My thoughts on the film ‘The Counselor’

The biggest blockbuster film in Korea at the moment is neither a spectacular action nor a romantic comedy – normally the genre much preferred by the holiday crowd. Instead, it’s a serious human drama titled, ‘The Counselor.’ It tells the story of a lawyer who transforms from a money-grabbing tax lawyer into a civil rights advocate throughout the film. At first glance, it doesn’t sound like a kind of a movie that people would go and watch on Christmas or during the holiday season. But this film has a very significant aspect to Korean people. This film is based on the true story of Roh, Moo-hyun, the 9th president of the Republic of Korea (2003-2008).

Last Thursday on Dec. 26, I joined the screening event hosted by OhMyNews and watched the film with about 250 members of OMN’s ‘100,000 Supporters’ Club.’ Since Oh, Yeon-ho, the head journalist of OMN, was the person who Roh allowed his first- and last- interviews, watching the film with Oh and his team made the viewing experience more intense and sincere. After the screening, about 50 audience members joined the after-party and had a lively yet somewhat solemn conversation about the film and the current Korea. Through them, I learned about the real event that the film was based on.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about Roh, Moo-hyun. I had left Korea for the United States in 1997, and hadn’t been following the news in Korea since. I didn’t have much interest in politics, and to my shame, I didn’t bother to learn who the current president was until it came up during the conversations with other people.

But then on the early morning of May 23, 2009 in New York time, I got a phone call from my little sister Gina. I was sleeping in my Brooklyn apartment. Half-awaken and a bit annoyed, I picked up the phone. Then I heard her crying. I was alarmed. I thought something bad happened to her or my family. Yes, something bad happened. But it wasn’t to my family.

My sister said Roh, Moo-hyun killed himself. She lamented over the country that drove him to suicide. She said she wished to leave Korea. She couldn’t stand living among the people who let this tragic event happen.

I didn’t know what to say. As I was listening to her wail turning into a sob, I wondered about who this guy, Roh, Moo-hyun was. I had no idea what kind of background he had or what kind of president he was. But one thing was very clear to me. He must have been a good man for his death invoked such despair to my good-hearted little sister.

A few month later, my sister Gina was diagnosed with leukemia and died in May 26, 2010 – only a year after Roh’s death. I often think that if my sister had lived and I had died in her place, the world would have been a better place. Her loving and caring heart could have alleviated the sorrows of many people around her. Now I think of more than a few individuals who could have made Korea a better country if they had died in Roh’s place.

I had lived 28 years in Korea before moving to the States. And I’ve been living here since April this year. You think I know Korea well. But no, it’s a mystery to me all along. The man who was responsible for so many inhuman actions and injustice depicted in The Counselor is still alive and well except some financial dent in his thick pocketbook. The man who used his presidential post to accumulate his own personal wealth is alive and well. The current president withdrew a pledge to give all senior citizens a monthly pension only 9 months after she was elected. She said it was simply unaffordable. Then, last month, the parliament passed the pension plan for the Senators and councilmen.

When I heard the news that about 5,000 riot policemen stormed into the Korean Confederations of Trade Union(KCTU) office to arrest the railroad union leaders on strike, I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought those days were long gone in Korea at least two decades ago. I thought Korean government has matured enough to understand the true meaning of Democracy. Sadly I was mistaken.

As I was going home to my mom’s run-down small studio, I wished that
Korea would become a country in which good men can survive, and then ultimately thrive. I hope that some millions of people who watched this film shall put their hearts together to make that wish come true…

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30

12 2013

Oh My News reporter, dared to go to where the buck stops

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On December 19, 2012, Park Geun-hye was elected as the 11th President of the Republic of Korea, defeating her rival Moon, Jae-In by the final tally of 51.6 percent to 48 percent. It has been 11 months since the election, but apparently it isn’t over yet.

One of the hottest political issues in Korea at the moment is the lawsuit against the Won Se-Hoon, former head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS). The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has been investigating allegations that the NIS interfered in the nation’s presidential election. Won has been interrogated as to whether he directed NIS agents to post online messages against the presidential candidate, Moon Jae-In.

The investigation is on-going. Yet it seems clear that the NIS ran a division whose sole duty was to operate on the Internet and influence the elections. According to the prosecutor’s office’s latest finding, the NIS agents posted 26,550 pieces of writing on the Internet per month and more than 1.2 million tweets and retweets regarding Korean politics, of which approximately 500,000 related to the presidential election.

This is a serious concern for Korean democracy. That’s why people are keeping their close eyes on the prosecutor’s interrogation on Won. But does the buck stop with Won? A novice female reporter of ‘Oh My News’ apparently asked the same question and dared to go to the top. She waited out to see the former president Lee Myeong-Pak at a public event held in his hometown on Nov. 14. When she grabbed the chance to approach him, she threw him three direct questions: 1) Did you instruct Won Se-Hoon, head of the NIS, to intervene the presidential election? 2) Did you get the reports on the activities related to the presidential election? 3) Do you feel responsible as a person who appointed Won to his post?

Former president Lee seemed petrified and commented that how diligent of her to follow him so far out. She couldn’t get any proper answers to her questions, but her report received many enthusiastic responses from online readers. Knowing how to ask the right question to the right person is a good start for a news reporter. Let’s hope that the truthful answers will come in due course.

21

11 2013

My Date with Yeonho Oh

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One of the great things of Korea is that she has four distinctive seasons. Each season comes in different colors and songs. Among them, however, autumn is certainly my favorite.

Today (Oct. 21) is one of those lovely autumn days, blessed with gentle sunshine, blue sky, and mildly cool breeze. On a day like this, most people wish for a date with someone special. So I headed out for a date.

Seogyo-dong ‘Ma-dang-jip’ is a second-story house with a big front yard covered in green. This building is a home to Oh My Book and 100,000 Members’ Club. Yeonho Oh, the founder and head journalist of Oh My News, is having a week-long dating session here from today (Oct. 21) till Friday (Oct. 25) from 9am to 9pm. Dating session is open to the members of 100,000 Members’ Club. Any member can book a date with Oh in advance, and each date is scheduled for an hour. So far, about 45 members have booked dates, but there are still a few time slots available.

Oh said he decided to do this to show his appreciation for the members. Members can use this opportunity for whatever the purpose they see fit – article editing, career coaching, business consulting, or even a friendly chat about life in general.

Since I wanted to make a quick video, instead of having a date with Oh alone, I got a special permission to tag along Oh’s date with a couple, Saen Park and Gyusang Lee. They are entrepreneurs who wanted to discuss their work and life with Oh. The date started at the outdoor table on the front yard. Tasty drinks were offered with some biscuits. Free of charge, of course. Then, they moved to a little park nearby. Oh wanted to show around the neighborhood and change the scene to keep the conversation more dynamic and lively.

One hour passed quite fast. Saen and Gyusang seemed very pleased. After the date, Saen said she had a very meaningful time and wished for another date. Gyusang was also amply satisfied.

I may be wrong, but as far as I know, most presidents of newspaper companies are not accessible to their subscribers. Yeonho Oh’s constant efforts to stay connected to his readers, I think, make Oh My News so unique and relevant. Dating with Yeonho Oh is certainly a rare treat that shouldn’t be missed. I captured some nice moments today to share with Oh My News International readers. Don’t you want to have a date with Oh?

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25

10 2013

“Oh My News! Oh My School!”

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How to become a true journalist? How to write impactful articles on current issues?

These are two questions that motivated Yeonho Oh to establish a unique journalism school in Korea. Yeonho Oh, a journalist and founder of ‘Oh My News,’ has been running a workshop for aspiring journalists for the last 15 years. It has produced over 1,000 students and more than 300 of them are working as journalists today. I was curious to learn about the program and attended the 47th workshop held in a cozy ‘Oh My School’ campus in Ganghwado in Aug. 22-24, 2013.

It turned out to be a great experience. I met many interesting people from diverse fields at a wide age range. There were a high school student, college kids, school teachers, a café owner, a poet, a pharmacist, a musician, a scientist, and many more. They were all fun and charming and I learned so much from every one of them. I also found the lectures wonderfully inspiring and helpful. And locally produced organic foods were absolutely fantastic! I enjoyed this three-day-workshop so much that I made this video to share with fellow students and others. I hope this video can inspire many aspiring journalists to join the program!

18

10 2013

NEGOTIATING JOURNALISTIC PROFESSIONALISM : A case study of OhmyNews in a participatory media climate

A research paper regarding OhmyNews was published in Journalism Practice, a new scholarly, international and multidisciplinary journal, published three times a year by Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

Dr. Deborah S. Chung and Seungahn Nah from University of Kentucky wrote this article titled ‘NEGOTIATING JOURNALISTIC PROFESSIONALISM: A case study of OhmyNews in a participatory media climate.’ In its abstract, they said;

“South Korea’s OhmyNews reports unique consequences of citizen reporting and participation. While many citizen news operations have come and gone, OhmyNews has been remarkably successful and has become one of the most powerful news sites in its country. This case study explores the concept of journalistic professionalism among OhmyNews citizen journalists and assesses whether perceptions of their journalistic work align with Singer’s dimensions of professionalism (i.e., cognitive, normative and evaluative dimensions). We then compare these perceptions to those of professional journalists within the organization and integrate them into journalistic role conceptions. Findings show that both groups work through collaboration, checks and balances, and a negotiation of autonomy. Both benefit from the partnership and share similarities, rather than differences, in their effort to remain sustainable in contemporary media culture.”

* To read entire article : http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2013.813198

07

10 2013

[Serial report] How to make a life plan?

(Yeonho Oh, founder and CEO of OhmyNews has been writing serial reports to find answers to this question: Why is Denmark one of the happiest country? This is 10th article written in Korean. Related video file is made for English viewers also.)

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Does  what make Denmark the happiest country in the world? Maybe one secret is here; the Danish people can prepare life plan with enough time and find what he(or she) really likes to do.

So-called ‘After School’ shows one good example. Most of the Danish students go to After School when they are in 10th grade for one year. They leave home and live with other students in school dormitory.

Idræts Efterskole is a specialized After school for teaching sports with 135students. Mr. Jan Barslev, the principal, said this school not only teaches how to play soccer or handball but mainly teaches how to be social, how to be human.

“ We prepare them for life skills. So that they can discover what they like and that they can make their own decisions. The students have to ask themselves, ‘What is important for me?’ After school has to be a place where they get that kind of feeling that they get more mature.”

- Then is there any class that just focuses on ‘how to make a life plan’?

“We do that for all kids. We start to do that for week projects. September, November, January, March.  We have four weeks life planning. We try to focus on what do they want to be when they’re 35 years old. Do you want to be a teacher or a professional football player? If you want to be a professional football player, what do you need to do? You have to make decisions, live healthy, stay fit, all that kind of things.”

 

* To read entire article in Korean : http://omn.kr/4i6t (by Yeon-ho Oh)

* To see relevant video: http://youtu.be/JDSFHJS9e-0

02

10 2013

Do You Have Someone Who Sincerely Misses You?

We do not worry about poverty any more like in the past. However, many people are insecure. It is weird that the world is not becoming better as we learn more and become wealthier.

I think we can cure our mental sickness with a good education. Learning should be a tool for cultivating ourselves morally not carnally. The leader should be a teacher. If students love what a teacher teaches, they would never be sick mentally because they truly learn real value about an education.

I took some training for a teacher during a vacation, and there I met some junior teachers. I tried to pass on my knowledge to them as much as I can. However, sometimes I am disappointed that some are taking training and teaching students only for their promotion, which definitely cannot influence positively to their students. 

Six more years left until I can be with my students as a teacher. This makes me actively participate in the coming training. This is one of my happinesses in my life these days.

*To read entire articel in Korean: http://omn.kr/3wcg

30

08 2013

[Photo Essay] Who lives in the deserted house?

There is a deserted house on the way from Wol-jung sa to Joomunjin. This house was being destroyed when I passed by there. I was a little bit reluctant to go into the house because some construction workers might not allow me to get in there, but I did it to take a photo of the inside of the house. I could see a frame of the house without any furniture.

An owner must be impoverished looking through their old-fashioned TV, newspapers instead of wallpapers, and a dog’s bowl.

“Did you live in this house?” I asked some middle-aged woman who seemed to know about a story of this house.

“No, some old couple lived here but they all passed away.”

Originally, this house belonged to the middle-aged woman, but an old couple lived here without notice when she lived in another place. She kindly allowed them lived in her house. She did not remember when it was anyway when they passed away, and this house would be torn down in few days. 

A disappearing house that someone might have history, but this house will vanish in a trace. It is truly sad story.

* To read entire article in Korean :  http://omn.kr/3v66

18

08 2013

[Serial reports] A story of a restaurant server Klaus (1)

Klaus Petersen (56)

Klaus Petersen (56)

 

The reason why Danish waiters are much happier than Korean doctors

How is a waiter satisfied with his job in a restaurant? When you were waiting for your food, have you ever wondered this question looking at the person who carried the plates back and forth? Last April I started to notice a waiter. His service was fantastic, with his agile movements in spite of his old age; he looked the oldest among the servers in that restaurant.

He came up to my table and asked: “How can I help you, Sir?”

He did not have any particular facial expression, but he fascinated me. His charm might have come from a combination of humility and confidence. I truly felt that he really enjoyed what he was doing. I imagined his whole life while I was having the food he served.

When I left the restaurant, I walked over to him while he was busily serving his customers, I had lots of questions for him but I only asked a brief question – his age.

“Me? 56 years old. I am Klaus Petersen; I want to continue my job until I can walk with two feet”

I admired him and asked him to take a photo of us. When I came back to my accommodation I realized that I should have asked him to have an interview with me.

Two months later, at the end of June, I visited the restaurant again during my second visit to Denmark for my in-depth report. Luckily he was there and he recognized me instantly.

“You must be the reporter from South Korea?” he asked.

He was pleased to take an official interview this time.

“There are 30 staff members here in total, and I am the oldest one. I can have like 30 minutes for an interview because we aren’t so busy yet. This is a kind of senior’s benefit (Laughter).”

Now, here are the secrets of his happy life.

 

[Special lecture about happiness by Klaus①]  My life, do what you really enjoy

“You looked really happy” I said.

“Because I truly love my job now.” he replied.

“I have worked as a cook and waiter for nearly 40 years, since I was 17 years old. I thought I did not need to go to university so I got a job that I liked, in a restaurant as a cook and  waiter, and there I worked and studied at the same time.”

Working and studying at the same time is Denmark’s distinctive system; Danish workers enjoy vocational programs while working, for 10 weeks a year with government support.

“I took this kind of education for 7 years; during this time I had a chance to love my job more and more.”

He learnt not only labor skills but also the meaning of fruitful labor in a vocational program. That is why he really enjoys what he is doing now.

* To read entire article in Korean :  http://omn.kr/2xer (by Yeon-ho Oh)

27

07 2013

[Serial reports] A story of a restaurant server Klaus (2)

Klaus Petersen (56)

Klaus Petersen (56)

 

[Special lecture about happiness by Klaus②]  Don’t be discouraged, all occupations are equally honorable

Klaus has a son.

“He is 22 years old and works as a locksmith now.”

He was really proud of his son, but to be honest, I could not understand him, because normally in Korea, most of fathers who were waiters wanted their son to get further ahead in the world.

Instead, he said, “I never asked him to get a highly-paid, specialized job such as a judge, doctor or professor. Because I think that being a locksmith is also a valuable and necessary job in our society.”

I suddenly recalled an interview with a Korean executive in a big firm. He has a son who works for a medium enterprise, and he felt ashamed of him. Another friend of mine also has a similar attitude toward his son. My friend is a doctor, while his son did not go to a famous college and does not even have a decent job; this is the reason why he did not tell me about his son’s job until recently.

Klaus goes to his high school reunion every five years and he never hesitated to talk about his story and even his son’s. So, who is happier between the Korean doctor who is ashamed of his son, and the Danish waiter who is proud of his son? This is not the problem of a relationship between father and son, but rather a different attitude of valuing labor.

 

[Special lecture about happiness by Klaus③]  Live together, band together

Klaus has never worried about getting a raw deal because he is not the only one to be against it.

“We have a labor union for restaurant staff called ’3F’ in Denmark; I have been a member there since I graduated from high school. I’ve paid 200 dollars every month for last 40 years.”

There are about 300,000 members in the union and all of our staff members in this restaurant joined it.

“So there is no discrimination in our workplace, if it happens we can report the union and its representative can talk about the problem with the relevant owner.

Surprisingly, he never has experienced bad things in his workplace. Nevertheless he continuously pays 200 dollars every month to receive unemployment benefits later; 3000 dollars per month is the amount that both unions and the government together provide us for one and half years.

“We can also take unemployment benefits from the government for 2 years, but it is not enough to earn a living so we pay union fees, like purchasing insurance, so we do not have to worry about losing our job.”

Danish labor unions’ coverage reaches to around 70% now; the highest rate was once about 80%, while in Korea it is about 10% (the World average is around 23%)

* To read entire article in Korean :  http://omn.kr/2xer (by Yeon-ho Oh)

27

07 2013