Made In Korea

Once upon a time, 50 years or so ago, some 1,469,308 people, from 22 different nations, went and died on the terran dirt-patch known as Korea . . . to “protect freedom,” or some such.

Today, in the northern half of the lights outdirt-patch, there is not even electricity, as the photo to the left illustrates (click image to expand, and See). While the southern sections of the dirt-patch are the fief of a tiny coterie of dynastic families who can ground whole airlines simply because their nuts are served Wrong. These same people deploy human slaves to extract salt for export. Just like in Rome. Some 2000 years ago.

Mission, I guess, and as they say, accomplished.

Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of the chairman of Korean Airlines, pitched a fit December 5 because her airborne macadamia nuts were served in a bag, rather than on a plate. This was a Wrongess that could not be borne, and so she ordered her plane to return to its gate in New York. So that she could expel from the flight-tube the senior flight attendant who had fucked her nuts. This man she first supremely insulted, and then he was forced to kneel before her. To express his shameful apologies.

This woman, and her two siblings, occupy senior positions in Korean Airlines, simply because they sprang from the loins of the chairman.

Her behavior touched a nerve with South Koreans who are frustrated with family members who control mighty business groups known as chaebol that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy . . . .

The family’s direct stake in Korean Air is just 10 percent but cross-shareholdings among Hanjin companies give it effective control.

The woman’s airborne nut rage was initially officially investigated by military minions who formerly worked at the airline, who immediately and unequivocally found nothing wrong with what she did.

The airline itself meanwhile thundered that the errant nut-server “ignor[ed] regulations and procedures” of in-flight services and that he and the entire crew were guilty of mouthing would have been fine, if there'd been no newsnothing but “excuses and lies.”

But, somehow, as sometime happens, the true story got loose.

And so on December 12 Korean Airlines chair Cho Yang-ho felt compelled to boot his daughter out of the airline, make a bow here and there, and confess that “I failed to raise her properly.”

Apparently, the people of the southern regions of the dirt-patch known as “Korea,” are ripe, to not like, people like he and her.

Anger at the nation’s chaebol has risen in recent years as many people blame widening economic inequality in South Korea on the conglomerates’ rapid expansion. The latest accusations of abuse by Ms. Cho have already led to a new chorus of critical editorials.

“In this case, we see not only a violation of an aviation law but also the imperial abuse of an owner family,” the mass-circulation daily JoongAng Ilbo said in an editorial. Another editorial, in the daily Kyunghyang Shinmun, urged prosecutors to use Ms. Cho’s case as a warning to chaebol families that “act as if they were above the law.”

The newspaper also referred to other cases of what it called “depraved conduct” by chaebol families, including one in which a member of the family that controls SK Group, a telecommunications and petrochemicals conglomerate, received a suspended prison term for beating a former union activist with an aluminum bat.

The true story has also gotten loose about the slaves who labor in the salt farms there in the southern region of the Korean dirt-patch. But nothing is being done about that. Because people don’t give a shit.

For the slaves in the salt, this is not a story that is “sexy.” As is an entitled slavea-hole ordering airplanes around because her nuts are not right. And then being flayed by her own father; and dragged, even, into a courtroom.

As Hunter S. Thompson wisely observed, in pinning the grip the Watergate hearings had on the American populace: those affixed to their Watergate TV screens, they were but “millions of closet Hell’s Angels whose sole interest in watching the hearings was the spectacle of seeing once-powerful men brought weeping to their knees.”

Humans, you see, they just like to see, humans on high, brought down.

They get off on it.

Makes them—I don’t know—feel better, somehow.

But humans who have never been up high—humans who slave in salt mines—who gives a shit about them?

No one. And so they stay there. The slaves. In the shit.

Life as a salt-farm slave was so bad Kim Jong-seok sometimes fantasized about killing the owner who beat him daily. Freedom, he says, has been worse.

In the year since police emancipated the severely mentally disabled man from the remote island farm where he had worked for eight years, Kim has lived in a grim homeless shelter, where he has been preyed upon and robbed by other residents. He has no friends, no job training prospects or counseling, and feels confined and deeply bored.

“I want to go back,” Kim, 41, said during a recent interview in the shelter near Mokpo, the southwestern mainland port that is the gateway to dozens of salt islands where a months-long investigation by The Associated Press found that slavery still thrives, an open secret among locals.

“I feel trapped here,” he said.

Kim’s plight illustrates the continuing failure of one of Asia’s richest countries to help workers who have been enslaved on the farms—often people with mental or physical disabilities. Three other disabled ex-slaves also told the AP that they wanted to return to the salt farms because of their misery and sense of aimlessness in the crowded homeless shelters that officials placed them in.

Salt farmers often describe themselves as doing society a favor by taking in the homeless, the disabled, the uneducated and those who can’t get jobs anywhere else and whom the rest of the country would like to forget. They also acknowledge a harsh economic reality.

“It would be extremely difficult to run a salt farm without disabled people,” said Park Jong-won, 69, a salt farm owner on Sinui Island who recently received a suspended sentence for exploiting a mentally disabled man for profit. “Normal people wouldn’t work at salt farms even if we begged them.”

Revelations of slavery involving South Korea’s disabled on island salt farms have emerged five times in the last decade. Last year’s government probe found more than 100 workers nationwide who’d received no, or scant, pay. A later investigation by police and activists found 63 more such workers in the islands, three quarters of whom were disabled.

Han Sang-deok was freed by police last year after 20 years working without pay on a yousalt farm on Sinui. Until his release, not once did the 64-year-old mentally disabled man leave the island, Han said in an interview at a cafe in Mokpo.

Asked about his relationship with the farm owners, Han says: “I just worked. I was there on my own. I went to work, I slept. Like that.”

Han, whose relatives had thought he was dead for two decades, pauses for a long time when asked about his future plans, finally saying, “I don’t know what I should do.”

One ex-slave, Heo Tae-yeong, has a guardian who orchestrated his move from a Mokpo area homeless shelter to a residential facility for the mentally disabled in Gwangju.

Heo, who cannot read or count, worries that he will struggle in a new environment, but is excited about the idea of learning job skills in Gwangju. He hopes to one day work in a factory.

When asked what he’ll do with the money he earns, Heo takes a long drag off his cigarette.

He doesn’t know. “I’ve never had any money.”

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