Friday, May 22, 2009

shock: Noh Mu Hyeon dead

In the midst of our own problems, our family was shocked to learn, while watching the Korean news, that former South Korean President Noh Mu Hyeon is dead after having taken a fall (chu-rak is the Sino-Korean term being used to describe what happened to him)-- probably a suicide. If I'm not mistaken, reporters are claiming that he left behind a note, further prompting speculation that the fall was no accident.

The news, barely several hours old, is still unfolding; I can only imagine how it is to be in South Korea at this moment, and I cringe in anticipation of the fallout from this terrible-- and for me, completely unexpected-- event. President Noh was already in some trouble thanks to a bribery scandal; as often happens with Korean media figures, he made a show of public repentance (most notably by no longer dyeing his hair black). If Noh's death is indeed a suicide, as seems likely at this point, such a move would also be consistent with how certain scandal-plagued leaders in recent Korean history have dealt with mounting problems.

My sympathies lie mostly with President Noh's family and friends, who certainly deserve a better outcome than this. I'll admit that I had a low opinion of President Noh during his time in office; like many Koreans, I saw him as a weak-kneed complainer whose erratic attempts at populist, anti-American rhetoric did little to elevate Korea's position in the global scheme of things. Having said that, I'll add that I never wished such a fate on the former president; along with being shocked by this news, I'm saddened by it. And as I mentioned, I dread the fallout: Noh's leftist supporters will accuse the conservatives of having driven the man to despair, and the recriminations will fly once the period of mourning is over. The current president, Lee Myeong Bak, is a conservative currently saddled with his own PR issues, including the perception that he is too heavy-handed and authoritarian. President Noh's death will do little to extricate President Lee from his own troubles.

Suicide never sends a clear message to those left behind, even when the deceased has left a note. How all of this will color President Noh's legacy is beyond my ability to foresee. In the meantime, I can only hope his family and friends will find the strength to endure and overcome this crisis.

UPDATE: Comments at The Marmot's Hole and One Free Korea.

UPDATE 2: AP News article here.

UPDATE 3: Joshua's remarks on how South Korea's "Sunshine Policy"-- which began under President Kim Dae Joong-- was and remains more of a "Sunflower Policy" bear consideration. I agree with Joshua and his older interlocutor.



Yujin Lee said...

Could you please correct his name to 'Roh Moo-hyun' which is his official English name when he was in office?

Kevin Kim said...

Response, Part 1:

Thank you for commenting, but why is this suddenly important, so many months after the president's death? What is your purpose in commenting?

Personally, I prefer "Noh Mu-hyeon" because it's more phonetically accurate. The "u" in English, when it's in the middle of a word and not at the end, is ambiguous (e.g., "sun" versus "Cancun"); "Hyun" could theoretically be pronounced "휸." The spelling "Mu" is unambiguous because the "u" is at the end of the word. ("Mu" is also more dignified-looking than "Moo.")

Meanwhile, "Hyeon" is the spelling sanctioned by the Korean government, which developed its current romanization system in the early 2000s, if I'm not mistaken. By those standards, "Roh Moo Hyun" is a misspelling. Many Koreans, in fact, misspell their names when they romanize them in English. Example: "Sung" instead of "Seong" (성), or "Youl" instead of "Yeol" (열), or "Chung" instead of "Jeong" (정). Idiosyncratic spelling often causes confusion among non-Koreans.

Kevin Kim said...

Response, Part 2:

Of course, President Noh had the right to romanize his name in whatever way he wanted, but in the Western media, his name was romanized in various ways. The same thing happens, in the West, to many people with non-European names, and the Korean media also "hangeulize" foreign names-- and English words-- in various ways, e.g., "누우스" and "뉴스". (See here for one hangeul spelling of "news": " [스크랩] 오마이 누우스에 나온 가산사 단군제.. 2008.10.06 14:22")

I should remind you that name spellings change from country to country as well. In France, for example, the former Russian president (and current prime minister) is called "Vladimir Poutine" in the newspapers, while in America his name is spelled "Putin." Which is correct, the American romanization or the French romanization? Obviously, neither: his name is properly spelled "Владимир Владимирович Путин." The Cyrillic alphabet is the alphabet in which the prime minister's name can truly be written correctly. By the same token, President Noh's name is correctly spelled only in hangeul: "노무현." Notice that it's "노," not "로." (And yes, I'm aware of the phonetic rules governing initial-position "L/N/R" pronunciation in Korean.)

Kevin Kim said...

Response, Part 3:

In my opinion, Korean spelling should absolutely be respected, but because Koreans themselves (and Westerners, too) have no official, consistent standards for foreign name spellings, it is difficult to argue that I am obliged to change my romanization, "Noh Mu Hyeon." Keep in mind that, when the man's name is spelled "Roh," Americans mispronounce it as "row," instead of saying "no." The spelling "Roh" is a source of confusion, like it or not.

So I will not change the romanization I have chosen. If President Noh truly had an "official English name," then every Western newspaper would have spelled his name the same way. How many people will you ask to "correct" the romanization of his name? You'll have to persuade hundreds of newspapers and thousands of bloggers. Good luck.

By the way: Korean news media write our former president's name as "조지 부시." But the president's name is decidedly not "Joji Booshi." It's George Bush! Should I demand that Korean news media and bloggers change the spelling of his name to something more proper, such as "죠즈 부쉬"? Even that spelling is no good. "Booshwi" sounds silly, and "부츠" sounds like a sneeze.

If I tried to contact every Korean blogger and reporter to at least change "조지" to "죠즈," how many would say "OK" and do it? My guess: almost no one would. And that's perfectly OK with me. Keep calling him "Joji Booshi," for all I care.


PS: This blog was primarily about my mother's recent death from brain cancer. I have more important things to worry about than the non-hangeul spelling of a Korean president's name. Don't worry about 보잘것 없는 일. You're engaged in a silly crusade about something unimportant. Let it go.

Kevin Kim said...

And hug your mom.

Kevin Kim said...

Oh, yeah-- one other remark.

I take the proper romanization of Korean names seriously, which is why I'm being rude and favoring my own romanization of the president's name over the so-called "official" one.

A good example of my complaint is fairly recent: the Western media's coverage of Korean skater Kim Yeon-a. Almost everywhere I look, I see her name spelled (misspelled, in my opinion) as "Kim Yu-na" or "Kim Yu Na."

Wrong, wrong, WRONG! Her Korean name is 김연아, not 김유나! Do you see why I prefer a proper romanization? Most English speakers are now mispronouncing the poor girl's name as "Yoo-nah." To me, that's a shame. If the skater is spelling her own name as "Yuna" (or "Yu-na," or "Yu Na"), then it's her own fault that everyone in the West is mispronouncing her name. If, on the other hand, the Western media are responsible for the misspelling, then shame on them!

So I hope you understand that I'm not trying to be insulting when I reject inferior romanization. Quite the contrary: I'm trying to respect the proper representation of Korean sounds for the edification of the non-Korean population. 훈민정음 for everyone!

Yujin Lee said...

First of all, thank you for the detailed opposition to the request I made the other day. Some of your points are understandable and partly true. Yes, in 2000, South Korea's government initiated a new phonetic system for transcribing Korean into English, changing name like Cheju to Jeju and Pusan to Busan. BUT! What you dimissed as something unimportant is what the government had put efforts on when President Roh was in office due to his family name in English, Noh, which sounds like 'no' that might draw a negative picture on his and his country's image, if you ever know. It's still true even if you don't agree.

Plus, show little of respect to readers of your blog or you better keep those posts for yourself. Sorry that this is for your loss but it's still open up on internet so everybody can happen to read what you wrote. Furthermore, when you have this comment section, people can also participate here. I don't understand why you're that defensive with this uncontroversial issue.

It's still okay that you stick to the name you wrote, but be aware that I didn't force you to change anything and it was just a suggestion. Enjoyed your comments though. Keep up with your work and learn more to be harmonious with readers.

Kevin Kim said...

I think some of my readers should make more of an effort to be harmonious with me. Not having heard from you before, I find it strange that you would begin a conversation with me by posting what amounts to a critique. Is that polite? Obviously not. In fact, it's rather rude. Do you make such suggestions in person? The same rules of civility that apply in person should apply online. So if you're rude to me, don't be surprised when I'm rude to you.

My readers deserve as much politeness from me as they show me. Be civil, don't lecture sanctimoniously, and we'll get along fine. Basic human decency. Of course, I reserve the right to be sanctimonious when such an attitude is directed my way.

A quick Google search brought up some interesting results when we look at various spellings for the president's name (all in quotation marks for more precise results):

Noh Mu-hyun: approx. 10,300 results

Noh Mu-hyeon: approx. 6,030 results

Noh Moo-hyeon: approx. 1,010 results

Roh Mu Hyun: approx. 20,200 results

Roh Moo Hyeon: approx. 16,600 results

None of the above spellings is the "official" one. When you add them together, you get approximately 54,140 Google results.

Will you be visiting all these blogs, online newspapers, and websites with the same request? Note that many of the results are for Korean websites. Either they didn't get the news about the need to spell the president's name "correctly" in Roman letters, or they don't consider the issue important enough to matter.

I think you're on a ridiculous and frustrating quest, and I'd love to know what motivates you to suggest "corrections" to people you don't know. Now that the former president is dead, how important is it to prevent Westerners from associating his name with the word "no"?

And did it ever occur to the Korean name-marketers that Westerners aren't stupid enough to associate "Noh" with "no," when understood in context? True: there's an old James Bond movie called "Dr. No," but that movie came out in the 1960s, and few will think of that film in connection with Korea.

Westerners might be stupid about a lot of things, but only the very, very stupid ones would associate "Noh" with "no." There are more pressing problems for the name-marketers, such as changing the name "Dong" to something that sounds less vulgar. "Dong" is slang for "penis," after all.

Since your comment was, according to you, only a suggestion, then here's my humble suggestion: please give up your futile quest to change minds about a pointless topic. Either that, or please keep me posted as you visit over 54,000 sites to make the same request, over and over.

You're lucky I even bothered to post your comment in the first place; I found it so silly that I had to post it. As you may have discovered, your comments only appear with my permission. Be happy that I allow you to lecture me in public.


Kevin Kim said...

I just thought of a question: if this is an "uncontroversial issue," as you wrote (and I agree that it's perfectly uncontroversial), then why did you make the initial suggestion?

"Uncontroversial" implies that there's no need to be exercised enough to try to change things. It's uncontroversial, for example, that the sun always rises in the east. No one ever argues about this, because there's no need to.

Perhaps you think "uncontroversial" means "my narrow-minded point of view is beyond debate," but I've just offered over 54,000 examples of the fact-- like it or not-- that there is plenty of debate. Or at least, plenty of polite disagreement.

So: please answer my question. We agree the issue is uncontroversial; you admitted this. What, then, is the problem? What motivates you to visit people you don't know in order to make these silly suggestions?


Yujin Lee said...

Still, you're so upset about all things. But, said before, it was just a suggestion. Relax. Sorry if you found it rude for me to ask you for favor. I think, still, it was just one of your readers' comments. So what, you expect those who visit your blog for the first time introduce themselves and start commenting? Is it what you call applying the rules of civility online? And why can you not ask things to people you don't know at all? Then, how can you start knowing people? Be social. I also wonder what made you think that a newcomer to your blog can't even comment on your post when it's not pleasant to accept? That's nonsense.

Yes, as I mentioned, it is uncontroversial, because it was just simple and casual suggestion of mine. You can certainly bring up something when it pops up in your head even if it's not controversial. Or, do you only talk and write all about current issues?

Also, did I ever say that I will visit all the websites and correct those errors? No. I'm saying I happened to visit your blog by chance and found it reading some of your posts. That's it. You're upset maybe because I didn't write what I liked about this blog and rather made a critique. So, I'll tell you now: "I found it's touching that this is for a loved one." That's what I thought and didn't mention. So don't make your reader a narrow-minded and strange person on a weird quest. Know that I am not.

Just before I wrap this up, I still don't get that the request deserves all this. Look how much you're upset and obsessed with the one-sentenced suggestion with a bunch of writing. I'm telling you now, I will NEVER visit and make any type of comments here as you might wish. You happy now? Of course, you must be, because you're losing the interest of this blog by being so defensive and rude. So, good luck on your blogging. Bye.

Kevin Kim said...

As novelist Stephen R. Donaldson wrote:

"There is no such thing as "valid" or "constructive" criticism--unless the person on the receiving end asks for it. If the recipient doesn't ask, he/she isn't, well, receptive; and the criticism is wasted. So it follows that what people choose to call "valid" or "constructive" criticism exists for the benefit of the critic, not for the good of the person being criticized. It serves the ego of the critic."

Exactly. You came to my blog to serve your own ego, thinking you had the right to request a bogus correction-- one that I never asked for.

As you said: goodbye. Who needs readers like you?