase sex four times/month at a cost of $580. Where do they get this kind of money? One in six women in the 18-35 age range work in the sex industry. Mind you, buying sex is punishable by up to one year in jail, and three years if caught advertising. The Ministry of Gender Equality provides cash rewards to companies whose male workers promise to refrain from paying for sex after office drinking evenings.

8. Moving on to the Haiti earthquake, the estimated death toll is expected to reach 200,000, with a million and a half without shelter. There were adjacent Korean Times Forum opinion articles today, one complimenting Americans for their generosity, somewhat humorously indicating that we give "several times as much/capita as the French, who give twice as much as the Germans, who give twice as much as the Italians." Somewhat linked to the ongoing debate about the U.S. resistance to accepting more Haitian immigrants, the second was a kind of tongue in cheek piece reporting on Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade offering resettlement in his country. If just a few individuals, then they would likely receive housing or small pieces of land, and if en masse, then a whole region. The catch is that no one can afford to get to Senegal and Wade has been known for his dramatic gestures. Why Senegal? Many of the original Haitian slaves came from this country, which also speaks French. The language, not unlike in Louisiana, is Creole. Haiti gained independence from France in 1825.

9. Republicans, fossil fuel enthusiasts and disinformation specialists, take note: Planet Earth is getting hotter--as the latest from the National Climatic Data Center indicates that the 2000-2009 period was the warmest on record, surpassing the previous hottest decade, the 1990's. Hard, though, to convince many in Korea that the globe is warming.

10. Finally, as cold as it is here, the temperature yesterday rose above zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees F), with photos in the local newspapers tripping on about an early Spring. Don't bring any global warming conference to this country. I suggest Delhi, one of my next stops, but in August.

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The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 122 to 10,603, with world markets also almost all down. Gold dropped $26/toz to $1126 and oil is now below $78/barrel.

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I'm off for Hanoi, and, hooray, that tropical storm is nowhere to be seen. However, Tropical Cyclone Magda formed off the Kimberly region of northwest Australia, is now at 50 MPH, and is expected to become a full cyclone by tomorrow.

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