Captain Japan takes you to the North Korean Restaurant in Cambodia

I’ve posted on this before and I guess it’s kind of old news, but check out Captain Japan’s gripping description of a recent visit:

Inside this 25-table eatery of hermit kingdom blandness, slim and fair-skinned North Korean waitresses sing, dance in teams, and play violin in between serving a mix of Asian fare to customers who are afforded a zoo-like peek inside the illicit dining room of Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il.

“I enjoy this job so much,” said one of the attendants, who like her comrades speaks a bit of English and Chinese, about working in Cambodia’s capital.

As cigarette smoke fills the air above each table, Korean firewater like the grain alcohol Jinro soju and draft Tiger beer are standards for washing down such menu items as beef rib soup ($10), roasted pork ribs ($9), and roasted eel ($15) – selections that do not match the mushrooms and grasses of foreign-correspondent lore, and considering a typical monthly wage for a government worker in Phnom Penh might only be $50 a month, such prices are quite high.

The stage show, which is the main attraction, starts at 8 p.m. One waitress, who like her sisters has been trained at an arts college in North Korea, will run through a karaoke number into the reverb-challenged sound system mounted on a small platform pushed into a corner. A duet, perhaps a slightly hip-shaking version of “Let it Be,” might follow. Customers are then encouraged to take their best shot at any of the thousands of English titles or Communist classics in the library. Finishing the set is a rather rousing violin and synthesizer piece.

The dance numbers get the most applause from the customers, who will pack each table on Friday and Saturday nights. With a backdrop of gold drapes adorned in tassels, the gals line up, spin and flail their arms in near perfect military-like unison to synthesizer accompaniment over a brown tiled floor.

Such uniformity seems to be stressed: shoe heels have been trimmed, giving the appearance of identical height; narrow mirrors are mounted intermittently between the windows to ensure that hair bows can be slightly adjusted while out on the floor; and housing on the property of the restaurant ensure that the girls room together. But lighter moments are possible, such as before the shop’s 11 a.m. opening, when the ladies can be seen happily folding moist towels and exercising their vocal chords.

In the northern Cambodian city of Siem Reap, where the majestic temples of the Angkor Wat complex are found, a sister restaurant operates under the same business model. And like the Phnom Penh outlet, which is slightly smaller and a year older, profits are funneled back to North Korea’s coffers. Similar properties have sprouted across Asia, including outlets in China, Thailand, and a fast-food variation in Vietnam.

Is adjusting shoe height (as Kim Jong Il is notorious for doing) some kind of virtue in North Korea? Check out the rest for awesome photos.

Here’s some video footage:

British coconuts

In this BBC article on cultural assimilation of Asians into British society, I encountered the term “coconut,” which apparently means someone who is “brown on the outside but white on the inside.” While I am familiar with similar slang terms used in such as “banana” or “twinkie” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) and “oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside) this one is new to me. Does “coconut” have any currency in other Anglophone countries besides the UK? Are my American examples also used in the UK or other countries? Do any readers know of other similar terms in use in American, British, or some other form of English? Best of all would be equivalent terms in other languages-properly translated of course.

“Elections” in North Korea

While I am sure most of you are watching the LDP get trounced by the DPJ in today’s upper house election (just as I predicted, of course), I just wanted to let you know that this isn’t the only election happening today (thanks to ZAKZAK):

Elections in North Korea, too? A Sunday election with no losers and 99.8% voter turnout.

On July 29, an election will take place in North Korea. However, with a voter turnout of 99.8%, just one candidate for each election district, and no writing implements to vote with, it would be better described as a “ceremony” than an election.

North Korea uses single-member election districts similar to Japan’s, but there is no proportional representation because of the de facto dominance by the Worker’s Party of Korea. Citizens can vote from age 17, and in this election provincial, city, and county representatives will be selected. On August 3, an election will be held to select members of the Supreme People’s Assembly (NK’s parliament), in which even dictator Kim Jong Il (age 65) will run as a candidate. Kim has won a consecutive 5 terms in office starting in 1982 (but of course, none of the “candidates” ever actually lose in this election).

An unnamed private researcher explains: “The election form says ‘I vote affirmatively to make X a representative’ and if the voter agrees, he/she simply places the vote in the box. The rules state that you are to place an X on the election form if you disagree, but they do not provide any writing implements at the election office.”

There are supposedly more than 600 members of the SPA, but the election districts are listed by number and do not specify which region the candidate is supposed to represent. Neither are voters informed who the candidates are before the election, so it makes no difference to the voters who is in office.

Kim’s election district changes each time: for example, in 1998 he ran in the “Korean People’s Army 666th Electoral District.”

Kazuo Miyazuka, a professor at Yamanashi Gakuin University who is familiar with NK’s internal situation, notes “Since 100% of the voters vote affirmatively, this is not an election at all. It is a chance to test whether the people will faithfully participate and is used as a way to dominate the people.”

The Mideast envoy?

The following is a brief exchange from this video, beginning at around 4:20.

Narrator: Who is the Antichrist?

Woman:  He will be charismatic but he will also be a man of peace, so he will be one who has promoted peace for many years.

Man: There is gonna be a peace treaty, but that’s a false peace treaty. Eventually when The Lord comes back, that’ll take care of it.

Mustachioed man: The one who forces Israel into a peace treaty with the Arabs is the one who is- you have to watch out for.

Narrator: Is the beast.

Mustache man: Right.

So, if Tony Blair succeeds in his new job, that makes him the Antichrist?

Germany’s hate on Scientologists

Some readers may have been wondering exactly why Germany hates them so much. And while Slate doesn’t exactly answer the question, today’s column does make a half-hearted attempt.

Some German officials believe Scientology’s ideology is rooted in a kind of political extremism—a bit of a sensitive area for Germany since World War II. They also argue that Scientology is not a religion but a business, since local churches operate like franchises of the main organization.

How much do they hate Scientology in Germany? Well, aside from a ban (later overturned ) on Tom Cruise from filming at German military site, there was also the following statement made against him.

Thomas Gandow, 60, chief spokesman on religious cults for the German Protestant Church, described Scientology as a “totalitarian organisation” and said that Mr Cruise had become “the Goebbels of Scientology”.

Germany also apparently considered forcing Microsoft to debundle the Diskkeeper anti-fragmentation software from Windows 2000, not for anti trust reasons, but because the company who licensed the product to Microsoft is Scientology-led.

Another fringe religion (although probably a much larger one) getting a lot of attention recently is Mormonism. It is a widely known piece of computer history trivia that the late, great Wordperfect was created by Mormon, and despite the shaky reputation that Mormonism has in some quarters, as far as I know there was never any particular controversy over using software developed by them.

Bonus trivia: Bruce Bastian, one of the two original Mormon developers of Wordperfect, later came out as gay and now devotes his time and fortune to gay activism.

Gaijin cards for illegal immigrants?

I was looking up some statistics on the Ministry of Justice website tonight and, just for kicks, decided to take a look at their “How to Interpret a Gaijin Card” poster. I noticed this rather odd item on page two: it’s possible to get a gaijin card even if you don’t have a status of residence. Odd, because the only way to get to Japan without a status of residence is to hide on a boat or an airplane.

The MOJ’s explanation (in the fine print to the right) is that foreigners have to register even if they have no status of residence. Of course, foreigners have to have a status of residence just to be in Japan (even if it is as a “temporary visitor” on a visa waiver).

So I’m puzzled: why bother issuing gaijin cards to people who shouldn’t be in the country in the first place?

Education ministry probes ‘degree mills’

When I first read this headline, I actually thought it was actually saying that the MoE would be investigating universities in Japan that grant students degrees without requiring them to either attend classes regularly or show any particular level of academic achievement, but on closer inspection that turned out not to be the case.

The education ministry has started an investigation into whether diplomas obtained at unaccredited overseas academic institutions known as “degree mills” have played a part in recruiting faculty at Japanese universities, ministry officials said Monday.

The probe covers personnel departments of national, municipal and private universities across Japan. The ministry plans to disclose its findings by this fall.

Recently some university prospectuses have listed teaching staff whose qualifications were obtained from such overseas institutions.

The ministry has asked universities to report back on whether they have ever hired academics on the basis of credentials that were later found to be bogus, and whether those credentials were unwittingly featured in school promotional literature or on Web sites.

Certainly verification of instructors’ credentials is helpful in  assuring quality education, but I’m still a bit disappointed this wasn’t an announcement of reforms aimed at improving some of the chronic problems allegedly present in most Japanese institutions higher education. Readers who lack any direct experience with university in Japan but are interested might want to check out the book Japanese Higher Education as Myth, by Brian J. McVeigh. McVeigh’s general tone, as one might guess from the title, is rather cynical and indicting, and his book suffers from a severe lack of balance (i.e. showing any positive examples of schools where students may actually do some work, such as the national universities or the better private ones, or the excellent research conducted in many places) but it also remains one of the few easily accessible and well known sources on the issue in English.

McVeigh would undoubtedly endorse a description of most (from his jaded perspective, perhaps even all) Japanese universities as “degree mills.” Who agrees or disagrees?

NPR on fake Harry Potter sequel

For the many thousands of readers who can’t get enough of fake Harry Potter, NPR’s Morning edition had a story on Chinese sequel-legging for their July 13 broadcast. And no, they don’t mention either of the two presented here.

Also, don’t forget the truly awe-inspiring Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese Translation web site, which gives detailed comparisons of the Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese translations of the novels. Fascinating reading for hardcore fans of the series (particularly those with some knowledge of one or more of the languages treated), and truly essential reading for any translators familiar with the world of Harry Potter.

The ultimate sequels aka Asia loves you,哈利波特

To tie in with the world-wide media extravaganza that is the release of the final volume of the megaselling Harry Potter series, today I would like present scans from three lesser known sequels in my collection.

First is the China exclusive 2002 release, Harry Potter and the Filler of Big, a title made only slightly less mysterious when one realizes that the Chinese title translates rather more accurately into Harry Potter and the Big Funnel, although you’ll need someone with better Chinese than mine to describe the plot of this gloriously audacious illegally published novel-length fanfiction.

Continue reading The ultimate sequels aka Asia loves you,哈利波特