[GOING TO THE BLOGS]In the blogs, opinions run riot

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[GOING TO THE BLOGS]In the blogs, opinions run riot

We begin a weekly digest of English-language Web blogs, or “blogs,” related to Korea, beginning with a description of the universe we proposed to survey. ― Ed.
They can be personal or polemical. They devote space to everything from drives in Gangwon province to the minutiae of free trade negotiations. They go by names such as “Dram Man,” “Budae-chigae,” and even “Big Hominid’s Hairy Chasms.” And they provide a space where a Korean-American student in the U.S. can discuss inter-racial relationships with a Western lawyer living in Seoul.
English-language blogs about Korea, like their counterparts around the world, have grown up fast. Just a few years ago, “debates” among Korea’s expat community were little more than rants on editorial pages or unfiltered spleen on e-mail lists such as “Moogoonghwa.” “It was the blind leading the blind,” says “Oranckay,” a blogger and a long-time American resident of Korea. Five years later, there are about 270 Korea-related English-language blogs.
Subject matter is diverse. Many English teachers, naturally enough, are drawn to blogs such as “EFL Geek” to read classroom anecdotes and share teaching tips. Personal diary-type blogs abound, as do blogs offering their tuppeny’s worth on Korean life and society in general (“Ruminations in Korea”), or on single issues, such as the “North Korea Zone.”
A lot of blogs are poor, but the best display an impressive breadth of knowledge and a dedication to their craft. Some bloggers speak Korean.
Take Robert Koehler, who runs “The Marmot’s Hole,” the most widely read Korea-related blog. Often using sources that he translates from Korean, Mr. Koehler typically posts 3-4 musings a day on Korean politics and social affairs. He’s unpaid, so why does he do it?
“I wanted a place to jot down my thoughts,” he says. “But also, many foreigners believe that all Koreans think in the same way. This is partly because much of the diversity of Korean opinion just isn’t translated into English. So I wanted to make stuff available that isn't in the Korea Times.” No one who visits blogs such as Mr. Koehler’s, however, could come away thinking that all Koreans, much less all foreigners, are of one mind regarding Korea: Issues such as anti-Americanism, conditions for foreigners in Korea and, especially, disputes with Japan over Dokdo Island and history textbooks cause inflamed and sometimes vicious disagreement.
The sheer number of blogs ensures that almost no issue escapes the attention of Korea’s “pajama-clad scribes,” in The Economist’s memorable phrase. The average Korean would surely be bewildered to learn that a post last week on a blog called “The Iceberg” chronicled the evolution of club dancing in Korea, from choreographed group dances in the mid-90s to the raunchier “Boobi Boobi Dance” today.
Whether the “Boobi Boobi Dance” would have made it onto a blog run by a woman is another matter, and that’s a limitation of the English-language blogosphere here: It is predominantly the domain of American men. Why? For one thing, there are more Americans here than natives of other English-speaking countries, and men may just more interested in computers and politics than women. “Kushibo,” another American blogger, has another explanation: “We’re just quicker to express our opinions, I guess.”
The opinions of bloggers are just part of the story. Visitors to Korea-related blogs are a diverse bunch and leave comments that are by turn thought-provoking, deeply offensive, hilarious, petulant and occasionally highly prescient. Known for his ― ahem ― colorful opinions, a commentator calling himself “Baduk,” for instance, argued on the Marmot’s Hole and elsewhere that Hwang Woo-suk was a fraud long before Seoul National University started investigating the doctor’s indiscretions. In short, Korea-related blogs can offer essential, up-to-the-minute insight or the most scurrilous prattle ― a compelling mixture.

by Niels Footman
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