Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas in South Korea

By Anthony Vasquez

Christmas is almost here. In South Korea, where Christmas is a public holiday, the spirit of the season is being felt too.

According to an October 2009 report by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, half of South Korea’s 48 million people practice a religion. Of those, 49 percent identify themselves as Christians and 47 percent as Buddhists.

Because Western culture is relatively new to South Korea, there are some differences in how the holiday is celebrated. Churches do hold Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, but Christmas is less family-oriented than, say New Year’s Eve. In popular culture, it has become more like a couples’ holiday, as it has in Japan.

As for food? Some organizations and high-end hotels host Western-style Christmas dinners, turkey and all. Those that wish to have a formal dinner will have traditional Korean dishes such as sweet potato noodles, rice cake soup, barbecued beef, and kimchi, the national dish. Kimchi consists of pickled vegetables seasoned with garlic, ginger and red pepper.

People do exchange gifts and some put up Christmas trees and decorate with Christmas lights. Christmas cakes, famous for their fancy design and not necessarily for what is in them, are also popular.

In South Korea, the Christmas holiday has been given a special twist. See the Youtube video of a medley of Christmas songs in Korean and English!

Related Links+

Korean Tourism Organization
Christmas Celebrations in KoreaBy Seoul Magazine

Love to Know
Korean Christmas TraditionsVarious online contributors

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Teams know their opponents for 2010 World Cup

By Anthony Vasquez

East Asian teams will have uphill battles in advancing to the second round of the 2010 World Cup tournament in South Africa. Japan, South Korea, and North Korea, along with Australia represent Asia.

Last Friday in Cape Town, the draw to determine the eight groups of four teams each for the competition took place. The results give reason to expect an exciting first round next June.

In Group G, the so-called “group of death”, North Korea faces Portugal, Ivory Coast, and five-time champion Brazil in round-robin play.

Each team faces its opponent once. The top two in each group move on to the Round of 16. This is North Korea’s second appearance in the competition’s history. The last time was in England in 1966. North Korea is the 2010 World Cup’s second-weakest team.

“When I saw we got into Group G, I smiled a bitter smile,” North Korean midfielder An Yong-hak told “I had said before that I want to play against the big teams cause there are no weak teams in the World Cup. But I'm excited that we will play against Brazil, Portugal and Cote d'Ivoire. How can we play against these kinds of teams except at the World Cup?”

Japan, No. 2 in Asia, plays in Group E alongside Holland, Denmark, and Cameroon.

South Korea is in Group B against Argentina, Greece, and Nigeria. In the 2002 South Korea-Japan event, South Korea made it to the semifinals, but lost to Turkey in the third-place game.

Related links+
World Cup 2010: Group G Reactions - Experts Call the Draw
December 5, 2009

The Telegraph
World Cup 2010 draw: live
By Steve Wilson and Mike Norrish
December 4, 2009

Check out this video of K' Naan performing "Wavin' Flag," the anthom for the 2010 World Cup games. The Somali-born rapper grew up in Toronto.

name="allowscriptaccess" value="always">allowfullscreen="true" width="400" height="252">

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Call of the Gold Rush

By Anthony Vasquez

The first Thanksgiving dinner was held nearly 400 years ago. The pilgrims were some of the first immigrants from Europe and their experiences influenced American history. This is reminiscent of the first immigrants to come to the United States from East Asia. They too have contributed to our rich society.

The Chinese were the first, arriving in large numbers around 1850. Drought in southern China pushed many villagers to seek out new opportunities away from home. The news of the discovery of gold in California made its way to China and thousands decided to take the risk to get rich in the USA.

Picture of buildings in San Francisco's Chinatown

The early Chinese entered the United States in San Francisco. This is the Chinatown there. (Photo

In 1850s and 1860s California, many worked as domestic servants, opened up restaurants and laundries, or became gold miners. Another popular job was construction work on the Central Pacific Railroad, which in 1869 was connected with the union Pacific to form the countries first transcontinental railway. The Chinese worked long days, 30 to 35 workers per group, or tong. According to Eloise Paananen and George Tsui, this is what they ate:

Each tong had a Chinese cook who served a healthy diet of dried bamboo sprouts, seaweed, mushrooms, salt cabbage, and five kinds of vegetables. They had Chinese bacon, poultry, and cuttlefish, abalone, dried oysters, and four kinds of dried fruit, sugar, sweet rice crackers, vermicelli, peanut oil, tea, and rice. They drank only tea made from boiled water that carriers brought in several times a day.

In his book roughing It, Mark Twain wrote positively of the new immigrants. “They are quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist.”

It may be that because of their work ethic native-born politicians moved to exclude Chinese immigrants’ participation in political affairs. Among the many unfair conditions Chinese lived through then, their testimonies were not admissible in courts and their children were allowed to attend a public school only if white parents at said school consented to it.

In 1882, the U.S. government passed a law greatly limiting Chinese immigration. Regulations were tightened in 1892. Here is how lee Chew, an immigrant from southern China’s Guangdong province sums it up in a 1903 article in the Independent magazine:

The treatment of the Chinese in this country is all wrong and mean. It is persisted in merely because China is not a fighting nation. The Americans would not dare to treat Germans, English, Italians or even Japanese as they treat the Chinese, because if they did there would be a war.

That was in the late 1800s. Fast-forward to today and the picture has changed for the better. There are nearly three million people of Chinese ancestry living in the United States holding jobs in all sectors of the economy and many Chinese students thrive in our education system. This is a reminder of a people’s perseverance to endure in tough environments and strive for success.

Related Links+

Roughing It by Mark Twain by way of the Library of Congress
Mark Twain's Observations of Chinese Immigrants
Last updated July 14, 2003

American Waves by way of The World and I
The Chinese in America
By Eloise Paananen and George Tsui
January 1987

Chinatown San Francisco
History of San Francisco Chinatown

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Japanese Health Care

By Anthony Vasquez

In the American health care debate, some reformers point to other countries’ medical models for guidance. Along with the United Kingdom, France and Germany, some say Japan’s medical health insurance system looks like a good model to copy.

The United States: Health care is about 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Employer-purchased insurance is the norm. Some people buy individualized plans. Public programs are in place for the very poor. Federally-funded Medicare covers people over 65 and some people with disabilities. Estimates put the number of uninsured Americans at around 47 million. Last night, the U.S. Senate agreed to debate health care reform.

Japan: Japan’s system comprises about 8 percent of GDP and coverage is said to be universal. Japanese pay about half as much as Americans for care. The government sets prices for health services and prescription drugs, limits doctor fees and bans insurance companies from making large profits and denying claims.

Insurance is compulsory. Employers purchase insurance for their workers, or one buys into a public plan. People can pick their own primary care physicians and specialists. This, plus healthier eating habits and lower crime rates have allowed Japanese to have a life expectancy of 82.5 years.

But as with most things, there are tradeoffs. Doctors in hospitals are underpaid compared to their
counterparts working in private clinics. There is a shortage of obstetricians, anesthesiologists and emergency room specialists. Japanese experts attribute this to low pay, long hours and high stress.

As Japan’s population continues to age, the model looks unsustainable. Projections put the number of Japanese 65 or older at 40 percent by 2050.

Related Links+

Japan Society
The Japanese Medical System
By About Japan editors
October 29, 2009

Washington Post
Health Care in Japan: Low-cost For Now
By Blaine Harden and contribution by Akiko Yamamoto
September 7, 2009

American Medical Student Association
Overview of the U.S. Health Care System
By Kao-Ping Chua
February 10, 2006
The original is an Adobe PDF file, this is the HTML converted by Google.

The Sydney Morning Herald
The Granny state – Japan’s life expectancy boom
By Justin McCurry
July 10, 2004

A video from PBS about the Japanese health care system. (3:08)

name="allowscriptaccess" value="always">allowfullscreen="true" width="400" height="252">

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Obama in Asia

By Anthony Vasquez

President Barack Obama arrived in Japan Friday to kick off his nearly week-long Asia trip.

In all, Obama will visit four countries: Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. He met with Japanese prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

He has now left Singapore and is in China. In Singapore he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, and a meeting of all the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This is the first time that a U.S. president met with all ASEAN heads of state, including Burmese prime minister Thein Sein. Obama urged the Burmese leadership to release opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for 14 of the past 20 years.


  • Tokyo Nov. 13-14: Speech on further engagement with Asia and meeting with prime minister

  • Singapore Nov. 15: APEC summit, ASEAN meeting, meet with Singaporean prime minister lee Hsien Loong and separate meeting with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev

  • Shanghai Nov. 16: Town hall meeting with Chinese youth, meeting with mayor Han Zheng

  • Beijing Nov. 17-18: Meets with president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao, site-seeing

  • Seoul Nov. 19: Meets with president Lee Myung-bak and U.S. troops based there

Obama and Medvedev both demonstrated growing impatience with Iran over its nuclear program. Direct talks between Washington and Tehran began last October, but no meaningful gains on discouraging Iran to abandon nuclear weapons have been made.

Top issues to be discussed with Asian leaders will include the current state of the global economy and regional security. No major breakthroughs on the climate change front are expected. China and the United States are now the No. 1 and No. 2 carbon dioxide emitters worldwide, respectively.

Whitehouse officials say that issues Obama will raise with Chinese leaders this week include North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, human rights and climate change. North Korea’s nuclear program is of concern to many nations in the region, especially China and South Korea, which border the country. Pakistan and Afghanistan share a border with China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region

Related links+

The Wall Street Journal
Concerns Rise Around Obama Trip
By Jonathan Weisman
November 15, 2009
Includes "Obama Loses Patience with Iran" Reuters video (2:00).

Foreign Policy's The Cable Blog
Obama's Asia itinerary revealed
By Josh Rogin
November 9, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Japanese Protest U.S. Presence on Okinawa

By Anthony Vasquez

More than 20,000 people on the Japanese island of Okinawa protested the decades-long presence of U.S. troops there on Monday Nov. 9.

Okinawa, sometimes refered to as the United States’ “unsinkable aircraft carrier”, hosts more than a dozen U.S. military installations. On Monday in the city of Ginowan, the protest centered on the Futenma air base, which is next to a school. More than 70 percent of Okinawans oppose the base.

Ginowan mayor Yoichi Iha said, “Okinawa has suffered for too long.”

Okinawans protest U.S. troops based on the island

Okinawans protest U.S. troops based on the island. In 2008, news surfaced that a U.S. Marine raped an Okinawan girl. (Photo from Japan Probe).

Okinawa was annexed by Japan in the late 19th century. The United States occupied the territory during World War II. Japanese sovereignty was restored in 1972.

U.S. President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama visits Asia this month. His first stop is Tokyo, the Japanese capital. (Photo from the White House).

The issue of U.S. troops in Japan will likely be on the agenda during President Barack Obama’s visit to Tokyo this weekend when he is scheduled to meet newly-elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

About 50,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Japan, America’s closest ally in the region. some in Japan’s national government want all American troops out of the country, but for the short-term, this is mere wishful thinking.

Related Links+

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Japanese protest against US military presence
By Mark Willacy
November 9, 2009

The Associated Press by way of CBS News
U.S. Base Should Stay On Okinawa: Gates
By Lara Jakes
October 20, 2009

Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus by way of Britannica Online
The Okinawan Alternative to Japan's Dependent Militarism
By Gavan McCormack
October 20, 2008

Japan Probe
Do U.S. Troops in Japan Need Babysitters?
Posted On Japan Probe
February 16, 2008

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Disneyland goes to China

By Anthony Vasquez

The Chinese government has approved a Disney park in Shanghai, China’s largest city. This will be Disney’s sixth park. It is expected to open in five to six years.

The initial theme park—not including hotels and other infrastructure—will cost around $4 billion. If plans to build shopping areas and other resorts on the site about 20 miles from Shanghai proper are successful, the complex will rival Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Host to about 45 million visitors annually. The deal has far-reaching implications for China.

Not only does the deal pave the way for one of the largest foreign investments in China, it is also a sign that the government is willing to allow a greater presence of foreign culture in the country. The government has traditionally tried hard to limit the extent of foreign culture. For example, every year, only 20 non-Chinese movies are allowed to be shown in theaters.

The idea of a Disney park in Shanghai has been in the works among Chinese leaders for almost 20 years. In 1990, Zhu Rongyi, former Shanghai mayor and Chinese premier, visited Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

In 2005, a Disney park opened in Hong Kong, but special permission is required for mainland Chinese to go there. That, along with public relations problems and criticisms that the park is too small has dented the park’s reputation.

Roughly 2,000 families that live in the rural land that is to become Shanghai’s Disneyland will have to relocate.


NPR's Morning Edition
Disney: China Approves Shanghai Theme Park
by Louisa Lim
November 4, 2009

The New York Times
China Approves Disney Theme Park in Shanghai
By Brooks Barnes
November 3, 2009

The Wall Street Journal
Beijing Backs Disney Shanghai Park
By Ethan Smith and James T. Areddy
November 3, 2009

Check out this video from ITV.

name="allowscriptaccess" value="always">allowfullscreen="true" width="400" height="252">

About East Asia News Briefs

By Anthony Vasquez

About the Blog: This blog will inform and entertain viewers curious about what's happening in East Asia, particularly China, South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

At least once a week, I will write on topics of social and political relevance in the region. And if I come across anything where there's a U.S. connection, then I will touch on that too.

Political map of East Asia

Enjoy the political map of East Asia!