23 April 2004

On Farms, SARS and Exploding Rail Cars

Well, I spent part of the morning out in the farms -- it is strawberry and tomato season in the rows and rows of greenhouses -- and flags fluttered in the breezes protesting the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its impact on Korean agriculture. The farmers are always the ones hit the hardest (or so they claim) by market openings, as foreign competition (China for many products) eats quickly into their way of life. In Korea, there are still many smaller farmers, and the agricultural techniques really haven't changed in decades. But most troubling for many is the idea that the WTO requires Korea to open its rice market to foreign (USA) competition even more. Talks on this very issue were underway earlier this week in Geneva. Korean farmers have been in the forefront of protests against the WTO regulations in the recent past, going so far as to disembowel themselves in an attempt to become martyrs for the cause and press forward their agenda.

From the farms we turn to SARS, which is apparently rearing its ugly head again in China -- in Beijing in particular -- which is where I am headed in a little over a week. For those interested, here is what the CDC has to say about SARS. I guess its time to buy a mask or two and a container of alcohol wipes. I may even take to wearing gloves, so I can look like Michael Jackson (who has now crept into this journal twice in recent days). What will be interesting to see is how well the airports and public facilities not only in China but throughout Asia are handling another potential outbreak. Masks are already in vogue in Korea, but for the Yellow Dust, which also comes from China, but has a much more widespread affect on the general population.

And finally,exploding rail cars. So if my visit to North Korea hadn't been cancelled by Kim Jong Il's visit to China, I am guessing it may have been postponed at least by the rail accident in Ryongchon, which has killed dozens and injured more than a thousand -- something that happens when fuel trains collide in the middle of a densely populated city. There are rumors galore floating around that this was an assassination attempt against Kim Jong Il, who passed through the station not nine hours earlier, but if that were the case, close really didn't count, especially not given the long time between his passing and the explosion. What appears more likely is that a "gift" train of fuel products came through a rail system with little collision warning equipment and smashed into a train that was off schedule due to Kim's passing, which shuts down all rail traffic. That or there was an accident loading fuel into a train and that spread quickly. All is supposition at the moment, however, and more will come later here and elsewhere. But the question now is whether this serves as a way for some cooperation -- on a humanitarian level -- between the United States and North Korea similar to the recent earthquake in Iran, or as natural disasters and major accidents have served as launch points for diplomatic tension-easers in the past.

Oh, and see -- no more live food stories (at least until I get to China?!)

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