Saturday, July 16, 2011

Proofreading the White Paper on North Korean Human Rights

It's that time of year again - when it falls to me to proofread the English edition of the annual White Paper on North Korean Human Rights put out by our institute. It's about 350 pages of about the most depressing stuff you can imagine. On top of that, I'm never given quite enough time to do it, so consequently I have to read through it all as fast as I possibly can.
My work, cut out for me
None of this material is particularly new to me, but scanning through reams of the stuff at a dizzying pace all day long has a very numbing effect on my brain. There are public executions, tortures, forced abortions, whole families shipped off to work in mining camps - pretty rough stuff. Periodically I stumble out of my cubicle, bleary-eyed and ashen-faced, to get myself another cup of coffee.

It reminds me of that scene in the Fifth Element, when the title character is using her superpowers to absorb all of human history from an online encyclopedia in a few hours. She does fine until she gets to the Ws and hits the entry for "War" - then her eyes go wide as she scans rapidly through horrifying archival photos of battlefield atrocities, until she abruptly decides to cancel her mission to save the world. (For me that is one of the least believable scenes of the film - she got all the way to "W" before being disgusted by humankind? Really?)

Luckily for me, 98% of it has already been translated by a Korean native speaker. I just have to read it and clean up the mistakes, and translate a few sections that were added later. Actually I don't have to read the whole thing, just the newly added parts. The sections that haven't been changed are in a different font and I'm told I can skip them. However, just in scanning through I've noticed a lot of typos, poorly constructed sentences, and grammatical errors as well as a number of cut and paste errors that have mysteriously appeared since last year in the supposedly "untouched" older sections. If I'm to take credit for proofreading this, it would look bad to leave so many errors in the old sections, so I'd like to correct those parts too if time permits. Thus I'm working all weekend to get through it as fast as possible.

On the plus side, I am getting paid extra. Also, spending my days reading stuff like this tends to make me less inclined to get upset about little stresses or disappointments in my own life.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

North Korea's incredible typo-free reporting

As a professional copy-editor, I was intrigued by this recent article on Ju Sung Ha's excellent blog, 북한RT (North Korea Real Talk), on the subject of why copy-editing is such a dangerous job in North Korea.  Ju Sung Ha is a North Korean defector and a reporter for the Donga Ilbo, so he knows what he is talking about on this subject. I decided to translate the article here for your enjoyment. (If there is an interest in this sort of thing, I may translate more of such articles when I have time to spare).

North Korea's secret to error-free newspapers?
By Ju Sung Ha 2011/07/13

Of all the world's newspapers, which one is has the fewest typographical errors?

Of course it is impossible for one person to check all the newspapers in the world, but if this question were put to me I would unhesitatingly reply "North Korea's Rodong Shinmun."

The reason for this is that few other newspapers in the world undergo as many phases of proofreading as the Rodong Shinmun.

The reason I say there are "few" rather than "none" is that, as explained above, I am unable to survey every newspaper in the world. I don't know, China's People's Daily may also have a very thorough copy-editing system.

However clearly North Korea has the strictest standard of punishment in the event that a mistake goes uncorrected. If an editor mistakenly allows an error in an article about Kim Jong Il to go through, he or she is sent off straightaway for "revolutionary re-education (혁명화)."

"Revolutionary re-education" means strenuous manual labor at a work camp; in other words, they get demoted from a fairly comfortable office job to menial labor or farm work. In some cases they are eventually reinstated, but most of them live out the rest of their lives as poor farm workers.

One defector who had worked at a publishing company in North Korea reports of a patricularly glaring incident in which "Kim Il Sung Wonsunim" (Great Leader Kim Il Sung) was mistakenly written "Kim Il Sung Wonssunim." In the North Korean dialect a "wonssu" is someone against whom one has a serious grudge due to some past injury. Luckily the error was discovered just before printing and disaster was averted.

Another time a smaller newspaper printed "Rodong Shinmun" as "Rodong Shinshin." As a result the editor-in-chief was sent off for six months of revolutionary re-education.

Since even small newspapers are subjected to this level of punishment, it's fair to say that a mistake in the Rodong Shinmun would be tantamount to disaster. In that paper it is hard to find even the simple spacing errors that are common in South Korean newspapers, much less any typographical errors.

It would be fair to consider North Korean newspapers as reference materials for the correct rendering of North Korean language. Not only newspapers but magazines and other printed materials also undergo an equally rigorous editing process.

South Korean newspapers generally undergo four stages of editing. First the reporter edits his or her own work, then it passes across the desks of the senior editor and the department head. Finally a team of Korean language experts give the article a final look before publication. Even after passing through all four steps, when the article appears in the next day's paper mistakes are quickly discovered.

The Rodong Shinmun's proofreading system requires several additional levels of editing beyond what is done at South Korean newspapers. First, the printing room has its own editing team. Articles continue to undergo editing after being sent to the printing room.

If an error is discovered during printing the presses are stopped. The persons in charge of each phase of editing are specifically named, so if an error is discovered those persons are directly held accountable in deciding where to impose punishment.

At a South Korean newspaper, whenever the presses are stopped to correct an error several million won are lost. Therefore, unless an extremely urgent article must be inserted or a serious mistake is found, it is prohibitively expensive to do so. If millions of won were wasted just to correct one small error, there would be hell to pay.

But North Korean newspapers have no such consideration. If an error is discovered the presses are stopped, without exception. The printing room editing process is not the end.
After the newspaper is printed it is reviewed once again. This process is called post-review. If a mistake is discovered in post-review, the hundreds of thousands of already printed papers are all scrapped and the paper is re-printed.

In the case of foreign-language materials that are sent abroad for propaganda purposes, there was one instance reported by several defectors in which a mistake was discovered after the materials had been delivered to North Korean embassies in various countries; a huge shipping bill was paid to have all the copies sent back to North Korea.

Such things are possible only in North Korea. They are only possible if one views the purpose of the press as propaganda rather than journalism. It is only in North Korea, where even the smallest error is unforgivable if it relates to the prestige and dignity of the leader, and where the value of propaganda is not calculated in terms of money, that such a system can exist.

There is another secret to North Korean newspapers' error-free record; namely, a production system with very few pages, many reporters, and no pressure to meet deadlines. The Rodong Shinmun prints just six sheets per day.

By contrast, the major South Korean newspapers typically average 50 sheets per day. Even considering the space in South Korean newspapers taken up by advertising, the amount of content in the Rodong Shinmun is dramatically less. The other North Korean newspapers print only 4 sheets.

Yet the Rodong Shinmun employs about 600 reporters and editors. Considering that the editorial departments of the major South Korean newspapers each employ only about 300 people, this is a remarkable number. Therefore even those who are employed as reporters for the Rodong Shinmun still may only rarely get their articles published.

On top of this, the Rodong Shinmun also has several hundred "Rodong correspondents" stationed in various parts of the country who also contribute articles. While these people are not official Rodong Shinmun reporters, they send in local interest stories and such in their spare time in addition to their regular jobs. They are "correspondents" in a very literal sense.

A Rodong correspondent might publish an article once a year. Those of exceptional talent who get published more frequently stand out conspicuously from the rest.

These articles are generally stories about how well local officials are doing their jobs; therefore those correspondents who get published frequently must have the trust of local officials.

In the 1990s a correspondent from a farm in Dancheon City published 3~4 articles in one year; this when some others might go for years without publishing anything.

There are many days when Rodong Shinmun receives propaganda materials from the Central Party Propaganda Department which cover several sheets. Furthermore, because they have no competitors, there is seldom any pressure to get breaking news out quickly.

Thus reporters are able to spend several days revising and cleaning up their articles. In such an environment, is it any wonder that errors are such a rarity?
The other North Korean newspapers also have many reporters and few sheets to produce. Furthermore, of the four sheets that these other papers produce generally two of them are filled by articles or materials sent out by the Rodong Shinmun. Thus the rate of error is even further reduced.

Nevertheless, as long as editing is done by humans some errors will inevitably get through. When I was living in the North I recall seeing errors in the Rodong Shinmun once or twice.

But so what if North Korea's newspapers are free of typos? It is a thousand times more important for a newspaper to communicate the news every day without manipulation, even if it is full of typographical errors.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Can a Japanese cat and a Korean dog get along? An experiment

Everyone knows that, with a few special exceptions, cats and dogs generally don't get along. It is almost equally well-known that, when it comes to matters of history, sports, and politics, Koreans and Japanese tend to fight like - well, like cats and dogs. But what happens when a cat from Japan and a dog from Korea are compelled to live in close proximity to each other for several months?

We are finding that out in our home right now. The background: last May, Unni's younger sister gave birth to her third child - a healthy boy. Koreans believe it is unhealthy for a baby to be around any pets during the first year of its life, so they needed someone to take their family dog Kongi after the baby was born. Unni's nieces refused to allow Kongi to be sent to any of their other relatives who live far to the south, and they would only consent (after much kicking, screaming and crying) to allow Kongi to stay with Unni and me in Seoul.
You can take my puppy when you pry her from my cold, dead hands!
Considering that I spent most of my 20s yearning for a dog of my own, I should have been thrilled at this turn of events. The problem is that I now have a rather timid and emotionally fragile kitty, Greta, whom I took in off the streets of Kyoto as a kitten and later brought with me to Seoul.

Greta is the sort of cat who can be very affectionate with people she knows well and trusts, but she is extremely wary of strangers in the house and scampers away at the slightest movement or noise. She seems curious about other animals - she always stares at the TV with fascination whenever any animal show is on - but she hasn't been face-to-face with another animal in years and I'm not sure she's ever met a dog before. She is nearly four years old now, smallish (weighing in at just 3 kilograms), and fiercely defensive of her play tower. Also, although I've tried to teach her to be an open-minded and cosmopolitan kitty, for the first four months of her life she was raised by a family of very old-fashioned Japanese kitties, and it seems that she picked up some unfortunate prejudices about Koreans.

Greta, before and after being told that we're moving to Korea
Kongi is a sweet little four-year-old poodle whose body, when shorn of its glorious curly beige fur, appears skinny as a starved urchin's. She dislikes her dogfood but loves all kinds of fruit, and if she had her 'druthers she would play fetch continuously for 22 hours every day. She had a rough start in life; although the details are hazy, it seems she went through several homes in rapid succession before arriving at Unni's sister's home. She is understandably a bit insecure and tends to erupt in vicious barking any time she perceives a threat to her loved ones or her favorite toys. At 4.5 kilograms she has a slight weight advantage over Greta.

It was with some irony that I, a lifelong dog lover, found myself as seemingly the sole voice of reason arguing against accepting this dog into our house. I pointed out that dogs require much more attention than cats and that both Unni and I are out of the house for most of the day. I was particularly concerned because of Unni's somewhat excessive aversion to pet-related filth (she was appalled the first time Greta wandered into the bathroom without putting on the bathroom slippers, and she apparently believes that most common colds are caused by exposure to cat hair) and the likelihood that Kongi, if left alone all day, might destroy her apartment. However there seemed to be no other alternative and, as the baby's due date approached, my misgivings gave way to a rather foolish optimism that perhaps having a dog around might prove to be a good experience for Greta.

Thus we decided to give it a try for a month or so. For the first few days I kept Greta in my bedroom with the door shut, to establish that as "Greta's space," while Kongi got settled in the living room. After several days we opened the door, keeping a low wire fence in place, to give them a chance to see and smell each other through the bars.

Greta was clearly very irked by Kongi's presence and refused to go anywhere near the barrier. Kongi rather quickly overcame her initial trepidation and parked herself by the gate, staring under the bed where she knew Greta was hiding.

Internally, Kongi's loneliness and inherently friendly nature were at war with her strong nationalism and historical antipathy towards Japan. She would stand at the fence whining piteously and rattling the gate like a restless convict, begging for Greta to come out and play. But whenever Greta came into view, creeping out from under the bed to use her potty or eat some food, Kongi would instinctively burst into a volley of barks and snarls, apparently overwhelmed by a flood of memories of Japan's historical crimes triggered by the sight of the imperialist kitty.

Understandably, Kongi's schizophrenic behavior failed to melt Greta's icy contempt for her species and nation. Confronted with such hostile rhetoric and slanderous historical allusions, Greta would scamper to the top of her kitty tower and glare down in condescension upon the inferior creature, her tail flared out to maximum poof.

After several days of this we got impatient and started trying to force them together by sitting down together with the animals held tightly in our arms and slowly moving them towards each other, but after a brief sniff this usually resulted in Greta hissing and Kongi barking savagely until I allowed Greta to run off and glare at Kongi from the safety of her room.

Do you feel lucky, punk?
Then, through the magic of the internet, I found out about Feliway cat pheremone diffusers, which are supposed to help ease cats' anxiety by making them believe that they've scent-marked everything in the house. They don't sell them in Korea or even ship them here, but I had my mom send some from the US. The first time I plugged in the diffuser, I tragically underestimated the effects of higher voltage Korean electrical outlets on US appliances, causing a serious meltdown:

I wouldn't have let it go this far, except the instructions assured me that "New diffusers may smell slightly when first plugged-in, just as an electrical heater might when dust has collected on it."

Luckily mom had sent two pheremone vials, and the the diffuser itself was not seriously damaged, so after borrowing a transformer from a friend I gave it another try. The pheremones actually did seem to calm Greta down quite a bit, though of course they have no effect on Kongi. Now, as long as the gate is in place, Greta is content to lounge on the bed even when Kongi is staring at her from the doorway.

When we are away during the day, we leave the door open but the gate in place, so they can see each other but not touch. Once I get home from work it is impossible to keep them separate and pay equal attention to both, so I usually open the gate and let Kongi into Greta's space until Unni gets home. As soon as I let Kongi in Greta scampers up her tower again, but after several weeks she is gaining courage. She will sometimes climb down and give Kongi a few swipes of her paw before retreating back up her tower again. I can even get them to sit quietly at opposite ends of the bed, as long as I am between them and they know they will not be allowed to fight.

Over time, their automatic fighting instinct seems to be waning. They still fight whenever they get close, but they never come in direct physical contact and the fighting seems to be getting less vicious. Their fights consist of hisses and paw swipes from Greta, barks and lunges from Kongi.

When they fight like this, my mother instinct is to protect my precious baby from the big scary doggie. But by this point I know she is capable of defending herself, and the only way they will ever learn to accept each other is if I let them slug it out. So when they start going at it I just have to stand by and watch, heart in my throat, until eventually one of them backs away.

Greta and Kongi discussing a questionable call in
the final game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Initially we agreed to take Kongi only for one month, just to give Unni's sister some time to rest after her surgery. It's been over two months now and no one is talking about sending Kongi back. Unni seems to have progressed light-years in her acceptance of a less-than-spotless home. She has come to accept that she cannot be there to wipe Kongi's butt after every BM (although she tried at first), and she ignores whatever dirt Kongi may track in from the bathroom or the veranda. We resolved the problem of dogs not having shoes to take off at the door by arranging to wipe Kongi's feet with wet tissues after she comes in from her walk.

I've been enjoying having a dog to play with; when I'm walking with Kongi people completely forget that I'm a foreigner, and kids who would have crossed the street to avoid me before now run up to me and ask all sorts of questions about my dog.

Greta and Kongi continue to watch each other from a safe distance. Every once in a while their Cold War breaks out into a brief round of fighting, but no bodily harm has been inflicted on either side. I can't help but see the parallels between their relationship and the entrenched Japan-Korea rivalry, which makes me even more determined to forge some sort of detente between the two; if a Japanese cat and a Korean dog can learn to co-exist peacefully, then maybe there is hope for their human counterparts. On the other hand, given the slow pace of their progress to date, this view may be hopelessly optimistic.

To be continued???

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gukka Daepyo

All day yesterday, the news programs ran the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics story on a continuous loop, cycling through Kim Yuna's speech before the IOC, the old white guy flipping over the card reading "Pyeongchang", Kim Yuna shedding tears of joy, various people reacting to the news around the country, and back to Kim Yuna's speech again.

Rather coincidentally, Unni and I spent the evening wining and dining an authentic Korean Olympic athlete. The nephew of one of Unni's friends from Daejon is "gukka daepyo" (national team member) on the South Korean rowing team who competed in both the Beijing Olympics and last year's Asian Games in Guangzhou. He was in Seoul for some sort of medical treatment and needed a place to stay for the night, so he crashed at our place. Unni summoned me directly to her studio after work to help her entertain our young guest.

The hands of an Olympic rower

First we had a lengthy meal at an all-you-can-eat sashimi restaurant called Dokdo, where for 22,000 won per person you can enjoy an unlimited supply of tuna sashimi in the peculiar half-frozen Korean style, plate after plate of it until you eventually either explode or give up and waddle away.

Then we partied until late into the night at the home of Unni's friend Jongshil, whom we happened to meet on the street. Jongshil is a successful businesswoman who manages several branches of a popular coffee chain, a job which apparently leaves her with plentiful income and a lot of free time.

Her husband is an Asiana pilot who, like most Korean commercial pilots, was formerly a career airforce officer. He showed us a plaque stating that he piloted the South Korean president's exclusive jet from 1978 to 1985.

Jongshil and her husband have traveled widely, and their home is full of souvenirs from various places. They recently returned from a trip to Turkey, from which they brought back an assortment of painted ceramics (which Unni scrupulously examined), about a dozen bottles of wine, and various other souvenirs.
Stuff from Turkey
Assortment of dried fruits, also from Turkey
Jongshil was eager to have us sample some of the latest batch of makkoli which she had made herself at some sort of makkoli-making school she is attending. It was quite strong and still bubbling from the yeast reaction.

Still-bubbling homemade makkoli

After we'd had enough makkoli, they cracked open some of the wine they brought back from Turkey. By this time I'd begun to feel the effects of eating and drinking pretty much continuously since I got off work.

Unni and her exotic friends (from left): the pilot, the makkoli brewer, the foreigner, Unni, and the gukka daepyo
Unni's friend Jongshil has the sort of ultra-confident and energetic personality that is both inspiring and exhausting; she is always suggesting fun excursions and is full of helpful advice which she dispenses with an air of absolute authority. In addition to managing coffee shops, brewing makkoli, traveling all over the world, and collecting a massive library of English-language novels, Jongshil also fancies herself something of an amateur practitioner of Hanihak, i.e. Korean traditional medicine.

When meeting someone for the first time, she sizes you up, seizes your wrist, takes your pulse, and then proceeds to prescribe a diet that she promises will cure any physical infirmities you may have, based on the four basic body types encoded in Korean medicine. She has declared that I have the "soyang" (lesser yang) body type, and assures me that if I eliminate chicken, onions, and garlic from my diet my hand tremor will miraculously be cured. (Such is my desperation to be freed of this tremor that I would be tempted to try her advice, if it were possible; but swearing off garlic in Korea is like trying to be a vegetarian in Mongolia).

This time she analyzed our gukka daepyo friend and concluded that in his case he must avoid coffee at all costs. "Honestly," she said, "the fact that someone of your type could become a gukka daepyo despite drinking coffee is a miracle." She then tried to make him pinkie swear that he would not touch coffee again.

At that point I changed the subject by asking Jongshil's husband if he had heard any inside gossip about the incident last month when some South Korean marines mistakenly fired their rifles at an Asiana flight thinking it was a North Korean fighter jet. He reiterated Asiana's stance, which is that the flight was on its normal inbound route and had not strayed off course.

Then we got on the subject of history when I asked him what it was like to fly for Presidents Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan. He also shared with us some interesting insights into the Kwangju massacre from his perspective as a career military man who was in active service at the time. "There are two sides to every story," he said, adding, "It was a crazy time - the commies had everyone stirred up. People forget that a lot of soldiers got killed there too."

After we finished the wine, the couple served us from their exotic collection of teas and tea accessories. Then they brought out the piece de resistance: a series of little pottery figurines from China with some peculiar properties: