The Holiday That Wasn’t – Christmas in South Korea

By Marcello Kolax

If you greet the special season with a rumpled face, then South Korea might be right place for you. Christmas in South Korea is often celebrated as a day for young couples, not family, and wine bars or romantic restaurants are booked out well in advance.

But if you are on your own, why not join the crowds flocking to the bars. Since Christmas is a relatively new event, it is open to interpretation. Korea’s first president Rhee Syng-man, a Methodist, introduced Christmas as a national holiday in 1945. Since then, many ideas of how Christmas should be celebrated have evolved.

Lights of the season: This year's Busan Christmas Tree Festival will be held from December 1, 2011 to January 9, 2012. (Picture by Min Hye Kim)

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The Dear Leader is Dead, Long Live The Dear Leader

By Ara Jo.

North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, died of a heart attack on Saturday (December, 17) leaving behind 17 years of absolute and corrosive power that no one in the Hermit Kingdom dared to challenge.

He officially assumed Chairmanship in 1997 after Kim Il-Sung’s death in 1994. During his rule, Kim Jong-il conducted two underground nuclear explosions and long-range missile tests, trying to boast of North Korea’s military power, resulting in increasingly worsening  relationships with the Western world. The tensions between North Korea and the United States came to their peak in 2009 when the second nuclear device was set-off, resulting in the USA’s abandonment of North Korea’s denuclearisation attempts.

Kim Jung-Il

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Football in Africa – African Footballer of the Year 2011

By Samuel Haase.

On December 22, the 2011 African Footballer of the Year will be announced. So who will be receiving an early Christmas present, and who will be going home empty handed?

The shortlist was announced earlier this month, and with the award soon to be announced I thought it was time to investigate into this coveted award further. Formerly known as the France Football Award, the recognition of the best African footballer began in 1970, with Laurent Pokou of the Ivory Coast and Abougreisha of Egypt sharing the award. The now recognised African Footballer of the Year took over solely in 1995, with arguably Africa’s most well known player, George Weah, picking up the trophy that year. Over the years the award has been shared between many different countries throughout Africa, but it is Cameroon who come out on top, with 12 African Player of the Year trophies to their name, whilst Samuel Eto’o has won the award a record 4 times and is currently the reigning holder of the trophy. But who is up for the award this year, any surprises, and is there a new winner in our midst? Let’s find out.

Samuel Eto'o

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Sepaktakraw in South Korea – An Interview with Yu Young-Sim

By Ara Jo.

In a large athletic field at Masan Girls High School in Changwon, a bustling industrial city, about 350km southeast of Seoul, South Korea, a girl walks across to the main building for the first time without knowing what she is about to let herself get into. She is on her way to take the entrance exam. At least she thinks she is, nothing particularly exciting there. But, that day was the beginning of a long journey that led to her one day becoming a member of the Korean National Sepaktakraw team and the gym at school becoming her second home.

The girl was Yu Young-Sim, now 28. When she was 16 years old. “Like most other people, I had never heard of sepaktakraw until then,” she says, “But the coach took a look at me and said I had all the physical attributes to be good at it. And fortunately or unfortunately, he was a persuasive man. Before I knew it, I became a member of the high school sepaktakraw team. It was during the winter in 1999.”

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A Flash of Democracy – Elections in Zambia

By Jody Harris

More than one long-serving African government lost power this autumn. But while the eyes of the world were on the brutal end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya, an altogether more democratic transition was taking place in Zambia, as Rupiah Banda’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), in place for 20 years under 3 presidents, acknowledged its inferior share of the popular vote and gave way peacefully to the Patriotic Front (PF) under new President Michael Sata.

As the dust settles on the new government, and the rains begin with startlingly ferocious thunderstorms in this country reliant almost entirely on rain-fed agriculture, there is now an air of expectation for the future. The World Bank recently re-classified Zambia as a middle-income country, and increased wealth here is evidenced by burgeoning traffic and shiny new shopping malls in the cities- though life in the rural areas has changed little for a very long time.

Celebrations Following Sata's Election

Kings of Rivers – Painting by Nguyen Duc Hoa

Welcome to the first collaboration of Our Man In with Art Sumo, an American organisation focused on sharing original artwork from around the world. Every month we will bring you a new piece to enjoy – this month, its Kings of Rivers by Vietnamese artist Nguyen Duc Hoa.

Kings of Rivers by Nguyen Duc Hoa

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Slim Pickings

By David Lida for his Mostly Mexico City blog. Republished with thanks for Our Man In.

When I was starting out as a reporter, one of the first interviews I ever conducted was with Robert Hughes, who at the time was the art critic for Time magazine. I am paraphrasing the outspoken Australian, but one of the things that he said to me was, “Man, if there’s anything about which it’s all right to be elitist, it’s art.” Continue reading

Gridlock – Part 2 : Hargeisa – The City of Congested Streets

Welcome to the second and final piece in our Gridlock series. Congestion is a very dry topic, and one that we have all encountered. However by looking at both Indonesia and Somaliland we can see that it is a both a symptom and a cause of all manner of other problems in the developing world.

Hargeisa – The City of Congested Streets

By Ahmed M. Elmi (Shawky)

Hargeisa is a home to about a million people. The dusty streets are overcrowded with pedestrians, cars of all kinds, animals – including donkeys carrying water, dogs, and goats, roadside cottages and people carting wheel barrows. Walking alone on these streets creates a feeling of dread – and a knowledge that should you hesitate after one lucky escape, you will probably not be so lucky the next time.

And driving a car is not that much better – with your way eternally blocked by people, vehicles, and a vast coterie of animals – should your brakes not be in the best condition, you will be in big trouble. Continue reading

Gridlock – Part One : A Jakarta Love Story

The first in a two-part Our Man In feature looking at the serious impacts of congestion in the cities of the developing world. First, we look at Jakarta in Indonesia.

The Bribe and the Traffic Jam

By Thibault Michot

Jakarta, Kinshasa, Mexico City, Moscow, Sao Paulo…  One may wonder what those metropolises have in common but with populations of millions people, they are some of most congested places on Earth.

Jakartans will tell you that this Indonesian mega-city is at its best when it comes to delicious street-food, friendly people, vibrant culture and occasionally decadent nightlife. At its worst however, anyone living or working in Jakarta will confess how the insanity-inducing levels of traffic congestion are such a major component of everyday life. For some time, Bangkok and Jakarta shared the unenviable reputation for having the worst gridlock in Asia. But in the past decade, the Thai capital has decided to tackle traffic congestion head-on through the construction of underground and overground train systems. Even though far from perfect, the nightmarish congestion has eased – leaving just Jakarta in a state of perpetual gridlock.

And the hours spent waiting behind the wheel are not expected to decrease anytime soon.

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A Melanesian ‘Spring’ – The Online Revolution in Papua New Guinea

By Nancy Sullivan, Our ‘Man’ in Papua New Guinea

There’s a Melanesian Spring blooming in Papua New Guinea, even if Spring doesn’t really exist in this country of rainy and yet more rainy seasons. The Internet  came late to us, and even then, only the arrival of the Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien and his mobile phone empire—Digicel—could kick off our telecoms revolution. In the last five years or so, Digicel has completely transformed the social media landscape in Papua New Guinea. Now with wireless hotspots, smart phones and new phone masts popping up all over, remote villagers who have never left their plot of ground can call their cousins in town, contact their members of Parliament, search for the market prices of coffee, scroll through the daily paper, and receive group emails about Occupy Wall Street.

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