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Korea... in Blog Format

MBC says Korean Tourism is “Shameful.”

The blog koreaBANG comes out with some good stuff every now and then.  Added bonus?  They translate some Korean reader comments into English.  Yesterday they outlined MBC’s exposé on how some tourists (namely from that country just across the Yellow Sea) were being “taken for a ride” and how it could be damaging Korea’s long-term reputation as a tourist destination.

Korean tourism has made great strides over the past ten years, from 4.8 million tourists (or “number of arrivals”) in 2003 to 12.2 million in 2013.  However, despite the growth, there is some evidence that Korea may not be getting a lot of value from the increased numbers.  Part of it is structural (i.e. lower income of Chines visitors vis-à-vis Japanese tourists, the rising value of the won, etc.), however, some of it may be due to unscrupulous Korean merchants.  According to the MBC report a lot of tourists are getting scammed, leaving a bad taste in tourists’ mouths and threatening Korea’s long-term tourism growth:

However, Korea may not be drawing as much value from their tourist numbers than they perhaps should.  According to the MBC report a lot of tourists are getting scammed, leaving a bad taste

The shop owner: “This jacket is 120,000 won. The price is so cheap compared to its high quality.” The Chinese man paid about 210,000 won for 3 pieces of clothing.

The journalist tried buying the same clothes in the same shop.

(Journalist: “How much is it?”)
Shop owner: “You can take it for 55,000 won, if you pay cash.” When the journalist bought the same clothes that the Chinese man did, the price was about 100,000 won cheaper.

[...]

… Police investigated a Korean restaurant for Chinese tourists only, qualified as an outstanding restaurant by Tourism Board Organization. In the kitchen they found food that had passed the expiration date, and even leftovers that had been stored in the freezer.

Police: “3 years has passed (since the expiration date), 3 years.”

The same problem is occurring with accommodations. Among 70% with quality credentials have been reported for not meeting the requirements of a quality guarantee. Organizations awarding these credentials can also not be trusted…

The government has decided to loosen many regulations in order to raise the number of foreign tourists to 20 million by 2017. However, people point out that the government should combine all the quality assurance systems into one, and run it well.

So, there could be some long-term issues with Korean tourism and greater infrastructure integrity needs to be maintained while the industry continues to grow.  So, who has Korea decided to have helm the ship in these challenging waters?  Well, one important appointee is a former actor named Johnny Yune.  Ah, Johnny.  A very colorful guy who’s Korean-American (i.e. he’s got a U.S. passport), got his big break when he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1980s and starred in the comedy movie “They Call Me Bruce?” (a surprising hit movie making almost $17M in only 325 screens in 1982).  He also had his own talk show on some UHF channel called “The Johnny Yune Show.”  Wow, can’t make this stuff up!  Well, there’s always a chance that Johnny will pull a Reagan (another former actor) and perform better than expected.

A couple more interesting Korean tourism factoids:

  • Russians apparently spend a lot of money in Korea while they are visiting.  Apparently for “medical tourism” (yes, plastic surgery is counted in those “medical tourism” numbers).
  • As far as Korea’s tourism has come, its overall size is still small compared to the rest of the OECD. Korea’s direct tourism industry accounts for about 2% of the GDP, whereas the OECD’s average is 4.7%.  However, that isn’t the median (which is probably somewhere around 3.8 to 4.0%).  The outlier Greece has skewed the average a bit with its whopping 16% of GDP.  Wow, they sure are getting all they can out of some warm weather and some ancient ruins.

How happy are you?

It’s a simple question and one that Gallup-Healthways attempted to gauge by asking 133,394 people in 135 countries 10 questions (see page 106 for methodology).

The Global Well-Being Index includes the five elements of well-being:
• Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
• Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life
• Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
• Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
• Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

Surprisingly, the happiest country in the world is one that was artificially divided in the last century:  Panama.   Measured by the percentage of respondents who self-reported as thriving in at least three categories, here’s the top 10:  Panama (61%), Costa Rica (44%), Denmark (40%), Austria (39%), Brazil (39%), Uruguay (37%), El Salvador (37%), Sweden (36%), Guatemala (34%), Canada (34%).  Buoyed by Latin America, the Americas self-reported as the world’s happiest region.  The United States came in 12th.

Blah, Blah, Blah… What About Korea?

Korea ranked 75th.  Only 14% of respondents self-reported that they were thriving in at least three criteria.  Korea’s ranking puts itself in the same neighborhood as Iraq, 73rd with 15%.

South Korea

Well-Being Element

Thriving (%)

Struggling (%)

Suffering (%)

Regional Thriving (%)

Global Thriving (%)

Purpose

14

46

40

13

18

Social

22

47

31

19

23

Financial

37

39

25

25

25

Community

24

63

13

25

26

Physical

17

65

18

23

24

Here are the rankings of other countries of interest in the region:  40 – Philippines (24%),  44 – Thailand  (22%),  53 – Mongolia (18%), 54 – Vietnam, (18%), 55 – Taiwan (18%), 64 – Japan (15%), 90 – China (12%), and 93 – Cambodia (11%).

The Five Elements and Demographic Analysis

Although “financial well-being is relatively strong among South Koreans, purpose well-being – which is often associated with the quality of available jobs in a country – is not.”   Only 14% of South Koreans self-report as thriving in purpose well-being, and 40% as suffering, “indicating that many residents do not feel fulfilled in their day-to-day activities.”

Avoiding the C-word and the other C-word, the report concluded about Korea that  “low purpose well-being may often reflect traditional  organizational patterns – such as tenure based promotion and pay systems – that fail to ensure workers are in the right roles and are well-managed. Employed South Koreans are no more likely than those who are not employed to be thriving in this element.”

The report also specifically noted that South Koreans, despite their high average life expectancy, find physical well-being a struggle with only 17%  self-reporting as thriving.  “This is particularly worrisome given that South Korea is aging faster than any other country in the OECD; strategies for preventing and addressing age related health problems will be increasingly important.   In fact, most significant differences between various demographic groups in South Korea are related to age. Fifty percent of Koreans age 45 and older are not thriving in any element, compared with 37% of those younger than 45. Perhaps most alarmingly, Koreans aged 45 and older are significantly less likely to be thriving in financial well-being (28%) than their younger counterparts (43%).”

I found interesting that respondents self-reported their subjective measure of happiness.  Is happiness, necessarily a subjective state, really better measured by economists’ objective measures of per capita GDP or PPP?  How about well-being?  What is no less disturbing however, is that Koreans self-reported “struggling” and “suffering” numbers.  I could not find reports from decades ago, but a nearly universal observed phenomenon is that although increases in income correlate with increases in happiness in the short-term, increased income does not significantly correlate with increased happiness in the long-term.  Welcome to the club, Korea.

Read the full report here or watch the minute and a half video.  Yeah, I probably should’ve mentioned the video first.

More on FATCA Compliance in Korea – America Still Has A Big Stick

If you American expatriates remember, back in March, we wrote a thread about the effect of the FATCA American tax law upon Americans living in Korea.  Between now and 2015 marks a transition period for foreign banks to comply with reporting guidelines issued by the US Government for reporting overseas income from Americans in Korea.  You may well ask why should the Korean Government and banks do the leg work for the IRS in America, well congress decided to issue an ultimatum to world banks “report to us or we will cut you off from the American market (congress has decided to punish foreign financial institutions that refused to surrender U.S. accountholder information by cutting off their access to critical U.S. financial markets) cite.

This means, to summarize, that beginning roughly now, any American with 10,000 USD in a Korean bank or at least 50,000 USD in assets (stock, trust, etc.) will be reported to the IRS in America. You may also think that this affects only Americans but NO – it directly affects Koreans, for example, today I sat in a certain major Korean bank and watched a Korean national open a new account and, to my compete surprise, one of the documents they signed was a FATCA compliance document – all in Korean – that confirmed that the bank customer was really a Korean citizen and not an American.

I would never have imagined that the US could or would insert themselves so deeply into the common affairs of citizens of a foreign country, to this extent; requiring them to sign a document stating that they are not American citizens!  This also explains why so many Americans were refused service from European banks this last year.

Legal pot, Samsung sneers, and thanks for the help, Korea

- In one of the most entertaining pieces I’ve read all year, the Korea Times reports that some Koreans in the United States—well, in Colorado and Washington State—are experiencing “culture shock” with legal pot:

”Two months after my family moved in to a new house, we found out our neighbor was growing pot in her backyard with the fan running 24 hours a day,” wrote one Korean resident of Colorado on a local Korean online forum.

”My family, including my two young children, had to smell pot all day and all night. It’s been so torturous that I listed the house for sale, but realtors tell me I’m out of luck as long as the marijuana garden is next door,” she added.

Hey, just be happy you weren’t living next to a meth lab.

David Kim, an official of the Korean-American Association of Washington, told the Korea Times that, “‘It’s a culture shock. No matter what advocates here say, for Koreans, marijuana has always been and probably always will be considered a bad drug.” Except, of course, that’s not actually true. And it’s reportedly still legal in North Korea.

– Samsung is finding much humor in Apple’s decision to “go big,” although there appears to be some disagreement within Samsung regarding what’s actually funny:

The Korea-based company immediately released ads mocking almost every element of Apple’s show. The ads were a little coarse around the edges, not offering the same wit as some of the excellent mocking ads that had emerged from its US wing.

It was instructive that Samsung’s US spokesperson released this terse statement about them: “The social videos were produced in Korea and are not part of the US marketing campaign.”

Some might have translated that as: “Aaaggh. There they go undoing all our hard work. Bloody corporate headquarters!”

Anyway, watch the videos on your own. Frankly, I liked the Korean-produced ones better, even if I’ll never use an Android device again.

Don’t expect much help from Korea in the fight against ISIS.

Open Thread: September 14, 2014

I’ve lost count.

Flavour of the Month – A Sense of Decency Is A Good Thing

Some of the JoongAng Ilbo editors understand that when we lose our capacity for kindness, we lose much of what makes life bearable, not to mention the better parts of Korean society:

Everyone is entitled to express their opinion in a democratic society but that does not mean they should be cruel. To safeguard society, decency and respect toward others must be upheld regardless of differences in opinions and beliefs.

A Disgraceful Party.

Postlude – A Debt Is Paid – in 100won Coins

After  the electioneering done under the auspices of Won Sei-hoon (former head of the National Intelligence Service), where millions of tweets flooded twitter-space in a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in South Korea, Won has received a two and a half sentence – suspended.

According to a report by Yonhap News, “While the Seoul District Court decided he had ordered agents to post politically sensitive comments, it ruled there was not enough evidence to prove he directly sought to influence the outcome of the presidential ballot” – believe it or not. (cite)

According to the JoongAng:

The court, however, rejected the prosecution’s argument that Won violated the election law by ordering a systematic operation to influence domestic politics.
“No evidence was presented that Won made a direct order to the National Intelligence Service agents to influence the presidential election,” the court said. It also said the team’s operation was part of the agency’s routine activities.

The court said Won had a heavy responsibility as head of the NIS to protect the agency’s political neutrality and prevent its agents from meddling in politics. He, therefore, deserves severe criticism for promoting government policies while trying to smear opposition political parties, the court said. . . the court wrote “Won did not plan the operation with a purpose and he merely followed past practices.” (cite)

The court’s “get-out-of-jail-free” card was given to Won after he left prison for serving 14 months of a two year sentence for graft.

Two other former senior officials of the spy agency who had been indicted on similar charges were each sentenced to a year in prison on Thursday, but their sentences were also suspended. Both the prosecutors and the defendants have a week to appeal the verdicts. (cite)

So who is responsible for running a subversive campaign against the Republic of Korea, if it wasn’t the DPRK and it was not Won’s boss (the president)?

The Korean Herald: Racism in Korea

I know the news of the bar in Itaewon “not accepting” Africans is old and has been making the rounds in the Korean blogsphere.

(Image from Kenyabwala.com)

They did quickly issue an apology a day later.  However, I’m sure the apology was probably insufficient to many.

(Image from Koreaboo blog)

It may have only been 24 hours since the original signs were replaced, but let’s face it.  The damage was done.  The photo is a symbol of the issues of race that Korea is still mulling over.  To be fair, most countries have issues with race but a recent article from the Korea Herald (English Edition) did an excellent job at discussing its context within modern Korea.

[Korean racism]… is a complex product of the country’s colonial history, postwar American influence and military presence, rapid economic development as well as patriotism that takes a special pride in its “ethnic homogeneity,” according to professor Kim Hyun-mee from Yonsei University.

Unlike racism in the West, Korean racism is mostly targeted against those from other Asian nations, she noted. As of this year, more than 80 percent of immigrants residing in South Korea are from countries in Asia, the largest number coming from China and Vietnam.

(Graph from Korea Herald)

It’s really a nice article written by Claire Lee, who looks like she was educated in Canada (perhaps she is a gyopo?).  My excerpts don’t do it justice.  It’s well worth reading the article in its entirety.

Note

I don’t mind spirited discussion/debate, but let’s keep it civil folks.

Open Thread: Chuseok 2014

I just wanted to wish you all a happy and healthy Chuseok holiday.

Andrei Lankov asks what North Koreans really think about South Korean dramas

If one were to believe many news reports about North Korea, one may be forgiven for having the impression that the starving masses there long for a glamorous life in the South and are highly envious of their southern neighbors.  Well, the truth may be a little more complex.

The eminently readable and relevant Andrei Lankov asked the same question and came up with a highly textured answer.  In short, the Northerners are in fact impressed by Southern prosperity, but are also appalled by the violence, sex and greed exhibited in the dramas.

At first glance, it seems that North Koreans are bound to be admiring and envious of their South Korean brethren, whose income and living standards are so much higher and whose lifestyle is so much more comfortable….

[...]

The picture of the South within North Korea is a bit more complex, though. While admiring the almost unbelievable prosperity of the South, viewers are also exposed to many of the negative aspects of South Korean society.

[...]

… a number of North Korean viewers have come to the conclusion that South Korea must be a very violent place where police shoot suspected criminals more or less at random…

[...]

… casual sex, let alone sex as a means by which to advance one’s career or make some other type of gain, is considered morally despicable by… [North Koreans] . When they encounter a depiction of casual sex and one-night stands in South Korean movies, this confirms their belief in South Koreans’ low moral standards.

Very interesting read.  Dr. Lankov never disappoints.

USFK and the ROK to form a joint division

The USFK and the ROK army has agreed to form a joint division by next year, 2015.  This join division will essentially be the current U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, plus one brigade sized Korean unit.  The division will be commanded by an American two star general and will have a one star Korean deputy general.

(Photo from Yonhap)

Apparently, this division won’t be officially formed until wartime.  The 2nd ID would function and administer itself normally.  However, a Korean brigade sized mechanized infantry unit (heavy on armored personnel carriers and tanks) will be stationed along side the 2nd ID at Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek (which itself is scheduled to be completed in 2017).  If there’s a war or an emergency situation (i.e. North Korea collapses) then the two units will officially combine.

What does this all mean?  Well, all the sources I’m reading indicates that it will mean the 2nd ID’s 1st Brigade and 2nd Aviation Combat Brigade  (both stationed in Korea) will have a consistent Korean brigade sized unit to train and exercise with.  Additionally, the division will be separate from the Combined Theater Command, i.e. the apparent structure where command of forces in Korea will be transferred to ROK control.

I wonder what this means for the other two combat brigades of the 2nd ID, the 2nd and 3rd Combat Brigades (Stryker), stationed in Ft. Lewis, Washington?  Too early to tell, but the Korean mechanized brigade technically makes one of them redundant.

An American division being augmented by a foreign brigade.  Has this ever happened before?  Even in NATO?

Notes

An American infantry division is about 17-21k men.

A mechanized brigade is about 3,000 to 4,000 men.

 

Chad Future wants to introduce America to K-pop

Well, actually something he calls “AK-pop” or “American music inspired by K-pop.”  Chad Future (a.k.a. Detroit native David Lehre) has even set up a production company, Vendetta Studios, to make music videos and record songs.

Here are a few of them:

Listen, I can’t speak for the anyone else other than myself, but I laughed, I cringed and I really couldn’t get into the music.  Overall, I thought his videos and music were a little strange and overwrought.  That’s just my opinion though.

The last video, “When You Call,” features a Korean American singer, Jamie Seo, who looks so untypical for a Korean pop star.  She isn’t super skinny with long legs, big eyes and aegyo sal.   I think that’s refreshing and something that K-pop can perhaps learn from Chad Future.

Any ways, Mr. Lehre knows he’s got a lot of haters out there, but he’s being persistent.  He’s been at it for at least 2-3 years (I first blogged about him in 2012) and I have a feeling he won’t be going away any time soon.  So, Mr. Lehre/Future, I’ll be honest and say that your music isn’t my style, but it isn’t my business to tell another man not to pursue his dreams, so I wish you luck.

Myanmar beauty queen wants an apology, soldiers face murder charges and N. Korean car culture

- May Myat Noe, the dethroned Burmese beauty queen accused of running off from Korea with a $100,000 tiara, says she will give back her crown… IF the organizers offer her an apology:

She told reporters she was forced to lie about her age and organisers had demanded that she have “head-to-toe” plastic surgery.

She also denied claims that she had run off with the crown, saying she had boarded the plane for Myanmar without realising she had been dethroned.

Over at the Korea Observer, Kim Tae-hoon talked with May Myat Noe, but perhaps more interestingly, he also tried to visit the organizers’ office… with interesting results.

– I suppose it’s nice that lawmakers have each other’s backs.

– The four soldiers accused of, well, beating a fellow soldier to death are now being charged with murder. And how’s this for horrible:

Investigators in the Third Army also concluded that so-called crush syndrome and secondary shock from a long period of violence were the main causes of Yoon’s death, citing reviews of medical and autopsy records and consultations with experts.

“Crush syndrome threatened the soldier’s life as muscles were destroyed and blood became toxic due to a beating or a crushing injury,” said Col. Kim Jin-gi, staff judge advocate of the Third Army headquarters. “A secondary shock was from massive blood loss due to injury.”

“In other words, he was beaten to death,” another military official said.

Crush syndrome is usually associated with people who are injured in an earthquake or a collapsed building.

Colonel Kim said the accused soldiers, who had enough medical knowledge as medical officers, were aware of Yoon’s deteriorating physical condition on the day of his final beating but did not stop the brutality.

“Some of the accused were medical students, and they had enough understanding that Yoon could die from continuing beatings and abuse,” he said. “We secured evidence to accuse them with gross negligence.”

I’d write something, but really, I’m speechless.

And in more “Good News from the ROK Military,” the commander of the 1st ROK Army has been sacked for getting sloshed at a time when the military was supposed to be at heightened readiness, and two special forces soldiers died during a harsh training exercise meant to simulate captivity conditions.

– Korean-born Fleur Pellerin is France’s new Minister of Culture.

– North Korea has screwed Volvo out of USD 393 million, reports Jalopnik. But before you feel too bad for the folk involved:

The story goes like this: back in the late 60s/early 70s, North Korea seemed to be making remarkable economic growth and had a lot of potential mineral wealth opportunities. In Sweden, an unusual alliance of socialist groups who wanted the Marxist state recognized and capitalists who wanted to recognize a lot of cash from mining agreed that it would be a great idea to start doing some business with North Korea.

And that was the mistake.

Volvo was one of the first to take advantage of this incredible opportunity, shipping 1000 Volvo 144s to the Hermit Kingdom, along with, presumably, a bill which then-leader Kim Il-Sung promptly got a crack team of highly trained ignorers to forget about.

Let this be a lesson to you.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it already, check out Jalopnik’s fascinating look at North Korea’s car culture. And according to the Financial Times, at least somebody in North Korea is driving around in a BMW 7 Series.

Tiaras, t*ts and human rights abuses, Ashley Madison sues, K-pop’s black fans & more dangerous satire

- Well, I’m sure you’re all familiar now with the Burmese beauty queen who allegedly ran off from Korea with a tiara and a new set of boobs. The organizers have taken to the press to bash her, but judging from this piece in the excellent Korea Observer, it would seem there are some serious shenanigans going on with the organizers, too. And this is not the first time allegations have been made against the pageant in question, either.

– Ashley Madison is suing Korea, accusing Seoul of blocking their website for no reason other than to protect local companies:

The suit alleges South Korea is trying to give its own companies a leg up when it comes to breaking into the Canadian market.

“The defendants’ anti-competitive practices in South Korea have a direct impact in Canada on communications and social networking businesses and websites competing for the Korean-Canadian and Asian-Canadian market for such websites,” it claims.

“Given the global reach of the Internet, a social networking service that meets with success among any particular group of people in one country has or will have a significant competitive advantage among people of that same group or related groups in other countries.”

OK, granted, we are talking about a country that criminalizes adultery and arrested some, ahem, entertainers for shooting porn… in Canada.

But we’re also talking about a country that’s not above a bit of neo-mercantilism, either.

– In case you were wondering, yes, there are black folk who like K-pop.

– Yes, Korea has a plagiarism problem, although as everybody knows, it’s not because of Confucianism. It’s because of PTSD.

– Last, but certainly not least, I’m pretty sure I’d agree with little of this guy’s politics, but he’s right when he says, “Satirizing political power should not be a crime.”

Open Thread – The Dog Massage Edition

dog_massage

So Koreans will die out, household debt is probably going to explode and the next president might be an ex-felon – you should learn to relax.

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