I always start getting twitchy this time of year, I want to be traveling! Until my next international adventure I like to reminisce about some of the parts of the world I have been blessed to visit.
During the summer of 2008 I spent three months in Seoul, South Korea as an intern with the U.S. Meat Export Federation. It was a summer I will never forget! Not only did I travel alone, I was completely on my own for those three months in a country with unique customs and traditions, the food was like nothing I had ever experienced before, where English was not the first language, and where it was very humid (not my favorite climatic condition).
During my stay, there were daily protests about American beef and negotiations of it reentering the South Korean market, and at one point (I learned after my internship) they had thought about sending me back to the USA, as they were concerned for my safety. Despite some of these challenges, I learned so much, worked with some great people, and saw first hand how emotional and sensitive beef export/import and BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (aka: Mad Cow Disease)) was to a country.
I kept a blog about my experience during that time. Occasionally, I read through some of the posts and chuckle about the stories I shared. Here are a couple that share specific details of the experience. (PS – during my time there I had the opportunity to be a tourist too, I will share some of those experiences in another post).
On June 30, 2008 I wrote:
Well half of 2008 is already over, how time flies. Speaking of things that fly – there were lots of very hard inanimate objects flying this weekend at the protests. The protests have taken a very violent turn as you may have seen on tv. As soon as it was announced that Korea was officially open for US beef imports, the riots have escalated to a new violent height. While police were able to deter protesters from gathering in City Hall, they pushed them to rally in front of my hotel. I was peacefully napping, and it was so loud it woke me up. So I saw things were getting crazy, with fire extinguishers and yelling. When I went downstairs to try to get some photos, the hotel persons would not let me go out. Ahh safety precautions, so after a trip to the roof, and back down I was able to get out and check things out. By that time things had died down to a dull roar. It has been estimated that over 150 police officers were hospitalized (as well as some protesters), some for critical conditions (and one guy had his skull bashed in), over the weekend. And do you know what their injuries were? Broken and bruised bones due to hits from hammers, pipes, rocks, and water bottles inflicted by the protesters!!! I have asked my co-workers why does this madness continue? Why are the police not enforcing stricter behaviors? Because in the 80’s when Korea was still becoming democratic, the police were very violent to the citizens who protested; pepper spray and violence were used quite often. So the police (and gov’t officials) vowed that pepper spray would never be used again. I guess you should never say “never”! I will never understand why the police can be used as punching bags, and the citizens boo hoo if they are hit back. Perhaps if these violent rallies continue more drastic measures will have to be taken.
This weekend, in an afternoon outing I went down to City Hall. Home of the protesters. I was amazed to see all the buses that have been destroyed thus far (over 100), were parked up and down the streets, they were lined up in front of the statue leading up to the Blue House (President Lee’s house). My co-worker said that the buses have been placed there to get people to realize what is happening; to see the damage that is being done. And in some way get them to stop protesting. I am doubtful it works.
Of the 5,300 metric tons of beef that has been in storage since October 2007 (after bones were found in a shipment) only 85 metric tons have passed quarantine inspection. Things are moving so slow because 1) the protesters are wreaking havoc at the ports where the beef is stored – they are causing road blocks and doing more rallying, 2) restaurant owners and retail stores are afraid to sell/advertise they have US beef because the citizens may boycott their store/restaurant. And like I have mentioned before, it is not good enough to have US beef in retail locations, label it, and let the people choose for themselves. Korean consumers do not trust even the retail food owners because they may be mislabeling the meat. So it opens a whole new can of worms. While the US has yet to implement a traceability or COOL program; these are issues we may face when we do. Or will Americans really care where their food is coming from?
On July 10, 2008 I wrote:
Well it was official today. As of 5:00 a.m., July 10 (USA central time) beef is officially being slaughtered for Korea. So in a few short weeks US beef will be arriving here for consumption. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is. The good news is that the protests will only happen on the weekends from here on out. They have estimated that the month and half of protests have cost $2.5 billion in damages; which is in lost business, the ruined buses, hiring of extra police, restaurant and taxi business losses, etc., plus the grass at City Hall has to be replaced. And to top it off the founders of the Mad Cow group are holed up at a temple. I guess if they remain there, the police cannot come onto the temple grounds to arrest them, the only way it can happen is if the temple wants them to leave. President Lee has replaced 3 more of his cabinet in hope of trying to get public sentiment back to a reasonable level.
Burger King is under some fire now. In the US they released a statement saying that hamburgers were from cattle over 30 months of age. Well Burger King in Korea was telling people that their burgers were cattle under 30 months, so I guess the head office put their foot down, and now Korea Burger Kind has announced that yes, their burgers are from cattle over 30 months of age too. The good thing is that when we went there for lunch today, it was not busy at all.
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