Category Archives: Korea

Prohibition of Marijuana

The Korea Times “report” that triggered this letter is poorly written and a waste of your time. but you can track it down if you want to see why I felt I had to respond.


Cannabis is coming; can Korea catch the wave?

Korean national policy regarding the legal status of marijuana as, alternately, an intoxicant and a medication, and their future role in Korean agricultural economy, must undergo change in the near future. Legal recreational use of marijuana in the US states of Washington and Colorado is a done deal, and although attempts to roll it back continue, they appear less likely to succeed with each scintillating report of growing profits and tax yields from sales.
Simply put, the combination of growing interest in utilitarian products made of hemp fiber, and the combination of recreational and medical consumption of an ever-widening range of cannabinol (get you high drug) and cannabidiol (relieves your ailment with no high) drug products has become so robust that when the movement is fully developed, it will transform every society that embraces it.
What is Korea to do, then? The nation bought into the false picture painted by US demonizers of the plant, and lodged marijuana with those natural and pharmaceutical drug substances like opium and amphetamine and their derivatives. Once so grouped, strong legal penalties for use, and the promulgation of cultural taboos such as attach to any forbidden item, were made strong, sweeping and draconian.
Why all this fuss over a plant that over decades of prohibition, despite collecting millions of enthusiastic users, has yet to be blamed directly for the death of a single person? Compare this to the same statistic for alcohol or tobacco and any reasonable person should get a glimpse of marijuana’s future (and explanation of its past) now the facts about it become more widely known.
It’s understandable that, where so much official and press puffery and bombast have been launched against marijuana since its criminalization was urged upon other nations by the US, no Korean policymaker is likely to be the first to come forward and say, “Look, we need to talk about this.” One’s political game is motivated by the urgency of getting reelected. Giving one’s opponents ammunition, in the form of support for changes in Korean anti-drug laws, even if convinced of the wisdom of it, might still cost one the office.
Unless a public movement builds in support of public discussion about the legal status of a common plant that should never have been banned in the first place, Korea stands to miss a golden opportunity to expand its agricultural and medical sectors, and to gain a step on the inevitable global economic movement that will result from the decriminalization of cannabis. It’s economic potential is a big part of what lies at the heart of opposition to it from alcoholic beverage and pharmaceuticals industries. There is no question that legal weed will shrink their bottom lines, and that will be a good thing.
The point of origin for pressure on the Korean political community to do this is the agricultural sector. Even if marijuana continues to be banned for use by Koreans, farmers should be permitted and encouraged to start the process of creating a grow-for-export sector, with strong support for research and development. If we work openly to ensure that Korea becomes one of the earliest advanced producers of top-quality cannabis products, especially medical cannabidiol, and a robust medical research program to go with it, Koreans will benefit economically. There’s no reason for Korea to be left behind. All it will take is the political courage to kick it off.

Pepper Seeds

Something is tugging at my eye. It’s not unlike the way a toddler grasps the nearest familiar hem as a form of polite but insistent request for attention. “Hey, I’m down here!”.

Now is the eve of the harvest moon. Signs of the season are everywhere; the drying blooms of wayside flowers hang from stalks that droop in the lingering afternoon heat. The day is the color of near-ripe heads of rice, while in all the clandestine gardens appear fresh plantings of hardy late varieties: radish, garlic, greens. Lining every thoroughfare, the riotous stands of cosmos and daisy sway in gentle breeze; first-turning deciduous leaves are appearing everywhere, to be followed soon enough by the larch needles and the robust pointy trampoline-covers of the sycamore. There is so much to see of the rewards of horticulture and harvest around us, and we inspect all of it as we walk with the dogs through our thus-variegated neighborhood surroundings.

The Old Ones know things here, big things that the young ones can’t be bothered to hear told of, lest their stride in life’s latest marathon be broken. Only old ones know how unwise it is to let any square centimeter of soil go unbroken, unplanted, unwatered and unwatched, alert against the predations of man and nature hereabouts.

The prices of household vegetables rise almost daily; the choicest ones already gone beyond the means of more and more of those who now find themselves alone in a personal season to match the cooling and desiccating weather. It is their own winding-down marathon in the industrialized, capitalized world of their long now, the making of which has consumed every part of them but their withering husks, yet they garden on. They are indomitable, almost. Their efforts still inspire and educate those of to whom they are still visible, usually those of us who follow them most closely on time’s heels. Their example reminds us, their suburbanized, apartment-packaged neighbors and offspring, that food only grows on trees purposefully planted, by hand, and not in the marketplace, but here in the margins of our being.
The Old Ones are like the picked-over chili pepper trees, compact, robust, sturdy, always having produced more fruit than their harvest accepts for taking. Now that humidity has left the air, dried up and blown away by the last typhoon of the season, the peppers mature and change color rapidly. The harvest window is a small one, so rapidly do they fill out and mellow; not all do. When they are ready, they must be harvested quickly and spread to dry. For that, a secondary processing step hastens the finish. Each fat, spice-red finger is deftly quartered lengthwise and fanned out over any flat surface of adequate size, most often a sidewalk with good solar exposure. Any roll-up sheet or mat will do to hold them, or nothing will do, where the pavement has been washed clean by sun and rain. The days are still long enough, and the rays strong enough that two or three days of it will suffice. We stand admiring a spread of mats thickly strewn with the scarlet strips on the sidewalk across the roadway that winds among the dozens of 25- and 30-story apartment blocks just beyond. I shoot a photograph of that scene, half-aware of that nagging urge or…what IS it!? … tugging at the hem of my consciousness.
Then I see it, unobtrusive, contrastive, clear as the flowers at the end of their green stalks and stems. The pepper seeds are strewn in disorder where they have fallen, forgotten, beside the reed mat on which is spread the shards of pepper already wrinkled and shrinking from irradiation. The first stiff breeze will blow the tiny papery seeds away like so much dust, if the next rain doesn’t wash them down the nearest storm drain first. Whatever may happen to them, though, I know a few will survive to germinate voluntarily in the wild, to be discovered the following season by the penniless and opportunistic gleaner at the bottom of the human food chain. I have seen these things.
I ponder the meaning of the seeds, these tiny powerhouses of nature; I remind myself that all of the seeds of a single pepper are sufficient for enough seedlings for an entire forest-in-rows of new pepper trees. Thus I am reminded that in but two generations, a single seed is capable of producing a million new pepper trees, each with the potential to yield a million times a million more. I ponder this trove of potential and remember that this reproductive capability of the pepper tree has not appeared solely as the result of Nature’s untroubled workflow. It is an enhanced fecundity produced not entirely on its own, but aided and enhanced by the hand of a thousand generations of Old Ones, whose offspring advanced with those of the peppers, both nurtured together. It was this help from the Old Ones, just as children and grandchildren are still helped, that brought these crops to be. The seeds came, too.
They must be carefully kept, both seeds and children, until the ground is properly conditioned to welcome them. They must be nourished and watered, the pests shooed and plucked and slashed and gouged away from them as they strain toward the same sun that made us all. Most of their seed, like these are, will come to little or nothing, yet more than enough will remain and thrive and ensure that their reputation for quality and uniqueness is deserved. And the peppers will make their way around the world in the same way as the people do who cannot thrive without daily sampling the peppers’ gift of tang and flavor, all of it from a single one of these tiny wisps of stuff.

Green light, Go; Red light……..Go!

Twice a year or so, a traveling group of retail concessionaires set up booths for a street fair in our apartment complex, an event mirrored at most other major complexes (ca. 5000+ apts). The best time to visit is around the hours when all the children return home from schools and hakweons, ready for something considerably more fun. The Familographer (a dynamic duo, in the present case), while exploring the setup and capturing a few photos and video for the family album, ran into an acquaintance, our friendly neighborhood mechanic, who we like because he understands TF’s obsession with keeping the old Sonata rolling until his scrotum strikes sparks on the pavement. Here’s the ensuing interview with our friend Kongeopsa Ajossi. He is explaining how the traffic light in front of his workplace came into existence as the result of a fatal accident there (motorist or pedestrian unspecified) which led local residents to picket several public offices demanding a signal be installed. The main result may be to lull the neighbors into a false sense of security. Too cynical? Judge for yourself.

Snarky don’t drive, but the Koryo troll do….

It’s embarrassing to acknowledge how slowly The Familographer catches up with current technology for capturing and disseminating information using computer and Internet. Younger, smarter users, in their drive to make of humanity the most widely interconnected organism in the history of organisms, put your old Familographer to shame here. A case in point happened this past week, but some background information is needed.

A blog that is essential among expatriate and Korean-English multilingual netizens anytime of Seoul is The Marmot’s Hole. If you want to take the pulse (or read what passes for a mind) of the community of The Outsiders (easily confused with foreigners) you will peer into the “hole” betimes. This is because said Marmot, fellow alum of the Lenny Bruce School of language relations, is assiduous in his selection of posts, based on their relevance to the Korean scene. His most endearing quality is a soft spot for classic and classy architecture, recalling the admonition of Edward Dorn to a group of poetry students at Idaho State University ca. 1963, “Architects determine to a great degree what the built environment is going to look like,” he shouted. “If poets don’t care what the world looks like, then who the hell will?”

Contents include regular posts by a small but prolific cadre of commentators on politics, current events, personalities in the news, press foibles, official boondoggle and malfeasance, inter-Korean relations, travel, gender relations (bias MCP), these and more are grist for the Marmot’s mill.

Every post attracts comments, perhaps a primary criterion for selection; The blog has achieved an enviable robustness in the mystical realm of blogosphere such that, if the writing is clear and somewhat piqued, a post will attract a few dozen comments. The comments often reveal more than the posts they address. The blog itself is eclectic, but the comments are a patchwork crazy quilt, where sublime and ridiculous are early stops en route to opposite corners of the spread. That’s the background for today’s post.

Previously, TF has called attention to the backward state of crossing signals on Korea’s streets and roads. It’s no surprise to discover that many agree, from the comments replying after The Marmot highlighted my post by linking his blog to it with a blurb. Of the nearly three dozen comments it garnered, more than a couple seized upon what they apparently perceived as an opportunity to snap off a snide reference implying it’s a Sad Sack country of half-wits, or generally so. The Marmot can himself be snide, and his blog is more interesting and entertaining because of it, but he always exercises himself in a very specific way about particular issues, not allowing the sour mood that some posts wring out of the more sanguine expatriate commenters to this and other blogs one can find. The tendency is best paraphrased, “Why can’t they be more like us?”

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing. This is not TF’s position, nor TM’s either. More than a few Korean citizens are already making the attempt to be like us, (North Americans, in this case, but the Brits and French and have their sycophants, too) There isn’t a lot of evidence that success in the effort will inevitably be accompanied by any improvement in character. Perhaps it depends on who is taken as model. Expatriates are not, ourselves, a particularly exemplary class in terms of character (forgive me). The humble Familographer finds a lot more to like about Korea, especially the Korean people, than he finds to criticize and complain about come day’s end. It isn’t a difficult place of perception to reach. Complainant need only self-address the question, “Will this world really be a better place if everyone is more like me?”

When the problem of traffic signals is eventually solved, and it will be, the chief beneficiaries will be, overwhelmingly, Korean. We have many times seen the country change condition almost overnight when the political will is joined to a campaign of mass communication on an issue. Usually, though far from always, it brings improvement. Part of the key to bringing traffic signal change is to keep the issue in the public eye. Pursuing that end, TF will take to the streets, mapping, photographing and interviewing some of those drivers, workers and residents whose lives are affected by crappy traffic signal engineering. With the help of bloggers like The Marmot, keeping attention focused on the problem, TF salutes the memory of Sam Cooke and Dr. Martin Luther King, confident that “Change gon’ come.”