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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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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.


11 2013

My Date with Yeonho Oh


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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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!


10 2013