What They Said is a weekly series on the quotes behind the headlines.
This rainy season has been a difficult one for South Korea with a death toll of over 40 due to landslides and flooding.
On July 16, an official from the Chungcheongbuk-do Provincial Government was at the receiving end of harsh criticism when a video surfaced online of him smiling as he greeted Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Won Hee-ryong at the site of the flooded underpass in Osong. The loss there of 13 lives represented Korea’s worst monsoon season incident in three years and the disaster could have been prevented. According to news reports, the superintendent from the National Agency for Administrative City Construction in charge of the Osong-Cheongju freeway expansion project made six calls on the day of the incident (at 6:14am, 6:20, and 6:33 to the Cheongju City Government Call Center; at 7:01 to the police; at 7:04 and 7:56 to the Cheongju City Road Facility Department; and again at 7:56) regarding the flooding of Miho River. Moreover, one local resident called the fire department at 7:51 regarding the collapsing dam, and again at 7:58 to ask for the closure of the underpass.
In a phone call with Yonhap News, the official apologized:
“It must have happened while I was briefing the minister about the extent of the disaster. Regardless of the reason, I apologize for my carelessness.”
— Official from the Chungcheongbuk-do Provincial Government, July 16, 2023
First Lady Kim Keon Hee also faced intense public criticism for taking a shopping trip in Lithuania while South Korea was suffering from torrential rain. On July 12, Lithuanian news outlet “Žmonės” reported that Kim had visited a luxury goods shop the previous day in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, while on a week-long trip with President Yoon Suk Yeol to Eastern European countries. The article further stated that Kim visited the shop with 16 aides, assistants, and guards, and that a few of them returned the following day to purchase additional items. When the news reached South Korea on July 14, the news enraged the opposition parties and the public.
By way of explanation, an official from the Office of the President said:
“It seems to be true that first lady Kim Keon Hee visited a shop.
However, it appears that she did not purchase any items and only visited one shop.
The facts of the matter must be confirmed in Lithuania.”
— Official from the Office of the President, July 15, 2023
Psy also came in for criticism, for his speech during the rainy season. On July 15, he held a Summer Swag concert in Yeosu, Gyeongsangnam-do. It did not rain in Yeosu, and the concert seems to have gone well, which was probably why Psy posted on Instagram:
“On July 15, in Yeosu, where the audience, the staff, the guests, the weather, and everything else was perfect, this was Psy, a singer from the Republic of Korea. Thank you.”
— Psy, July 16, 2023
Some expressed disdain, remarking that Psy could have refrained from praising the weather and his concert going well, in light of the deaths of more than 12 people in a flood in Osong that day.
May those who have lost their lives during this rainy season rest in peace, and condolences to those who have lost loved ones.