Category Archives: food

Private Markets for Food Aid

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1129-1146:

Food aid from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and other donors mitigated the worst of the famine by the late 1990s. But in an indirect and accidental way, it also energized the market ladies and traveling entrepreneurs who would give Shin sustenance, cover, and guidance in his escape to China.

Unlike any other aid recipient in the world, North Korea’s government insisted on sole authority for transporting donated food. The demand angered the United States, the largest aid donor, and it frustrated the monitoring techniques that the U.N. World Food Program had developed around the world to track aid and make sure it reached intended recipients. But since the need was so urgent and the death toll so high, the West swallowed its disgust and delivered more than one billion dollars’ worth of food to North Korea between 1995 and 2003.

During these years, refugees from North Korea arrived in the South and told government officials that they had seen donated rice, wheat, corn, vegetable oil, nonfat dry milk, fertilizer, medicine, winter clothing, blankets, bicycles, and other aid items on sale in private markets. Pictures and videos taken in the markets showed bags of grain marked as “A Gift from the American People.”

Bureaucrats, party officials, army officers, and other well-placed government elites ended up stealing about thirty percent of the aid, according to estimates by outside scholars and international aid agencies. They sold it to private traders, often for dollars or euros, and delivered the goods using government vehicles.

Without intending to do so, wealthy donor countries injected a kind of adrenaline rush into the grubby world of North Korean street trading. The lucrative theft of international food aid whetted the appetite of higher-ups for easy money as it helped transform private markets into the country’s primary economic engine.

Private markets, which today supply most of the food North Koreans eat, have become the fundamental reason why most outside experts say a catastrophic 1990s-style famine is unlikely to happen again.

The markets, though, have not come close to eliminating hunger or malnutrition. They also appear to have increased inequity, creating a chasm between those who have figured out how to trade and those who have not.

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Filed under democracy, economics, food, Japan, Korea, NGOs, U.N., U.S.

Wordcatcher Tales: Baggywrinkle, 歃=Slurp

ARM Cuautémoc mainmast

ARM Cuautémoc mainmast

Baggywrinkle – The Mexican Navy’s training vessel ARM Cuauhtémoc visited Honolulu recently. It is a beautiful ship, a three-masted barque manufactured in Bilbao, Spain, in 1982, with steel hull, cables, and belaying pins, but teak deck and fine wooden railings and housings. The ship arrived and departed with most of the crew aloft, standing in the yards and shrouds, singing lively songs that carried far across the water as they set out to sea, bound for California. I was lucky enough to go aboard during its stay, to watch its theatrical departure, and to learn a new piece of nautical vocabulary from the encounter. Many of the thinner steel cables (stays) before the masts were covered with yellow baggywrinkle to prevent the sails from chafing against the metal. (Perhaps the baggywrinkle also helped ensure that no sailors would be sliced through if they fell from the rigging above—if they somehow slipped their harnesses and safety lines.)

susuru ‘slurp’ — One of my retirement hobbies is ramen research. This week I tried a new lunchtime ramen “pop-up” called Slurp on the premises of Vino wine bar at Restaurant Row (a.k.a. Waterfront Plaza) in downtown Honolulu. Their mazemen (‘mix noodles’ [not soupy]) was excellent, with Okinawan-style thick soba noodles, char siu, 5-minute egg, smoked bacon, ikura (salmon roe), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), and Tokyo negi (chopped leek).

kanji for slurp

Stylized kanji for Slurp

But their logo set me off on another episode of a lifelong hobby: kanji research. It’s a cleverly employed but relatively obscure (hyougai ‘unlisted’) kanji that I had to clip from the Unicode Unihan database, where its codepoint is U+6B43. The more common kanji for susuru ‘slurp’ in Japanese is 啜, as in 啜り上げる susuri-ageru ‘suck up’ or 啜り泣く susuri-naku ‘sob, sniffle’. (But when I first checked ‘slurp’ in Google Translate on my smartphone, all I got was 吸い込む sui-komu ‘suck in’ in Japanese and 思乐普 si-le-pu in Chinese, just a hanzi rendering of the sounds of the English word.) The regular kanji 啜 for susuru ‘slurp’ has the ‘mouth’ (口 kuchi) radical on its left and 4 little grasping hands (又) on the right. The restaurant Slurp has instead chosen to stylize the more obscure kanji for its logo. The kanji 歃 susuru ‘slurp’ has the ‘yawning’ (欠 akubi) radical on its right. It looks a bit like a person with shoulders and one arm hanging down, beneath which the logo has added a small bowl of steaming ramen. The left side of the kanji looks as if the top of a tongue (舌) is protruding from an open-mouthed mortar (臼) with jaws and teeth.

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Filed under anglosphere, food, Japan, language

Wordcatcher Tales: Fuki, Shishiudo

During our Japan Rail Pass travels in Hokkaido last month, we encountered not just hordes of Chinese tourists (mostly from Taiwan) inside the trains, but also hordes of two kinds of large, green, weedy plants in the scenery that passed by our train windows. Wooded areas were often full of plants we recognized from our past travels as fuki ‘butterbur’, while more open areas were often infested with what seemed to be a giant, atomic mutant variety of carrot or Queen Anne’s lace. We didn’t find out what the latter was until we saw a sign identifying it at Cape Nosappu, at Hokkaido’s (and Japan’s) easternmost point.

Fuki (フキ, also written 蕗、苳、款冬、菜蕗) ‘giant butterbur, bog rhubarb’– Petasites japonicus is quite edible after removing some of its astringency. It makes a variety of side dishes to go with rice in both Japan and Korea. (However, too much of it eaten over long periods might damage the liver.) We had encountered it in 2012 at Hikone Castle, where a smaller variety was labeled tsuwabuki, and also at Akita Castle grounds, where we also found butterbur designs on a manhole cover.

noroi-signShishiudo (シシウド, also called アンゼリカ anzerika) ‘angelica’ – Angelica is indeed a genus within the family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae), which includes carrots, Queen Anne’s lace, and many other plants, so my impressions of its taxonomic status were at least in the ballpark.

However, the Japanese generic name suggests that Angelica is a type of udo ‘Japanese spikenard, mountain asparagas’ (Aralia cordata), in the closely related Araliaceae family, which includes ivy. Indeed, before I found out its name, I thought of it as udo no taiboku ‘great tree of udo’ (implying something useless, of large size but no strength, like ‘all hat, no cattle’ in American, or at least Texan, English).

Two local species were identified on the sign at Cape Nosappu. Both common names are prefixed with ezo ‘Yezo (the old name for Hokkaido)':

エゾニュウ ezonyuu (Angelica ursina)

エゾノロイグサ ezo no yoroigusa (A. sachalinensis var. sachalinensis)

As the Japanese name of the latter suggests, both species seem closely related to the yoroigusa (Angelica dahurica) that grows elsewhere.

According to Wikipedia, Angelica dahurica is a wildly grown species of angelica native to Siberia, Russia Far East, Mongolia, Northeastern China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. It tends to grow near river banks, along streams and among rocky shrubs. The root of the plant is widely used for its medicinal properties and is known to contain furanocoumarins and angelicotoxin. It is also commonly known as Chinese Angelica, Garden Angelica, Root of the Holy Ghost, and Wild Angelica, as well as its Chinese name, Bai Zhi (白芷).

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High Oil Prices and the Brezhnev Era

From Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2014), Kindle Loc. 4290-4335:

By the end of the 1970s, these small garden plots, which took up 4 per cent of the country’s agricultural land, were producing 40 per cent of its pork and poultry, 42 per cent of its fruit and over half its potatoes.

Brezhnev responded to the agricultural crisis by allowing larger garden plots to stimulate production. He might have improved the Soviet system’s chances of survival by doing what the Chinese were doing at this time: de-collectivizing agriculture and returning to an NEP-like system of cooperatives and household farms on contracts, with the state allowing them to sell what they produced beyond their quotas on the free market. Soviet reformers were not unsympathetic to these policy ideas, even if they stopped short of recommending them. Gorbachev, who at this time was in the Agricultural Department of the Secretariat, proposed giving more autonomy to enterprises and associations in deciding various production and financial questions in a memorandum to the Central Committee in May 1978 (an idea repeated by Andropov on becoming General Secretary in 1982). But the Brezhnev leadership would not accept these proposals—even as trial policies. The old guard was too committed to the Stalinist collective farm system which they had implemented as young men. The Party’s power was heavily invested in the direct management of the collective farms by thousands of officials in the localities. Perhaps, in any case, fifty years of collectivization (twice as long as in China) had destroyed any hope of bringing the Soviet peasantry back to life.

Relying on their tiny garden plots to feed themselves, the kolkhoz workers lived in squalid poverty. Many inhabited houses without running water or electricity. The ablest and most enterprising, mostly men of conscript age, ran away from the countryside, which became a ghetto of the old, the infirm and the alcoholic, who worked badly. Entire villages were abandoned or left to rot with only a few elderly inhabitants where once perhaps a hundred families had lived.

Alcohol consumption more than doubled in the Brezhnev years. People drank out of despair. By the early 1980s, the average kolkhoz family was spending one third of its household income on vodka—an official figure which does not include the moonshine made by kolkhoz workers in their homes (for every bottle bought from shops, they drank a bucket of moonshine). Alcoholism was the national disease. It had a major impact on crime rates (around 10 million people every year were detained by the police for drunkenness) and a bad effect on male life expectancy, which declined from 66 in 1964 to just 62 in 1980. The regime was unconcerned by the problem. It increased its vodka sales to extract money from the population which had little else to buy. Better to have people drunk than protesting against shortages.

Oil revenues rescued the regime from probable food riots and possible collapse. They gave a lease on life to the Soviet economy, which would have been in severe trouble without a five-fold increase in crude oil prices as a result of the 1973 crisis. The Soviet Union doubled oil production in the 1970s, mainly by developing new fields in Siberia. With its dollar earnings from the sale of oil and gas, the government was able to buy consumer goods and foodstuffs from the West. Before the revolution, Russia had been a major agricultural exporter. But within sixty years it had turned into the biggest food importer in the world. One third of all baked goods in the country were made from foreign cereals. Cattle production was totally dependent on imported grain.

High oil prices also allowed the Soviet Union to be more assertive in its foreign policy. They financed an eight-fold increase in military spending under Brezhnev’s rule. By 1982, the military budget consumed approximately 15 per cent of the country’s GNP. The rise showed the growing power of hardliners in the Brezhnev government, particularly in the KGB, the armed forces, and the defence and foreign ministries, who were committed at all costs to maintaining military superiority over NATO as the foundation of Soviet security.

Their confidence was boosted by the failure of NATO to respond to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the reformist government of Alexander Dubcek in August 1968—an invasion that the Soviet Defence Minister, Andrei Grechko, had pledged to carry out ‘even if it leads to a third world war’. The Kremlin emerged from the crisis with renewed boldness. ‘The new correlation of forces is such that [the West] no longer dares to move against us,’ claimed Andrei Gromyko, the Foreign Minister.

Moscow justified its invasion and reinforced its grip on Eastern Europe by issuing the Brezhnev Doctrine, outlined in a speech by the Soviet leader to the Polish Communists in November 1968. When ‘forces hostile to socialism try to turn the development of a socialist country towards capitalism,’ Brezhnev warned the Poles, ‘it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.’ In practice what this meant was that the Soviet Union reserved for itself the right to intervene in the internal affairs of any Warsaw Pact country if it deemed it necessary for its own security.

Revolutionary ambitions also fuelled the Kremlin’s military spending. While Brezhnev talked détente with the Americans, the hardliners in his government were increasingly directing Soviet arms in support of Third World socialist revolutions and anti-colonial movements. The Americans approached détente in the belief that the Soviet leadership was becoming more pragmatic and less ideological or revolutionary in its foreign policy—a rational approach allowing them to ‘manage’ and contain it through deterrents and rewards. A CIA report of 1969 maintained that the ‘USSR tends to behave more as a world power than as the center of the world revolution’. But this assumption soon proved wrong.

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Filed under Eastern Europe, economics, energy, food, military, nationalism, U.S., USSR

Did Stalin Target Ukraine for Famine?

From Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2532-2548:

The outcome of this wholesale seizure of the harvest—encouraged by exaggerated surplus estimates from local officials eager to win favour from Moscow—was widespread famine in 1932–3. The number of deaths is impossible to calculate accurately, but demographers suggest that up to 8.5 million people died of starvation or disease. The worst-affected areas were in Ukraine, where peasant resistance to collectivization was particularly strong and the grain levies were excessively high. This has prompted some historians to argue that the ‘terror-famine’ was a calculated policy of genocide against Ukrainians—a claim enshrined in law by the Ukrainian government and recognized in all but name by the United Nations and the European Parliament.

Stalin had a special distrust of the Ukrainian peasantry. He was more than capable of bearing grudges against entire nationalities, and of killing them in large numbers, as he would demonstrate during the Great Terror and the war. The Kremlin was undoubtedly negligent towards the famine victims and did very little to help them. If it had stopped exporting food and released its grain reserves, it could have saved million of lives. Instead, the government prevented people fleeing from the famine area, officially to stop diseases spreading, but also to conceal the extent of the crisis from the outside world. Perhaps it used the famine as a punishment of ‘enemies’. In the reported words of Lazar Kaganovich, who oversaw collectivization and grain procurements in Ukraine, the death of a ‘few thousand kulaks’ would teach the other peasants ‘to work hard and understand the power of the government’. But no hard evidence has so far come to light of the regime’s intention to kill millions through famine, let alone of a genocide campaign against the Ukrainians. Many parts of Ukraine were ethnically mixed. There is no data to suggest that there was a policy of taking more grain from Ukrainian villages than from the Russians or other ethnic groups in the famine area. And Ukraine was not the only region to suffer terribly from the famine, which was almost as bad in Kazakhstan.

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Filed under economics, food, nationalism, Russia, Ukraine, USSR

Wordcatcher Tales: Senshoubyou, Jibaku, Mongai fushutsu

I came across three interesting Japanese terms recently, one at Yotteko-Ya ramen restaurant in Honolulu, the others in a book I’m reading about the Pacific War in Papua New Guinea.

Entrance to Yotteko-Ya

Entrance to Yotteko-Ya

門外不出 mongai fushutsu ‘gate-outside-not-depart’ – The full Yotteko-Ya catch phrase on the left side of their restaurant door was 門外不出の屋台味ラーメン mongai fushutsu no yataimi ramen (‘gate-outside-not-depart POSS streetstall-flavor ramen’). 門外不出 mongai fushutsu is a 4-kanji idiom implying ‘too precious to allow outdoors’, perhaps suggesting ‘you must enter this door to taste it’. The kanji 門 ‘gate’ (which resembles a pair of saloon doors) has many other literal and figurative uses. Here are a few of the latter: 門人 monjin (gate-person) ‘disciple, pupil’ or 門下・門下生 (gate-below/gate-below-life) ‘disciple, pupil'; and 門外 (gate-outside) ‘outside one’s specialty’ or 門外漢 (gate-outside-Chinese) ‘outsider, layperson’.

戦勝病 senshoubyou ‘victory disease’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010], Kindle Loc. 1991-2000):

The conquest of New Guinea received enthusiastic coverage in the Japanese press. One newspaper boasted: “Port Moresby is already on the verge of collapse as a result of repeated bombing by the Nippon Navy air corps. The present [efforts] of Nippon Army and Navy detachments completely sealed the fate of New Guinea.” Such propaganda had been published virtually every day since the beginning of the Pacific war, and by the spring of 1942, military personnel and civilians alike were brimming with overconfidence. The effect, later called senshobyo (literally, “victory disease”), was most apparent in the actions of military planners. Often displaying complete disregard for the capabilities of Allied forces, they tended to spread their forces thinly over large areas, sometimes extending them far beyond their lines of supply. (A prime example of senshobyo would occur in early April, when Vice Admiral Inoue and Major General Horii received orders to commence the second stage of the Southern Offensive. Instead of concentrating their resources on one objective, they planned simultaneous operations against Port Moresby and Tulagi, hundreds of miles from Rabaul in opposite directions. Even as that operation got underway, Admiral Yamamoto and the Combined Fleet staff began war-gaming the next offensive, the invasion of Midway.)

自爆 jibaku ‘self-explode’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010], Kindle Loc. 5537-5551):

The Japanese were highly reluctant to admit that hundreds of aviators had been burnt to a crisp because the aircraft engineers scorned the weight penalty of protected fuel tanks. To the contrary, the Japanese typically accounted for their losses by applying reverse psychology: whenever one of their aircraft burst into flames or was otherwise shot down during combat, it wasn’t entirely because the enemy had scored fatal hits; instead, the plane had merely been damaged, and its pilot decided to blow himself up (along with his crew, if applicable) as a symbolic act of suicide.

The Japanese called this jibaku, which literally means to self-explode. The amazing thing is that so many aviators, for all their intelligence and technological expertise, were brainwashed by the bushido mentality. Petty Officer Igarashi was a perfect example. Upon learning that one of his friends in Air Group 705 was shot down on April 14, he evoked the concept of jibaku as if it were the most natural thing in the world: “In the afternoon I went to the airfield again and heard about the great progress of the battle. More than ten vessels were sunk, airfields were on fire, etc. Unfortunately, Yokozawa self-exploded with Lieutenant Matuoka.”

After losing numerous dive-bombers and land-based medium bombers during the one-week operation, the conference attendees admitted that their planes needed “bullet protection,” as they quaintly put it. Heretofore, the aviation community had operated under the premise that the best defense was a good offense. In applying the samurai ethic to twentieth-century war machines, fliers and engineers alike valued speed, agility, and lightness above all other qualities. If a plane and its pilot were appropriately aggressive, there was little need for heavy armor plating or protected fuel tanks. As an extension of that mindset, most fighter pilots removed the radios from their planes, and many refused to wear a parachute because they considered the weight excessive.

Jibaku has the same ji as in 自殺 jisatsu ‘(self-kill =) suicide’ and the same 爆baku as in 爆発 bakuhatsu ‘explosion’ and 原爆 genbaku ‘atomic explosion’.

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Filed under food, Japan, language, war

British Indian POWs in New Guinea

From Hell’s Battlefield: The Australians in New Guinea in World War II, by Phillip Bradley (Allen & Unwin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 6755-6767:

As far back as 10 December 1944, the first two Indian prisoners of war had been found by an Australian patrol. Indians had been brought in by the Japanese to work in labour companies, and these two had walked for forty-five days from Wewak. The advance towards Balif in March gathered up more emaciated Indians: Sandy Pearson released some who had been kept in bamboo cages and were unable to stand. In March 1945, Gavin Long talked to a released Indian who had been captured in Singapore and brought to Wewak with about 500 other POW-slaves. Long wrote, ‘I have never seen a man so thin, he was literally skin and bone.’

The 2/8th Battalion recovered 102 Indian prisoners of the Japanese. Despite their starving condition, they refused bully beef because their Hindu faith proscribed it. One man who had survived a Japanese massacre fifteen days previously had been carried in on a stretcher. He gratefully ate biscuits and then gathered all the fallen crumbs and placed them in his shirt pocket.

By the end of the campaign, 201 Indian prisoners had been rescued by the 6th Division, the only survivors of around 3000 who had been brought to Wewak in May 1943. As Jemadar Chint Singh later wrote, ‘At this hour of our calamity the Division worked as [an] Angel for us.’ The angels kept particularly close to Singh: of the handful of Indian prisoners recovered from Japanese control at the surrender, he was the only one not on board during an aircraft accident in which the rest perished.

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Filed under Australia, Britain, food, India, Japan, labor, Papua New Guinea, slavery, war