A Dream Deferred

Christine, now 32, never suspected that her parents would have trouble bankrolling her college tuition. They’d immigrated from South Korea to New York in the late 1960s and launched a printing company with the help of family and friends. Giddy about the company’s rapid rise, they bought a house on a quarter-acre lot in Westchester, not far from where Bill and Hillary Clinton now live. They leased a Mercedes and a BMW and spent lavishly on their children, who were expected to go out into the American economy as strivers and achievers.

But during her freshman year at a liberal-arts college, Christine received a letter saying that a balance of $24,000 in tuition was way past due. Her parents’ company was tanking. “It would be one thing if I knew about it,” she says. “But they kept their financial troubles secret and told me never to worry about money. It was such a blow.”

She dropped out of that college in 1991 and enrolled in a state school, where she scraped by with a Pell grant and $11,000 in loans. Meanwhile, her parents slipped further down the ladder, moving to Atlanta and buying a small bagel shop. Her father hired local white kids from the neighborhood and hid in the back room, so customers wouldn’t know that Koreans owned the store. It still flopped. Forced to give up everything, her parents went from owning their own bustling company to peddling hip-hop clothes at flea markets.

Now, in addition to her $11,000 in student loans and credit card debt, Christine has taken on $10,000 of her parents’ debt. “In Korean families, children’s money is not separate from parents’ money. It’s all in one pool. I’m sure if my parents were rich, they would have been generous if I was hard up,” she says. Their debt would be easy to pay off had she gone to law school and worked at a corporate law firm. But she was too scared to risk the $100,000 in loans she’d need for school. So she stuck to dead-end jobs: a string of temp positions, a gig as an assistant at a museum, $8 an hour in a frame shop.

Today she earns $38,000 as an administrative assistant, enough to cover her rent and debt payments, but hardly enough to live out the American dream her parents uprooted their lives for.

Newcomers to the States a half-century ago used to be able to work their way up through manufacturing jobs to higher-paying positions, expecting their children to go further still, into white-collar work. But with the nation’s manufacturing base shriveling, the more recent wave of immigrants, and their young-adult children, face an economy that has been described as shaped like an hourglass. On top are the well-paying professional jobs. On bottom are the meagerly paid service jobs. The middle—formerly the stratum of skilled union jobs, among others—is uncomfortably tight.

“The new immigrants are in a very real race against time to jump from entry-level jobs, pass through that narrow center of the hourglass, and reach the professional mainstream,” wrote sociologists Alejandro Portes and Rubén G. Rumbaut in Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation. “[I]ncreasingly, many second-generation children do not make it because of the shape of that economy.”

Children of working-class immigrants must now, in the span of a few years, cross the educational gap that might once have taken several generations to bridge. Much depends on how educated the parents were, whether they came from professional backgrounds in their home countries or toiled in menial labor.

Second-generation immigrants account for nearly a third of New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 32, and a whopping 63 percent of New Yorkers under the age of 18. As a whole, the children of immigrants outperform their native-born counterparts in school. “Immigrants don’t normally have a safety net. They study harder because they know they can’t screw up, otherwise they won’t make it,” says Rumbaut. “But when they leave for college, financial constraints kick in. Even though their work ethic is high, they have to work full-time while supporting themselves in school. Many of them also have the obligation to help out their families. It starts taking a toll and they start dropping out.”

As the middle class shrinks in size and ambition, the children of working-class immigrants are finding it harder to live up to their parents’ expectations. Take the experience of Jeffrey Rosales, a 33-year-old Mexican American who works at Teachers and Writers Collaborative, a nonprofit that brings the arts to public schools. Rosales graduated with $33,000 in debt, an amount that’s hardly unusual for his generation, but for previous generations would have meant you’d bought something large and tangible, like a place to live. He’s gotten his loans down to $12,000.

“I’m the first one to have gone to college, and my parents are shocked that I’m not making six figures,” he says. “They’re shocked that I now make the same amount as they do. They actually did better. At the age of 26, they owned property and a car. Right now, all I’m saving up for is an iPod.”

The national rise in student debt—average undergraduate borrowing tops $20,000—has hiked the price of admission to mainstream, white-collar America. Twenty-four-year-old José (not his real name), exudes determination when he talks about his passion: flying. The Puerto Rican borrowed the money to attend the Aeronautical University in Florida, a private college, and to get private lessons for a pilot’s license.

Two years out of college, this son of a barber and a former postal worker owes over $100,000. He spent 2003 cleaning toilets and vacuuming airplanes in a Westchester airport, for $15,000 a year, before moving up to $18,000 a year as a flight instructor on Long Island. “I wish I could go back to graduation day and say, ‘Give me my money back,’ ” he says.

But recently, José finally landed his first job as a commercial pilot, and in some ways, he doesn’t seem fazed by his loans. When you’re six digits in the red, the debt becomes an abstraction. “These white kids have the connections, which I think matters more now than education,” he says. “I had to start from scratch.”

So did Derrick Cruz, 32, a graphic designer, who spent much of his early childhood in Puerto Rico. He was raised by his grandparents and went to school in a classroom with dirt floors. As an adult, he juggled a data-entry job and schooling, taking eight years to earn a degree from Eastern Carolina University. He also married and had a child. Even with $35,000 debt, Cruz was lucky to have graduated during the late ’90s; he immediately scored a designer job in Miami, at $42,000 a year. Hedging his bets, he moved to Hoboken on September 1, 2001, ready to take advantage of the boom economy. He has hung on ever since, right through New York City’s steep downturn and tenuous recovery.

Cruz says that for second-generation kids, the measure of success isn’t necessarily clear. “They don’t compare themselves to their parents,” he says. “They compare themselves to the best thing, the best life-style. So I compare myself to the best designer or who has the best pad. You don’t have the same expectations as your parents.”

At 32, he feels that adulthood has just begun, a sentiment that might surprise older immigrant parents. “I have friends who are in the same situation as me. We have a deadline, March 3, 2005,” he says, and smiles. “Look out for me.”


A New Voting Age for Women: 26

Even shopping at an Urban Outfitters, a retail chain that caused a small scandal this year when it created a T-shirt with the phrase “Voting is for Old People,” 25-year-old Hunter College student Judy Denby hardly fits the mold of the sheltered and indifferent slacker. To earn money for tuition, she spent two years in Kosovo, working in the U.S. Army’s payroll department. She says being in the military was “not a good experience,” and she strongly believes high-ranking officials have abused their power in Iraq.

But Denby has other strong beliefs. “I’m not voting,” she says. “It’s out of our hands. There’s nothing we can do.”

Women like Denby help to account for the 62 percent of females between the ages of 18 and 25 who didn’t show up for the last presidential election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “There is a huge number of women who are on the sidelines of democracy, and young women are on the top of those bleachers,” says Page Gardner, project co-director of the nonpartisan Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote.

Historically, younger women of all races and classes have been less likely to vote than their older counterparts, but they have at least edged out their male peers. Then a study funded in 2002 by the Pew Charitable Trust for People and Press painted a gloomier picture. It showed that only 22 percent of 20- to 25-year-old women vote regularly, versus 28 percent of men in that age group. Could it be that young women are giving up on the game?

Reasons abound for why young women don’t vote. They’re alienated from the political process. Politicians don’t connect with them personally. College life disengages them from the real world. “They are concerned,” says Brandon Holley, editor of Elle Girl, “but they’re uprooted, disorganized. Things don’t occur to them until the last minute.”

Many young women report feeling too uninformed on current events to be confident about voting. Despite her military experience, Denby doesn’t watch the news and says she doesn’t know enough. “Maybe it is ignorance, but I think there’s no difference between the two candidates,” she says.

Taylor Mitchell, 21, is working on a magazine article in which she interviewed young women from all walks of life about their opinions on the upcoming election. “I was disappointed, because anytime a girl was with someone else, they were weak with their responses, especially when they were with guys,” she says. “They would hesitate and ask their boyfriends, ‘What do I think?’ ”

This year, activists on both sides hope to spark a surge in turnout by young female voters. Working with the Dixie Chicks, Rock the Vote has launched “Chicks Rock, Chicks Vote,” a campaign that’s sending volunteers to malls, concerts, and college campuses to teach young women about voting. Bands like Sleater-Kinney, a feminist rock band, are joining with Music for America to sign voters up at their concerts. “Onstage, we sometimes encourage them to vote Bush off,” guitarist Carrie Brownstein says. “But usually we just let them know the registration stands are there. It’s better than being didactic.”

V-Day has begun its own campaign, called V is for Vote: “We have something called ‘Get your Pussy Posses to the Polls.’ Each girl is responsible for bringing friends to the voter polls,” says founder and playwright Eve Ensler.

The concerns of younger women seem to differ from those of older women only with regard to perspective. “For education, young women are concerned about mortgage-sized college debts. For older women, they’re preoccupied with education for their children,” says Christina Desser, co-director of Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote.

Desser says she expects a huge increase in voting by young women, because she’s meeting so many who are registering for the first time. Her optimism is shared by young activists like Molly Kuwachi, 19, who staged a production of The Vagina Monologues at her school and donated the proceeds to a local women’s shelter. “Look, so many of the things we took for granted are in danger, like abortion rights,” says the Connecticut College student. “Look at the March [for Women’s Lives] in Washington. Organizers didn’t think many young women would show up, but out of the million, a third ended up being 18- to 24-year-olds.”

Despite the optimism, it’s all conjecture until November. Says Brownstein, “The older generation is riled up, so I worry that there is some projection. Eighteen-year-olds hardly have urgency about anything, let alone voting, so you never know. But I hope they’re right.”


This Sentence Ends With an Exclamation

On the morning of March 19, the guards at Wei Fang prison in eastern China barged into Jae Hyun Seok’s cell without notice. The freelance New York Times photographer was 14 months into a two-year sentence for human trafficking—or more accurately, for photographing North Korean refugees trying to escape China for asylum in neighboring countries.

“They took everything out of my cell and checked my body to see if I was hiding anything,” the photographer recalled for the Voice. “It took two hours. At first I thought I was in trouble. But then I was moved to another room, where there were 10 officers. One guy called me in and gave me a release form. That was how I found out. They gave me the release form. I was so shocked, so exhausted, I didn’t even realize I was crying.”

He was free.

If Seok had been on assignment or if he were a U.S. citizen when police arrested him in January 2003 in Yantai, a port city across the Yellow Sea from South Korea, he might have been detained for a few hours, interrogated, and then released. But China sentenced him in May 2003 to two years in prison, despite protests from human rights and journalist groups who claimed that he was covering a news event instead of engineering one. Housed in a frigid cell with 40 other inmates, the South Korean photographer suffered frostbite, lost 30 pounds from a poor diet of boiled dumplings, and endured joint problems because he had no room to either lie down or exercise. Thrown into a regular penitentiary instead of China’s more lenient prisons for foreigners, Seok worked shoulder to shoulder with hardened Chinese criminals who labored from dawn to dusk crafting artificial flowers. He was resigned to his fate.

Then, with no prior notice, authorities quietly released him to fly to Seoul with his wife, Kang.

“When I was in prison, I would dream about being in Korea every night,” Seok told the Voice from a hospital in Daegoo, South Korea, four days after his release. “Then I would wake up surrounded by prison walls. I still think this is a dream. I hope I don’t wake up.” Seok expressed gratitude toward his supporters, but added, “I don’t think the [South Korean] government and journalists acted quickly enough. They would timidly ask, ‘Please let him go.’ They needed to do something different.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Seok’s time in prison has been the harshest penalty ever doled out to a foreign journalist in China. “It’s wonderful that he’s free, but it’s really been a Pyrrhic victory,” said Stephen Gilbert, head of Resolution 217, a nonprofit group launched to campaign for Seok’s release. “He spent 14 months in jail when he shouldn’t have been in jail at all.”

China may have granted his release as a “gift” to coincide with President Hu Jintao’s visit to South Korea in early March. The two countries’ fragile relationship may have delayed Seok’s release in the first place. South Korea, reluctant to stir up diplomatic tensions with China because the two countries are expanding trade, didn’t bring up Seok’s case to Chinese officials until it drew international attention. China no doubt didn’t want its refugee problem exposed by journalists. Some 300,000 impoverished North Koreans have crossed over to China to escape oppression and famine. Instead of granting them asylum, China has deemed them illegal migrants and has repatriated them to North Korea, where they are thought to face death camps.

On the day of Seok’s arrest, he was covering a covert boat-crossing of more than 80 North Korean refugees from China to Chuja Island, South Korea, and Sasebo, Japan, where they could gain asylum. With the refugees and two South Korean activists, Seok traveled by train to Yantai, where they waited at the port for two rented fishing boats. But Chinese police apprehended Seok and the activists and seized the boats. Seok assumes that the refugees were sent back to North Korea.

“The foreign press has always covered the North Korean plight, and I wanted to do it from a South Korean’s perspective since we are one nation,” Seok said. “It was something I believed in emotionally. I guess I didn’t succeed.”

Seok was certain he would be released by Chinese officials in a matter of hours. “My Korean counsel kept saying, ‘You’ll be home soon. Just wait a bit longer.’ So I would wait and wait,” he said. “It took forever for my trial, but when it came, I expected to get out, and I was shocked when they sentenced me. Then my counsel said wait for the second trial. Then the second verdict came and they upheld it. I was even more shocked. After that, I gave up. I decided that this was my fate.”

Seok was denied phone calls, visiting hours, writing material, and books—except for a Bible his lawyer gave him. The only person in the Chinese prison who could even speak his language was a burly Chinese-born ethnic Korean convict, whose legs and wrists were chained to the floor because he had been sentenced to death for four counts of murder.

“I talked to him because he was fluent in Korean,” Seok recalled. “We shared a lot of things together. He would ask about God, and I would read him passages from the Bible. He was just curious. He always told me, ‘You’ll get out before they get me.’ But then they executed him. That was the last person I could talk to.” Seok paused and added, “After that, I started talking to myself.”


Field Tripping

To hear many of his former students tell it, Scott McPartland was one of the most popular professors at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. His courses on the history of science filled quickly and often had a long waiting list. But in August, after teaching an NYU summer-abroad program in England, McPartland resigned without explanation, ending his 12-year run at the school.

Now some of those students are demanding an answer. Believing McPartland was forced out, senior Stevie Kohler has taken the case to a new website, She says the school has been axing teachers who buck the system or who back union efforts on campus.

“I’m trying to raise awareness about Scott,” says Kohler. “People don’t realize that there’s a larger possibility that he was forced to resign. I’m also worried about Gallatin being run like this. They can’t continue firing teachers like this without telling students.”

When spring semester begins, on January 20, the dissenters may even set the Web browsers in NYU computer labs to open with this question from the protest site: “Is Gallatin Lying About Scott McPartland’s ‘Resignation?’ ” The introduction calls for students to challenge McPartland’s dismissal: “We are frustrated by NYU’s lack of disclosure about the process of his dismissal and we have been silenced in our repeated pleas in his defense.”

Neither McPartland nor school officials would provide comment for this story. “I’d love to talk about it,” said Gallatin dean Frances White. “But I would never talk about a person’s personal issues.”

The silence has been filled instead by McPartland’s supporters, nine of whom have posted online testimonials. According to them, the trouble began during the England trip, when a few students grew dissatisfied with their instructor.

“There is an obvious smear campaign being created against a brilliant and talented Professor,” writes teaching assistant Ann Ryan Hughes, who took part in the three-week study called “England in Myth and Stone.” The course introduced students to Arthurian myth, astronomy, and archaeology through a tour of cultural sites. Eighteen students traveled by bus, visiting such landmarks as Cornwall and Stonehenge.

Kohler writes that a clique against McPartland formed during an arduous hike through the Cornish moors: “It was ninety degrees that day. He didn’t mention how long the walk might be, and almost no one brought water with them. The hike ended up being around five miles long, and took three hours. The group dynamic was particularly clear halfway through the walk: Many people grinned and beared the discomfort. Others began to complain loudly, egging each other on to the point that some of them simply sat down and refused to walk any longer.”

The clique was reportedly unhappy with the unstructured classes and stopped participating. “They started to panic toward the end of the trip when they realized they had to hand in journals and get started on their papers,” says Hughes. “This is when they began their coup.”

What, exactly, that coup was made ofisn’t clear. McPartland is generally agreed to have made a mildly off-color joke at one point. Hurrying some female students off a trampoline, he borrowed a line from The Man Show. “As much as I like to see girls on trampolines, we’re all waiting for you in the bus,” student Carver Tate remembers him quipping.

Back in the States, say the students, someone complained to a parent, who then contacted the school. The school had an investigator conduct a meeting with the people who’d been on the trip. When the investigator brought up sexual harassment, they say, even the disgruntled students denied that was an issue. “The people who complained emphasized that he shouldn’t be fired,” says Lisa Venbrux, a student. “They just wanted improvements for his teaching.”

The Voice made repeated efforts to reach students critical of McPartland, but they were either unavailable or refused to comment.

Sources say the administration eventually offered McPartland a settlement, and McPartland accepted because he has a family to support. The insiders speculate he was an easy target since he was neither tenured nor an adjunct with union protection.

Angela Dillard, a Gallatin history professor, says Gallatin’s senior faculty advise nontenures to keep their mouths shut and their heads down. McPartland was known to be a maverick who supported adjunct professors unionizing and hoped that teacher-line professors, as his position is known, would eventually be unionized. “Scott wasn’t that popular with my senior colleagues. He got branded as a troublemaker. He was someone who always raised unpopular ideas and sided with other unpopular people. A boat rocker,” says Dillard.

Gallatin insiders say the school is marked by a division between the founding professors, who want to emphasize teaching, and newer hires like McPartland who want to emphasize scholarship as well. In 2001, the administration denied the tenure of another outspoken professor, Mohammed Bamyeh. That catalyzed a year of protests and resulted in the creation of a Student Bill of Rights, an agreement giving students more say on the firing and hiring of their professors. “After the student bill of rights was passed, students generally thought arbitrary dismissals of popular faculty members wouldn’t happen again,” says Kohler’s website. “We were wrong,”

Bamyeh wasn’t surprised by the uproar. “The university is full of secrecy,” he says. “In most places there is a due process but there, you have no recourse. I haven’t seen a system as secretive as NYU. It’s like a medieval trial, where you are charged and you don’t know why you’re sentenced.”

Intrigue and politics are all part of life in a university. But NYU may be an especially tense environment due to the new adjuncts union, created in 2002. “NYU is especially brutal,” says adjunct Martha Bordman, who helped launch the union and then sued the school for trying to fire her over a lack of collegiality. “Even if you’re successful, you’re going to get screwed, so that’s why you have to walk the straight and narrow. I’ve talked to professors who were Teachers of the Year and got fired the next day.”


Fine Young Communists

SEOUL, South Korea—Dae Sik Yoo, the student body president of Kyung Hee University, is on the lam. Since police can arrest him anywhere but here—they’re not allowed on university grounds—Yoo never leaves campus for more than 12 hours. For a wanted man, he looks wholesome, with wire-rimmed glasses, baseball cap, and khaki pants. He could pass for a preppie American student. But when asked about the political opinions that got him into trouble, he sounds more like a North Korean Communist affiliate than a college student in a U.S.-allied country.

“Kim Jong Il is an outstanding leader,” says Yoo. “No other country can stand up to the U.S. Only North Korea can.”

The object of Yoo’s admiration, North Korea’s premier, is believed to have already built one or two atomic bombs; recent intelligence suggests the country may begin testing nuclear arms. Even as the U.S. is counting on South Korea to stabilize the region—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is visiting leaders here this week—South Korea has become more conciliatory to its threatening neighbor, an approach favored by some of the very students who elsewhere would be expected to protest such a repressive regime. North Korea is a land of well-documented concentration camps, where an estimated 200,000 people are wasting away. A government-fostered mass famine has claimed the lives of some 2 million citizens.

Yoo landed on the wanted list for his role as spokesperson for the Hanchongryun, a left-wing student organization notorious for its pro-North Korean views. Hanchongryun spearheaded demonstrations and sit-ins for 11 years, pushing for reunification of the North and South—but on Korean terms and without any U.S. interference. In 1998, South Korean officials charged Hanchongryun with defying the National Security Law, a measure that prohibits groups from expressing “anti-state” beliefs. The members had hoped the new president, Roh Moo-Hyun, a former human rights lawyer and activist, would exonerate the group. Then Hanchongryun invaded a U.S. firing range last summer, and Roh abandoned his promise.

Today Yoo lives in the Kyung Hee student union, a drafty room cluttered with chairs and old computers. Its walls are scabbed with splattered paint and torn posters from past demonstrations. He sleeps on a pallet in a small room near the men’s bathroom. He pads around the common areas in slippers and offers guests grape soda from the vending machine. Yoo still meets with other fugitive Hanchongryun members, stealing away from the university in the predawn hours, usually in a taxi. He jokes that he feels a bit like 007. Every day, his parents ask when he’ll be arrested, and he himself concedes that capture is inevitable. Even so, Yoo remains adamant.

“Kim is just another leader and not a despot or a dictator,” he says. “If he really is a dictator, the North Koreans wouldn’t have tolerated that and overthrown him. They’re not that brainwashed. They must see something in the system that’s right.”

Over the past five years, young South Koreans have grown increasingly sympathetic toward North Korea, and their distrust of America has deepened. They’ve watched their own government seek to engage peacefully with its neighbor, while the Bush administration asserts a more hard-line policy. Kim has said that if the U.S. threatens his nation, he’ll turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.” Yet a poll by the Korea Institute for National Reunification shows 90 percent of South Koreans show little or no concern about the nuclear situation. In fact, many between the ages of 20 and 35 firmly believe the U.S. poses a greater national threat than North Korea. Last year, an MBC-Korean Research Center poll found that 51 percent blamed the nuclear buildup on America’s tough approach to Kim Jong Il, while just 25 percent blamed Kim’s regime.

“South Koreans who were born in the ’70s and the ’80s didn’t experience the Communist threat. They are blinded by national pride and think of North Koreans as our brothers and sisters. The problem is that they mix up the regime with the people,” says Jin Wook Choi, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Reunification.

Most of the older generation, who have memories of the Korean War, feel indebted toward the U.S. and criticize the youth for what they term naive nationalism. Choi attributes the attitude among the younger generation to former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine Policy. Eager to thaw Cold War tensions, Kim implemented a gradualist strategy for reconciling with North Korea, propping up and befriending the struggling nation with humanitarian aid and increased trade. His plan, though, also included covering up North Korea’s appalling human rights record and secretly funneling hundreds of millions in government money into Kim’s coffers. Meanwhile, the Bush administration was refusing to engage with North Korea, until September’s six-way talks in Beijing.

“During the last five years, Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine Policy was based on the assumption that North Korea will change if we’re sincere about engaging with it. So they did that and failed and Kim should have admitted their failure. But instead, they said our conception was not wrong. They said it was Bush who changed his engagement policy, and many of the younger generation believe this,” Choi says.


South Korea has always had an ambivalent relationship with America. The U.S. keeps some 37,000 troops stationed in Seoul, where they have not necessarily been welcome. Further, Washington has supported past military dictatorships in South Korea. Last winter, hundreds of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against the acquittal of two United States Army sergeants, who were tried for negligent homicide in a U.S. military tribunal after their armored vehicle crushed and killed two 14-year-old girls.

“Even though it happened last year, we still think about the two girls. We still have bitter feelings about what happened,” says Jiwon Kim, a 27-year-old exchange program coordinator in Yonsei University.

A year after the acquittal, Hanchongryun’s influence over the student movement has waned. The anti-American furor that swept the country last year has lost its momentum. Signs of “Americans not allowed” have disappeared from storefronts, and the scuffles between U.S. soldiers and students are nowhere evident. Seoul is a city where there’s a Starbucks on every block, where parents stress about getting the best English-language tutor for their children, and where students yearn to study abroad at an Ivy League university. It’s difficult to fathom that such antagonism exists between the youth and Uncle Sam. But the most moderate student will echo Hanchongryun’s views, that Kim Jong Il should be admired for his defiance against America. Even popular movies now echo the theme. One, Whistling Princess, depicts the Americans as nefarious villains blocking a star-crossed North-South couple.

Jang Sung Woo is a 24-year-old business student from Yonsei University. Before college, his teachers drilled in him that without the U.S., North Korea would have invaded South Korea and the peninsula would have become one repressive, Communist nation. He remembers drawing anti-Communist posters, playing games where teams could be any color except red. He looked up to Americans until he was recruited into KATUSA, a military program that works with the 37,000 U.S. troops in Seoul. “You would think KATUSA troops would be understanding of the U.S., but after coming out of it, 90 percent of KATUSA felt negative about the U.S. Army,” Woo says. “The sergeants had this ‘America is No. 1’ attitude. One chaplain prohibited us from speaking Korean inside the church. That kind of stuff was not unusual there.”

Along with several friends, Woo guarded the gates of the American military compound when the protests over the two schoolgirls rocked the nation. He says the accidental homicide was one of many crimes committed by U.S. soldiers, many of them never reported, including rapes and other “accidents” on the base. He remembers standing in the front of the gate, preventing protesters from entering the U.S. camp and feeling guilty, feeling that he was on the wrong side. Since then, he has begun reassessing what he learned in high school. “I don’t like Kim Jong Il, but I have not experienced the war so I have a more positive perspective on North Korea,” he says. “They are the same as us. I really think the U.S. is more dangerous because they are more capable of a preemptive attack.”

He is careful to emphasize that he’s not a radical and prefers to stay out of student protests. Still, he feels little reason to be threatened by Kim Jong Il’s regime: “Maybe it is dangerous for North Korea to have nuclear arms. I think, though, when reunification happens, their nukes will be our nukes and give us a higher international standing.”

On Saturday, September 27, South Korean students held a demonstration protesting the possibility of sending 3,000 troops over to aid the U.S. Army in its preemptive war on Iraq. The younger generation largely supported President Roh last winter when he rode the anti-American tide, promising that he had “no intention of kowtowing to the U.S.” Now, at the protest, college students held posters of a businessman being straddled by a prostitute, their faces replaced by those of Bush and Roh.

A rock band played Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and protesters occasionally chanted in English, “Down, down with U.S.A.” Everyone interviewed responded indifferently to the nuclear crisis and said they feared Bush more than Kim Jong Il.

North Korea’s violent crackdowns at home counted for little here. “The U.S. has been giving false propaganda about the North,” said one Catholic university student. “There is no proof that the North commits human rights violations. I think the U.S. is misbroadcasting information about North Korea killing its own people.”


In accordance with the Sunshine Policy, Roh’s administration avoids confronting the harsh realities of starvation and imprisonment in North Korea. The media follow suit. “We don’t really read about the oppression in North Korea. It’s not in the newspapers so we’re not sure what’s going on,” says Jiwon Kim.

In April, the UN Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution calling on the Pyongyang government to give full access to international investigators so they could follow reports of torture in prison camps. South Korea failed to show up for the vote. South Korean officials also discourage the few thousand North Korean defectors from speaking about their harrowing experiences under the regime.

“The media is reluctant to construct Kim Jong Il as a bad person. Instead of an evil, pygmy dictator, he’s portrayed as smart and clever. Even professors are reluctant to speak out because they don’t want to appear too old-fashioned, too Cold War,” Jin Wook Choi says.

Activists who try to denounce Kim Jong Il for human rights violations complain that South Korean government officials have sabotaged their efforts. Human rights activist Norbert Vollertsen, a German, once spent 18 months in Pyongyang working for Doctors Without Borders and witnessed the devastating effects the famine and gulags have had on North Korean citizens. Now residing in South Korea, he complains that he is followed and harassed and says surveillance is so strict, he feels like he is in Pyongyang again.

“The youth are quite interested in human rights issues in Iraq, racism in America. They’re eager to do something and make changes. But when it comes to North Korea, they are so ignorant and uninformed of human rights violations,” Vollertsen says. “When I do college tours, it’s quite shocking because first of all they don’t want to believe my stories. When I showed them pictures of children starving, they thought the pictures were from Dachau or Auschwitz. They didn’t want to believe it was in North Korea. They kept challenging me and saying, ‘Are you sure they’re starving and dying? Are you sure you’re a doctor?’ ”

Experts and activists, like Vollertsen, claim North Korean agents steer groups such as Hanchongryun, newsrooms, even Roh’s administration. But Yoo denies that Hanchongryun has official ties to North Korea, and is quick to defend the country. “Everywhere in the world, there are prisons. North Korea is nothing special,” Yoo says, with a sigh. “But if there are human rights problems, then Hanchongryun will help them.”

Yoo once had ambitions of being a counselor. Now that the police are looking for him, he realizes his future is limited. He’s preoccupied with recruiting more students to Hanchongryun, graduating, and not getting caught. Asked what he wants for a career, he pauses and says, “I’ll worry about that after reunification.”


So Me, Soju: The Korean Rice Liquor That Socks It to Sake

Soju is like sake with a bite. A clear, bitter Korean liquor distilled from rice, it is best quaffed from a shot glass and accompanied with Korean appetizers like dried cuttlefish or kimchi stews. Lately, establishments have been dressing up this no-nonsense beverage. 36 Bar and Barbecue has a soju bar upstairs that intimidates with its aluminum industrial decor and deafening K-pop. They offer a variety of inventive soju cocktails like the Twinkie ($8), a concoction of soju, Kahlúa, and light cream. Unfortunately, they load so many mixers into these beverages, you can’t tell if you’re tasting soju, tequila, or Windex. The World Cup-dedicated Red Devil (peach schnapps, soju, triple sec, sloe gin, and orange juice; $9) misses the goal with its cough syrup flavor, and the jade martini (soju, Apple Pucker, triple sec, and apple juice; $10) is as exotic as a Jolly Rancher lozenge. Stick to the traditional favorites like the soju gimlet. Sour mixers like lime juice blend well with the liquor. Or better yet, keep it simpler and order a bottle of straight soju and some appetizers like scallion pancakes ($10) from 36’s excellent menu—hearty enough to put hair on your chest.


Puncturing a Regime With Balloons

Next month, two activists for North Korean refugees plan to gather dozens of volunteers along the heavily fortified border that divides North and South Korea, where they’ll launch an invasion that should easily infiltrate the tank traps, barbed wire, and more than a million combat-ready soldiers. This volunteer corps will unleash hundreds of balloons bearing battery-powered radios, which will drift northward across the DMZ and land in the open countryside. The activists hope North Koreans will find the radios and tune in to independent news stations.

Douglas Shin, a leader of the effort, yearns to kindle a fire of resistance among the people oppressed by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il. “They lost their sense of determination,” Shin says. “We have to lift up the barrier and start the information flooding.”

Shin, a Korean American pastor, and Norbert Vollertsen, a German physician, have been responsible for many of the headlines on North Korean refugees. Shin and Vollertsen have shepherded refugees through a circuitous underground railroad to South Korea, where they can gain asylum. They have helped North Koreans crash the gates of foreign embassies in Beijing, and most recently tried to smuggle two boatloads of refugees from China to South Korea before they were apprehended by authorities.

The balloon project, Shin admits, is much more small-scale, an almost symbolic gesture. Made possible by some $8,000 in donations, the low-tech endeavor comes with no guarantees. If the winds change, the balloons could get blown out to sea. Or the radios, made in China, could break once they hit the ground. Worse, if people are caught with the radios, they could end up in a prison camp—or executed. So Shin predicts that of all the radios they send, only a handful will make it. “That’s not much. It’s peanuts for an elephant. It’s more a performance for the camera frame,” he says.

Each plastic balloon—some as small as three feet in diameter, others as large as 30 feet—will carry at least one bubble-wrapped handheld radio that will play Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, a South Korean Christian station, and a secular South Korean government station. The package will also include the occasional Bible tract and messages written by children. Originally, the activists wanted to include enough money to buy a kilo of rice, but new restrictions on North Korean currency made that impossible. While some want the project to help foment a kind of velvet revolution in a nation starved for both food and freedom, some of the religious volunteers are excited about it for another reason. “It’s an excellent way to evangelize a nation,” says Gary Lane, director of news services for the Voice of the Martyrs.

For years, Christian missionary groups like Voice of the Martyrs have sent orange vinyl balloons delivering gospel messages into North Korea from China. Although Shin first got the idea from them, he’s adding religious pamphlets to some of the packages because of a more pragmatic concern—money. “Some donors requested that Jesus’s name be conveyed, but there were other donors who want this to be secular,” Shin says. “So I’m being faithful to one donor by putting in the tract, and I’m being faithful to the other donor by not including it.”

It’s not just the Christians who are interested. In recent months U.S. officials have grown alarmed by North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program but have been unable to find a strategy for halting it. Beltway insiders speculate that the CIA may now be involved with trafficking radios into the country in an effort to add international pressure to the regime. “There’s a psychological warfare going on between the U.S. and North Korea,” Shin says. “But as long as the North Koreans get their radios, I don’t care how they do it.”

The state-sponsored North Korean news agency has already accused the CIA of using foreign stations to seed rebellion. Pyongyang takes particular offense at Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-funded but independent station founded in 1996. The outlet “aims to meet the U.S. imperialists’ strategic interests and attain their purpose to invade Asia and put it under its control from A to Z,” read one official report.

On the record, U.S. government sources deny any involvement with the smuggling of radios. But Congress realizes the need for independent media in North Korea. Just last week, two members of Congress—Republican Ed Royce and Democrat Adam Schiff, both of California—successfully attached a measure to the State Department funding act that will increase Radio Free Asia broadcasting to North Korea from four hours to 24 hours a day. They realize that North Koreans still need a means to listen to Radio Free Asia and have plans for a “radio distribution program.”

“Basically the plan is to see how cheap, plastic radios could be dispersed,” Royce says, perhaps by taking advantage of North Korea’s long and porous border with China.

Reputed to be the most isolated regime in the world, North Korea permits only state-issued radios programmed to block out all but government-controlled media. But the regime is losing its iron grip, not least because of a wrecked economy. Bribery and trade in contraband have become rampant. Norbert Vollertsen, who spent more than a year in North Korea, says, “The regime is so corrupt—it’s all about money. You give a border guard some money and he’ll look away.”

As a result, 40 percent of North Korean defectors now report having listened to independent media inside the regime.

“It’s quite a diversified group, from elites to farmers, who listen to us,” says Jaehoon Ahn, director of Radio Free Asia’s Korean-language services. “It’s not possible for the North Korean central government to control the radio listeners, because their hands are full with other problems. It’s a similar situation to Eastern Europe. People doubted that a large number of people listened to Radio Free Europe in Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. But they were wrong.”

Just last month, two fishermen who escaped to South Korea in a rowboat said that secretly listening to a South Korean station gave them incentive to leave. Other North Koreans have said they buried themselves under layers of blankets to muffle the sound of foreign news over shortwave radios. A few North Korean policy makers are arguing for relaxing government control over media, claiming that citizens are so isolated, they are like “frogs in a well.”

Mark Palmer, a U.S. ambassador to Hungary during the Cold War, says Radio Free Europe was the single most important source of information for people there. He finds striking similarities between North Korea now and Eastern Europe before the Soviet collapse. “The U.S. should respond more creatively to North Korea and focus not just on nuclear weapons but on human rights and politics,” he says. “They should do it through negotiations and opening up an embassy in Pyongyang.”

Shin and Vollertsen are confident that if North Koreans find the radios, they won’t turn them in to authorities but will hide them and tune in. Even the authorities may use them. A bodyguard for Kim Jong Il who recently defected to South Korea said he had been arrested back home for listening to foreign broadcasts. The arresting officer took an inventory of the bodyguard’s possessions in his apartment. While the bodyguard was in jail, he said, the officer came to him with the list and whispered, “I want you to know that I erased the reference to your radio, because I wanted it.”


Close-Up on Ditmas Park

Portions of this article have been updated.

Step out of the Beverley Road stop off the Q line and you will probably wonder whether you’re in Brooklyn or the Virginia suburbs. With nary a graffitied hydrant or brownstone stoop in sight, Ditmas Park is comprised of towering elms and ramshackle Victorian houses with the kind of porch swings that will make you want to lie on them for hours with a sweating pitcher of mint julep and an old, buttery-paged paperback. Although quaintly residential, the neighborhood possesses none of the Wonder Bread homogeneity that New Yorkers so fear. On a warm spring day, a Hasidic kid waited for his mother while holding a tangerine-frosted cake, cabbies from Bangalore shuffled cards, and post-grad hipsters lugged home a rickety bookshelf. To seek the familiar territory of 99-cent stores and KFC derivative chains (“Kantacky” services this nabe) all you need to do is walk a block or two down to Cortelyou Road.

Boundaries: Currently drawn at Church Avenue to the north, Avenue H to the south, Bedford Avenue to the east, and Coney Island Avenue to the west

Population: The neighborhood is mostly middle-class and features a diverse array of ethnicities. One realtor quipped, “It’s so mixed, we have Republicans” and, “Pakistanis, Greeks, Chinese. I’d have to get a geography book to tell them all to you.” Inevitably, there’s also a wide presence of young, recently married hipsters. As one friend put it, “It’s where indie rockers retire.”

Public Transportation: Take the Q train to Beverley Road, the F train to Church Avenue, or the B35 bus to Church Avenue; about 40 minutes by train from Union Square.

Main Drags: Cortelyou Road, Coney Island Avenue, Church Avenue, Ditmas Avenue, Beverley Road

Average Price to Rent: These aren’t your average apartment buildings. Tenants usually rent a part or all of two-family frame houses. One-bedroom, $1,000 to $1,200 ($750 to $1,500); two-bedroom, $1,700 ($1,500 to $1,600); three-bedroom, $2,000 ($2,200 to $3,000).

Average Price to Buy: One-bedroom house, $100,000 to $120,000; two-bedroom house, $250,000 to $295,000

Best Restaurants: Cinco de Mayo (1202 Cortelyou Road) is a charming little taqueria that, according to resident Christine Lee, has the best verde sauce; Los Mariachis Mexican Restaurant (805 Coney Island Avenue) serves great cocktails and provides Mariachi music on Friday nights; Rug-B (1310 Cortelyou Road) boasts “upscale peasant. A fusion of Caribbean, Thai, and Continental.”

Best Bars: Cortelyou Lounge (752 Coney Island Avenue) is pleasantly divey with a promising neon sign featuring a highball, though one resident claims the cocktails are weak. 773 (773 Coney Island Avenue), another neighborhood watering hole, boasts a dart league.

Community Organizations: Community Board 14 (810 East 16th Street) reviews zoning and land-use changes, monitors projects such as street reconstruction and bridges, and follows up on complaints. Several neighborhood associations, including Ditmas Park West, Beverly Square, and Fiske Terrace actively monitor Ditmas Park’s quality of life and safety issues.

Famous People: Silent-silver-screen diva Mary Pickford and Charlie Ebbets, the first owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, lived in the Ditmas Park area. Contemporary films that capture Flatbush homes include Sophie’s Choice, Malcolm X, and Reversal of Fortune.

Landmarks: All 175 homes of Ditmas Park received “Historic District” status from the New York City Landmarks Commission in 1987. Neighboring landmark district Prospect Park South (which covers Church Avenue to Beverley Road) was the first planned community in New York.

Local Shops:Newkirk Plaza is reputed to be America’s first shopping mall but it’s basically a strip mall over the Newkirk subway station. Flatbush Food Co-op (1318 Cortelyou Road) may be the organic alternative to the Associated Supermarket, although don’t expect 20 different kinds of soy milk inside the modest space.

Green Space: The southern section of Prospect Park is a few blocks away, offering soccer fields, baseball fields, and horse stables.

Politicians: Assembly Members James F. Brennan and Rhoda Jacobs, City Councilmembers Simcha Felder and Yvette D. Clarke, Congressman Major Owens, and State Senators Carl Andrews and Carl Kruger—all Democrats

Crime Stats: The 70th Precinct covers Ditmas Park. As of September 25, 2005 it reported 7 murders, 17 rapes, 561 robberies, 300 felonious assaults, and 384 burglaries. (As of May 25, 2003, it reported 10 murders, up six from last year; 19 rapes, up three; 281 robberies, down 15; 276 burglaries, down 87; and 156 felonious assaults, down 12).


China Sentences Times Freelance Photographer

After languishing five months in a Chinese detention center, New York Times freelance photojournalist Jae Hyun Seok has been sentenced to two years in jail for human trafficking. Last January, Seok was photographing 40 North Korean refugees attempting to flee China to Japan and South Korea aboard two fishing boats. They were caught and detained by Chinese border officials. The Beijing Foreign Embassy has ignored Seok’s family and colleagues in South Korea who claim he was merely documenting the escape.

At this point, China has never convicted and sentenced a foreign correspondent, though the nation leads as the world’s largest jailer of its own reporters.

Although the Times spilled two page’s worth of ink on Jayson Blair, they’ve reacted slowly to Seok’s case. The paper published an editorial about Seok on May 30, calling his sentencing a “grave injustice.” But some consider their actions too little too late.

“It would have been very helpful if The New York Times initially made an official statement. That would have caused a public outcry, which could have prevented this from happening,” said Sophie Beach of Committee to Protect Journalists.

The South Korean government, concerned about making diplomatic inroads with North Korea and China, has also downplayed Seok’s case, even as Seok’s supporters tirelessly rallied for him.

Approximately 300,000 North Korean refugees have fled to Northeastern China in order to escape the poverty and repression of Kim Jong Il’s regime. But North Korean ally China refuses to grant them asylum and forcibly repatriates them back to North Korea, where they inevitably face prison camp and possibly death. The fugitives’ only hopes are international activists, who illegally shepherd them from China via a circuitous transnational route to South Korea, where they’re granted asylum.

Sympathetic to their plight, Jae Hyun Seok wanted to cover the refugee crisis as a personal project. While Seok waited with the refugees aboard one of the vessels in Yantai Port, Chinese officials, tipped off by a turncoat, apprehended the operation.

Seok has filed an appeal, and he will have a second trial in a few months. “We hope that he will be released with pressure,” said Times photo editor Cecilia Bohan. “We think that there’s still hope for that.”

Related Article:

Left Behind: New York Times Freelancer Languishes in Chinese Jail” by Cathy Hong



The Tall Boys exude feminist appeal, but with boyish swagger and a taste for malt liquor. “Sorry, kids. My head’s smaller than a cat’s ass,” apologized Tall Boys bassist Ashley after her Hannibal Lecter muzzle slipped off her face. At Williamsburg’s Above the Right Bank, a venue more cramped than an off-campus kegger, a gal from the crowd shouted, “Show us your tits!” in response. Rather than obliging, the female foursome launched into a raunchy set that let the aerosol hair spray out of every faux-hawk in the room. Lead singer Sheila spit into the mic with evangelical fury, singing in a Mark E. Smith stutter (when a guy spews like that, he’s another Fall cookie-cutter, but Sheila rocked the affected accent) while jerking around in an unrestrained, Stooges-like frenzy.

The Tall Boys have the rascally demeanors of ’70s Meatballs camp counselors who would probably share joints with the oldest and coolest campers. Ferociously lo-fi, they eschew electronics for amphetamine-loaded, skronky guitar riffs, slinky basslines, and relentless, in-your-face drums. With their post-punk posture and caterwauling fem-rock anthems (“Ladies! Drop your heels and run!”), the Tall Boys are like atavistic descendants of Liliput and Au Pairs or a self-designed version of the Runaways. A more contemporary and maybe lamer comparison would be the Donnas, but let me qualify that and say the Tall Boys are much dirrtier (I’m sure the TBs can kick the collective asses of all four Ds).

Guitarist Vanessa is the calmest of all four, preferring to stand stoically to the side, all the while scratching the shit out of her guitar or working her frets overtime in Sabbath licks. Betty Page-haired and thickly eyelined Aviva pounds her skins with insouciant cool. Both Vanessa and Aviva lived in Las Vegas, which adds to the band’s cred, although the Tall Boys’ sound has not an iota of Vegas lounge in all their East Coast acid. Besides playing bass and tag-teaming raspy, bratty vocals with Sheila, Ashley—wearing white pants that cutely rode up her butt—acts as the misfit mouthpiece of the band. Throughout the set, she requested beer (“Um, OK, I’m really thirsty. I’d like a beer now,” and then after another song, “Hello, my beer?”) from the rowdy crowd, who were too cheap to hand over their half-drunk cups of Piss Blue Ribbon.

But Sheila definitely carries the band with her shrieks, pants, and wails: “Monday is just Monday, Tuesday is Tuesday, but Wednesday is my Wedding Day!” she howled with corrosive glee. Although she possesses freckled pixie looks that would win her a part in a Kix cereal commercial, Sheila radiates demonic charm in front of the mic. When she shouted, “We will face the danger/Sex, sex with a stranger,” there was something raw and beseeching about her tone, à la Pat Benatar’s “Heartache to heartache/We stand.” The last time I was this mesmerized by a singer’s moxie was when I saw the Gossip’s Beth Ditto rip out her Southern blues pipes in a dank Iowa City club. Spilling out into the set and the hallways, the audience was obviously soused on Tall Boys.