Harvard-Stanford Math Prodigy Hoax

veritas

The widely circulated story of a “Korean high-school student (who) has set the enviable record of attending both Harvard and Stanford universities” is a hoax.

Chosun Ilbo - Korean Student Gets Chance to Attend Both Harvard and Stanford

Local and some international media outlets reported last week that a Korean student at a Virginia high school had been accepted by Harvard and Stanford and that both universities so desired her that they agreed to create a special program to allow her to study at both universities without her having to choose one.  Questions quickly arose about her admissions and special program, and both universities have issued statements denying the reports.

According to Yonhap News, “Harvard and Stanford universities denied Tuesday that a South Korean high school student can attend both schools as part of a special joint program for her, debunking the story of a ‘math prodigy’.”

The student’s family claimed that both Harvard and Stanford tried to convince Kim to choose their universities  because she was “such a brilliant student, especially at mathematics.”  The student’s family went on to claim that the universities created a special program to allow her to study at Stanford for the first two years and at Harvard for the other two years.  The Chosun Ilbo published the following in an article that was removed from its site today:

(The student) initially opted for Harvard, but Stanford wanted her too and struck a deal with Harvard to create a unique program for her. She will study at Stanford during her freshman and sophomore years and then at Harvard for her junior and senior years. She can then choose from which school she takes her bachelor’s degree.

Harvard Public Affairs and Communications official Anna Cowenhoven wrote in an email to Yonhap News Agency that “we have been made aware of an alleged admissions letter sent to (student name) by Harvard University. We can confirm that this letter is a forgery…. Despite recent media reports, there is no program in existence through which a student is admitted to spend two years at Harvard College and two years at Stanford University.

The student’s family provided a letter to reporters as evidence of the student’s admission to Stanford.  A senior communications official at Stanford University, Lisa Lapkin, denied that Stanford had admitted the student.  “‘I am confirming that the letter you received was NOT issued by Richard Shaw or Stanford University,’ she said in response to Yonhap’s request for confirmation of an alleged admission letter signed by the dean of admissions and financial aid.”

The student’s father is reportedly the managing director of Nexon Korea.  “In response to the allegations of fake admissions, he has said that there could be some misunderstanding because her admission is a very special case that has been discussed only between professors of the two universities.”

The student’s family has nonetheless “stuck to the claim and decided to take the case ahead through a lawyer.”


Anyone who is familiar with those universities likely suspected that the story might not be true.  Harvard and Stanford almost routinely receive (and reject) applications from among the best and brightest, and their admissions’ committees strive to balance admitting talented and interesting individuals against building a diversified and cohesive class.

The Korea Observer published an image of the letter supposedly received from Stanford and submitted as evidence by the student’s family.  The letter is dated April 1, which might indicate a cruelly epic April Fool’s prank.  If I remember correctly, the Ivies send their regular admissions notices (and rejections) on April 1.

Unfortunately for the student, the father’s claim as reported that “there could be some misunderstanding because her admission is a very special case that has been discussed only between professors of the two universities” seems to preempt the April Fool’s we-was-pranked defense.  I suspect that the father’s sticking to the claim and pursuing the case “through a lawyer” is for public consumption.


UPDATE:  The father of the student has issued an apology to the press and taken full responsibility for the hoax.  Below is the translation of his letter to the press:

I am the father of the child, and I sincerely apologize for causing such a big controversy with false information, and apologize to those involved.

Everything is my fault and my responsibility. I did not know until now how much my child was suffering and hurting and did not properly take care of her. As her father, I regret having pushed my child into deeper sickness and causing the problem to get bigger.

Going forward, our family will put everything toward treating and taking care of our daughter and live quietly. Please forgive me for not being able to explain all the details, as we have not yet finished assessing the entire situation.

My family is the most precious thing to me in any situation. To help my child and my family go forward in recovery without further hurt, I ask that the media cease reports and filming. Once more, with my head lowered, I apologize.

Although the father “had provided dozens of pages of proof in the form of acceptance letters from each university and correspondences between himself and alleged professors at each school”, Korean language newspapers have suggested that the source and fault for the hoax lie with the student and have hinted at a deeper problem.

UPDATE 2:  JTBC News and other Korean language news sources cite the student’s father implying that the student had some psychological issues.  I have not seen such implied (besides the translated letter above) in English language media, and I believe that, regardless of whether the student had psychological issues, that airing or publishing such is wrong.

According to news sources (see above), the father claimed to have evidence of “correspondences between himself and alleged professors at each school”.  Either news sources made a false attribution to the father or the father lied about the correspondences.  The father’s statements of his child’s mental state in Korean media serve no purpose other than to save his own face at the further expense of his child.  He needs to do now what he should have done once the story blew up:  issue an apology, make some vague statement accepting full responsibility, take care of his child, and shut up.  For any father, regardless of whether he had the slightest hand (as suggested by his claims of correspondences with professors) in creating this mess, to do anything else…

I’m at a loss for words.

UPDATE 3:  The Chosun Ilbo has published another article, Korean ‘Prodigy’ a Serial Fabricator.  Particularly given Korea’s anti-defamation laws, I do not see how the public interest is served in revealing such defamatory information.  I did not see the necessity for the JTBC interview with the student’s father and now less so for the piling on in the Chosun Ilbo.  Although U.S. speech laws would make publishing such non-actionable, I’d like to think journalistic integrity would preclude the publication.  I’m no fan of Korea’s anti-defamation laws, but given their existence and the lack of journalistic restraint, I hope they’re exercised in this case.

Enough already.

MERS Goes Viral

MERS Goes Viral

Korea, from news broadcasts to casual conversations, seems to be all MERS all the time.  Korea’s media have covered angles from the effect on the economy and tourism to the government’s inadequate response, contrasting Cheong Wa Dae’s with the White House’s model during the U.S’s ebola outbreak.

As of this writing, 585 schools (mostly in Gyeonggi-do, Chungcheongbuk-do, and Chungcheongnam-do) have voluntarily closed at least through the end of this week.  Those 585 school closings don’t include kindergartens or daycares or the effectively shutdown education institutions where parents have kept their children home.

When I arrived home last night, Anonymous_Wife pointed to the empty playground and told me that she had kept the Anonymous_Kids home and that no children had gone to the playground all day.  (“Wouldn’t the playground then be safe for our kids?”)

My conversations with working Koreans have centered around their MERS concerns and MERS rumors’ outbreaks.  All speak as though what they have heard through the rumor mill is fact.  Even my Gyeonggi-do city has had a MERS death. I’ve heard the name of a major hospital in the neighboring city where a bus driver (or bus company executive, depending on the storyteller) had been admitted, had several bus driver visitors, and was later diagnosed with and died of MERS.  The implication is that bus drivers visited an infected coworker bus driver, drive buses, and come into contact with thousands of people everyday.

One might reasonably ask, as Arirang News did,

…why is the government not announcing the names of the hospitals that are treating confirmed patients?

The task force said it has decided to withhold that information because it would do more harm than good.  They’re concerned that people who suspect they might have the virus might delay treatment out of fear of going to one of these hospitals.

So rather than officially name a few hospitals (and then provide assurances), the rumor mill effectively names ’em all.  The law of unintended consequences in action.

Flaming Flags

South Korea Flag Burning

Seoul Metropolitan Police filed on May 31 for an arrest warrant against a 24-year old Korean man, identified only by his surname Kim, for flag desecration.  According to the Hankyoreh,  Kim “burned a piece of paper showing an image of the South Korean flag while facing off with police who had erected a vehicle barricade at a memorial demonstration for the first anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking.”

Kim is accused of setting fire to the paper showing the South Korean flag in front of the barricade of police buses after large sections of major roads around Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul were closed off during the Sewol memorial demonstration on April 18. After images of the scene appeared in the press and politicians began calling for harsh punishment, police spent 40 days tracking Kim’s activities before finally arresting him on May 29 at a park in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province.

…In requesting an arrest warrant, police also charged Kim with general traffic obstruction, failure to obey an order to disperse, and damage to public property (a police bus).

The most interesting charge pertains to Article 105 of the Criminal Act, Pofanation of the National Flag or Emblem:

A person who damages, removes or stains the national flag or the national emblem for the purpose of insulting the Republic of Korea shall be punished by imprisonment or imprisonment without prison labor for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications without prison labor for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications for no t more than 10 years, or a fine of not more than seven million won.

Article 105 specifically requires intent or “purpose of insulting the Republic of Korea” for the charge of flag desecration.

According to the op. cited Hanky article, “during questioning by police, Kim said he ‘did not have the aim of desecrating the flag,’ adding that he set fire to it ‘spontaneously out of rage at the police’s unjust use of authority.’  Kim’s attorney, Jeong Min-yeong, said Kim ‘only set fire to the flag as an expression of protest at the police’s excessive suppression tactics. There was no other aim besides that.'”

Chief of the SMPA’s second investigation section Kim Geun-man said,”the purpose of his flag burning is still under investigation.  It has not been confirmed whether Mr. Kim is affiliated with any specific groups.”

An attorney with the group MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Park Ju-min commented “we should take a separate view when it comes to criticizing the government’s exercise of public authority, as opposed to insulting the state.”


For those who wonder “what constitutes a flag” and for comparison, U.S. code uses the term “flag of the United States” to mean “any flag of the United States, or any part thereof, made of any substance, of any size, in a form that is commonly displayed.”  In short, that Kim burned a paper picture of a Korean flag is likely a non-starter as a principle of defense.

U.S. law also has provisions for criminal prosecution of U.S. flag desecration:

§700. Desecration of the flag of the United States; penalties
(a)(1) Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

U.S. code considers flag desecration damaging the U.S. flag for clothing material or using the U.S. flag for a beach blanket.  I found nothing in Korea’s Criminal Act that criminalizes such uses.

Korea’s Criminal Act, Article 109 (Profanation of Foreign Flag or Foreign Emblem) also criminalizes damaging, removing, or staining a foreign national flag or emblem for the purposes of insulting a foreign country.  Article 110 requires, in effect, the consent of the foreign government concerned, which might explain the absence of criminal prosecutions when Koreans burn U.S. flags in protest.

The key difference is that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that flag desecration as a form of political protest, even against the United States, is protected speech.

I do not want to make spectator sport of another man’s life, but I hope Kim is forced to mount a constitutional challenge based on political speech.  Korea’s Constitutional Court has made some head scratching rulings regarding political speech in Korea, and the Constitutional Court’s prior rulings paint itself into a corner.

UPDATE:  Arrest warrant rejected for protester who burned national flag

A local court refused to issue an arrest warrant Tuesday for a protestor accused of burning taegeukgi, the Korean national flag, during a rally in April after concluding that the incident as an impulsive act

…Seoul Central District Court said, “It seems that Kim was stirred up, inflicting an injury on himself on the arm during the rally, and burned the flag impulsively and unpremeditatedly.”

It said that the prosecution would be able to investigate Kim without arresting him, considering that he did not commit the crime systematically or with other accomplices, that he has reflected on his acts and that he has no previous criminal record.

Seeking the warrant prompted criticism of the police and the prosecution, because it is unusual to do so for burning a taegeukgi.

There have been many incidents during which protestors, conservative and progressive, have burned the national flag during rallies. But such people have usually not faced indictment, as the law states only those who damage the national flag “with intention to defame the country” are subject to punishment.

 

Sympathy for the Devil

Cho Hyun-ah arriving at Seoul Western Prosecutor's Office Dec. 30, 2014 - AP

South Korea’s High Court overturned a lower court’s February decision to imprison Cho Hyun-ah for one year for last December’s “nut rage” incident.  Seoul’s High court found that Cho did not violate aviation security law when she ordered the chief flight attendant off the December 5, 2014 flight, forcing the KAL airliner to return to the gate at JFK Airport.

Seoul’s high court meted out a 10-month prison sentence suspended for two years and set Cho free.  Deemed a flight risk before her trial, Cho had been jailed since her December arrest, and she effectively served five months in prison.

Seoul’s lower court had convicted Cho in February of “forcing a flight to change its route, obstructing the flight’s captain in the performance of his duties, forcing a crew member off a plane and assaulting a crew member.”  The lower court had found her not guilty of interfering with the transport ministry’s investigation into the incident.

At February’s trial, Cho pleaded not guilty and prosecutors sought a three year prison sentence.  Both sides appealed February’s decision and sentence.

In overturning the most serious of the lower court’s findings, Seoul’s High Court interpreted that Cho’s actions did not violate the aviation security law, which is meant to regulate severe acts such as hijacking. Seoul’s High Court determined that Cho’s actions posed no serious threat and that Cho’s demanding the return of the taxiing plane did not constitute forcing a plane to change its route.

Seoul’s High Court found that Cho had “shown remorse for the wrongdoing she committed. She must have learned a lesson from it. We judge she should have a chance to start her life anew.”

The head of the three judge panel Kim Sang-hwan found that even though Cho had used violence against crew members, Cho should be given a second chance.  The judge cited Cho’s “internal change” since Cho started serving her prison term.  Judge Kim also took into consideration that Cho had no prior convictions and was the mother of 2-year-old twins in lessening Cho’s sentence.

Former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah, center, is surrounded by reporters at the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, May 22, 2015. The upper court Friday sentenced Cho to 10 months in prison and then suspended the sentence for two years. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Cho Hyun-ah is surrounded by reporters at the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Upon leaving the court house, Cho “made no comment in front of the TV cameras, bowing her head and burying her face in her hands as the media pressed in and yelled for her to say something.”

“It appears that she will have to live under heavy criticism from society and stigma,” said Judge Kim.


Aside from the worldwide notoriety and igniting of the smoldering embers below the tinderbox that Korean society is in relation to its chaebols, I think her sentence, given her time served, seems fair.  Clearly, the three years sentence sought by prosecution was excessive as would be any sentence over one year.

My major objections to the High Court’s lessening Cho’s sentence are that KAL executives and an investigator who once worked for KAL (daddy’s fiefdom company) obstructed justice on Cho’s behalf and the reduction of her sentence from one year to 10 months (suspended) reduces the sense of seriousness of her crimes.   Of course, serious crimes or lengths of prison sentences haven’t prevented Chaebol heads or their family members from returning to their positions in the past.

Cho still faces civil lawsuits, not in Korea’s mealy civil courts, in New York.


(Featured image Cho Hyun-ah leaves a Seoul court in December. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP)

 

CNN International butchers “Park Geun-hye”

UK Daily Mirror's Butchered PGH Photo

In the run up to John Kerry’s speech at Korea University today, CNN International reported in news briefs that United States Secretary of State John Kerry met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.  Both news readers, Zain Asher and Rosemary Church, butchered the pronunciation of President Park’s name, using the same mispronunciation “Park Gun-high”.

I understand that some names from one language and culture get garbled, perhaps necessarily, when vocalized by speakers of another culture.  Speakers of some languages don’t make certain sounds in their languages, and the transliteration of those sounds across alphabets sets the stain.

The problem isn’t unique to Asian pronunciations or those languages that use different alphabets.  American English speakers badly butcher the artist Van Gogh’s name (the proper phonetic rendering I will leave for a spirited debate in the comments before its inevitable devolving into ad hominems and anarchy).  Some names that English native speakers should properly vocalize are not for no other reason than differences in language flow.  Tennis great Maria Sharapova, whose name’s sounds native English speakers should reasonably approximate (save for the final syllable of her surname), gets spoken as ‘Share-uh-POH-va’.  Upon hearing her name vocalized by a native Russian speaker, I could immediately echo ‘Sha-rrah-puh-vwa’.  I have met some native English speakers who have difficulty with the trilled, or rolling, ‘r’-sound as spoken in Spanish and Italian and in Maria Sharpova’s Russian pronunciation of her given name and first syllable of her surname.

Americans and other native English speakers can learn to recognize and properly pronounce other cultures’ names that do not follow the rules or even guidelines of English, as any basketball fan knows with Duke’s Coach Mike Krzyzewski and any political junkie knows with Carter’s National Security Advisor and (underrated) political pundit Zbigniew Brzezinski.  So, there’s no excuse.

I blame Koreans.

Of course, CNN’s news readers deserve the initial blame for mispronouncing President Park Geun-hye’s name:  they didn’t do their research and should have asked someone, if not on staff then somewhere.  Nonetheless, the growing Korean diaspora and community, which are gaining in numbers and influence, seem content to silently let this and other Korean name pronunciation errors stand.

Unlike Maria Sharapova, whose brand brings in more bling than her prodigious tennis earnings and (perhaps) for business reasons wants to Americanize the pronunciation of her name, Koreans have no such excuse.  I’m lookin’ at you “Hee-seop Choi“.  Choi Hee-seop should have instructed baseball announcers in Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles in his name’s proper pronunciation.  Given Choi’s failing or inability to do so, native Korean-speaking baseball fans in those cities should have told baseball announcers Choi’s name’s correct pronunciation.   Even Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci set the world straight as a 14 year old.


I wrote to CNN International offering to help them to better pronounce Korean names by connecting CNN International staff with native Korean speakers:

Correct Pronunciation of South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s Name
Dear CNN International,

Your news readers are mispronouncing South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s name. President Park’s name is pronounced “pak k͈ɯnh(j)e” or approximately “Pock Gewn-hyeh”.

Korean and eastern cultures value the correct pronunciation of their names the same as in western cultures. I can connect your research staff with native Korean speakers and offer my assistance to do so.

Sincerely,
Anonymous_Joe

As I take a breath from cleaning up my small part of my small world, I’ll hold that breath waiting for CNN’s reply.


(Featured image courtesy of ripped from UK’s Daily Mirror, which inexplicably butchered Park Geun-hye’s photo of today’s meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.)

Pizza night

Pizza Vending Machine

Wednesday might have been Prince Spaghetti day for Anthony Martinetti in the north end of Boston, but Friday night was pizza night for Anonymous_Joseph growing up on the east side of Anonymous_City.  Whereas the north end of Boston was home to the Prince Spaghetti company, my Anonymous_Hometown had some of the best pizzerias, featuring wood-fired brick oven, hand-tossed pizzas.  The pizza makers were like clockworks, stewing their fresh tomatoes into sauce at four in the morning daily.  When I go back, I plan to eat pizza for the first year.  (BTW, my Philistine reader, just as true steak lovers order theirs seared on the outside and bleeding rare on the inside, true pizza lovers order the Margherita.)

The KT US, if you can trust them at the risk of being dragged out into the streets and shot, announced “the world’s first pizza vending machine has landed in Korea.”

World’s first pizza-making vending machine in S. Korea

By Rachel Lee

The world’s first pizza vending machine has landed in Korea.

The “Let’s Pizza,” made in Italy, was launched at Seoul Food 2015, Tuesday, at Kintex in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.

The four-day food industry exhibition, established in 1983, is the third largest in Asia. Under the theme “Wave on the Table,” about 1,480 exhibitors from 44 countries are taking part.

The vending machine creates the pizza by kneading the dough, mixing the ingredients and selecting the toppings ― margherita, pepperoni, ham or bacon. The pizza takes about three minutes to bake.

“All the ingredients used are from Italy, and we use 100 percent real cheese,” Seo Soo-jin, 28, CEO of distributor P & Food System, told The Korea Times. “It’s good quality and the prices are reasonable, too.”

Prices are expected to be between 6,200 (US$5.70) and 6,800 won (US$6.25) for a whole pizza. Cash, credit and check cards can be used in the machine.

The company said maintenance was designed to be quick and easy, with daily cleaning taking about 10 minutes and a weekly cleaning requiring 45 minutes.

The Let’s Pizza machine has enough flour and tomato for 100 pizzas before it requires filling.

“Our product has drawn a massive interest among those visiting Seoul Food because the pizzas taste great,” Seo said.

The “Let’s Pizza” machine can be placed at public places including underground stations, universities, theme parks, stadiums, theaters and swimming pools.

No word yet  whether corn will be added to a localized menu.

I wish them well and am initially curious enough to override my instincts to squeeze a penny into copper wire to spring for one.


(Photo Courtesy of Ripped from Working P Company.  Somehow, I don’t think they’ll mind.)

Korean media calls NYT ‘potentially racist'; pot calls kettle ‘potentially black’

Korea Nail Salon Owners - Fighting!

Today’s KT cited Korean media reactions to a NYT investigative article about the alleged exploitation of workers at New York City’s Korean dominated nail salons.  The KT claimed Korean media view the article as “potentially racist” and focused on The New York Times’ “distortion of the truth” and the fear of a potential backlash that could lead to racial discrimination against Koreans in America:

Various Korean news outlets claim the article is a “distortion of truth against Korean-owned nail shops.”

Joongang Ilbo’s affiliate channel JTBC reported that wage differences were related only to workers’ years of experience, and that most shops pay the legal wage.

Lee Sang-ho, from the Korean Society in New York, told JTBC, “This could trigger negative views of Koreans and lead to racial discrimination against Koreans in America.”

He said Korean owners of nail shops in New York would hold a press conference disputing the NYT report.

SBS also reported that Korean owners were planning an official response stating that most of the article was untrue and pointing out that there might be a backlash against Koreans in the U.S.

Based on journalist Sarah Maslin Nir’s 13-month investigation, The New York Times published the two-part piece with part two as the lead article on its website.  Part one, Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers, focused on health issues faced by the nail technicians.  Part two, The Price of Nice Nails, used the words Korea or Korean 23 times.  Here is a sampling.

Korean workers routinely earn twice as much as their peers, valued above others by the Korean owners who dominate the industry and who are often shockingly plain-spoken in their disparagement of workers of other backgrounds. Chinese workers occupy the next rung in the hierarchy; Hispanics and other non-Asians are at the bottom.

An Ethnic Caste System

As the throngs of manicurists gather in Flushing, Queens, every morning, the patter of “good mornings” is mostly in Chinese and Spanish, with the occasional snatches of Tibetan or Nepali. Korean is hardly ever heard among these workers heading to salons outside New York City, many of them hours away.

But to the customer settling into the comfort of a pedicure chair in Manhattan, it can seem as if nearly the entire work force is Korean.

The contrast stems from the stark ethnic hierarchy imposed by nail salon owners. Seventy percent to 80 percent of salons in the city are Korean-owned, according to the Korean American Nail Salon Association.

…Manicurists from Korea dominate in Manhattan; others are often shuttled to the other boroughs or out of the city, where business is slower.

…Korean manicurists, particularly if they are youthful and attractive, typically have their pick of the most desirable jobs in the industry — shiny shops on Madison Avenue and in other affluent parts of the city. Non-Korean manicurists are often forced into less desirable jobs in the boroughs outside Manhattan or even farther out from the city, where customers are typically fewer and tips often paltry.

In general, Korean workers earn at least 15 percent to 25 percent more than their counterparts, but the disparity can sometimes be much greater, according to manicurists, beauty school instructors and owners.

Some bosses deliberately prey on the desperation of Hispanic manicurists, who are often drowning under large debts owed to “coyotes” who smuggled them across the border, workers and advocates say.

Many Korean owners are frank about their prejudices. “Spanish employees” are not as smart as Koreans, or as sanitary, said Mal Sung Noh, 68, who is known as Mary, at the front desk of Rose Nails, a salon she owns on the Upper East Side. …Ms. Noh said she kept her Hispanic manicurists at the lowest rung of work. “They don’t want to learn more,” she said.

Ethnic discrimination imbues other aspects of salon life. Male pedicure customers are despised by many manicurists for their thick toenails and hair-covered knuckles. When a man comes into the store, almost invariably a non-Korean worker is first draft for his foot bath, salon workers said.

Ana Luisa Camas, 32, an Ecuadorean immigrant, said that at a Korean-owned Connecticut salon where she worked, she and her Hispanic colleagues were made to sit in silence during their entire 12-hour shifts, while the Korean manicurists were free to chat.

…Lhamo Dolma, 39, a manicurist from Tibet who goes by Jackey, recalled a former job at a Brooklyn salon where she had to eat lunch every day standing in a kitchenette with the shop’s other non-Korean workers, while her Korean counterparts ate at their desks.

“Their country people, they are completely free,” she said in an interview in her house in Queens, seated on a low settee beneath her household’s Buddhist shrine. She began to cry. “Why do they make us two different?” she said. “Everybody is the same.”

…Many owners defended their business methods as the only way to stay afloat.

Ansik Nam, former president of the Korean American Nail Salon Association, said that in the early 2000s, scores of owners held an emergency meeting at a Korean restaurant in Flushing, hoping to prevent manicure and pedicure prices from sagging further. He said no agreement was reached.

What’s more alarming is the context that the owners of the salons get mentioned in:

On a morning last May, Jing Ren, a 20-year-old who had recently arrived from China, stood among them for the first time, headed to a job at a salon in a Long Island strip mall.  …Tucked in her pocket was $100 in carefully folded bills for another expense: the fee the salon owner charges each new employee for her job. The deal was the same as it is for beginning manicurists in almost any salon in the New York area. She would work for no wages, subsisting on meager tips, until her boss decided she was skillful enough to merit a wage.

It would take nearly three months before her boss paid her. Thirty dollars a day.

…The New York Times interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage; sometimes they are not even paid. Workers endure all manner of humiliation, including having their tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions, constant video monitoring by owners, even physical abuse. Employers are rarely punished for labor and other violations.

…Asian-language newspapers are rife with classified ads listing manicurist jobs paying so little the daily wage can at first glance appear to be a typo. Ads in Chinese in both Sing Tao Daily and World Journal for NYC Nail Spa, a second-story salon on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, advertised a starting wage of $10 a day. The rate was confirmed by several workers.

Lawsuits filed in New York courts allege a long list of abuses: the salon in East Northport, N.Y., where workers said they were paid just $1.50 an hour during a 66-hour workweek; the Harlem salon that manicurists said charged them for drinking the water, yet on slow days paid them nothing at all; the minichain of Long Island salons whose workers said they were not only underpaid but also kicked as they sat on pedicure stools, and verbally abused.

…Among the hidden customs are how new manicurists get started. Most must hand over cash — usually $100 to $200, but sometimes much more — as a training fee. Weeks or months of work in a kind of unpaid apprenticeship follows.

Ms. Ren spent almost three months painting on pedicures and slathering feet with paraffin wax before one afternoon in the late summer when her boss drew her into a waxing room and told her she would finally be paid.

“I just burst into laughter unconsciously,” Ms. Ren said. “I have been working for so long while making zero money; now finally my hard work paid off.”

That night her cousins threw her a party. The next payday she learned her day wage would amount to under $3 an hour.


Responses to the NYT exposé have been immediate and massive.  The NYT articles’ comments sections have comments that number in the thousands.  Interestingly, I did not find an anti-Korean bias in any of the comments and few mentions of the words Korea or Koreans.  Those that did mention Koreans mentioned them in the context of their relations with other Asians.  The NYT seems to have even turned the article into a mini-franchise with published entries on how to be a socially conscious salon customer,  a NY Times blog entry about readers’ responses, and an interview with the piece’s author.

The article’s author Sarah Maslin Nir  opened a Facebook page for questions with questions and comments numbering in the hundreds.  At the time of this writing, none of the 12 references to Korean or Koreans expressed negativity toward Korea or Koreans.  FB users’ questions centered around how to get more money to the exploited workers and whether the shops’ landlords or others were somehow culpable.  Commenters also commended the NYT for publishing the article in Korean, Chinese, and Spanish, some pledging to give the article to their manicurists.

Slate answered the question Worried That Your Manicurist Is Being Exploited? Tipping More Probably Won’t Help, specifically citing Korean businesses.

So how can customers go about getting their fingernails varnished ethically? Well, one approach would be to avoid businesses that are primarily staffed by vulnerable immigrants. There are downsides to this. First, it will obviously cost you more to go somewhere that employs less easily exploited staff. Second, it feels extremely xenophobic—you’d basically be vowing to avoid Korean businesses. Third, by not patronizing your former favorite salon, you’re more or less guaranteeing that its employees earn even less.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered emergency measures to combat health hazards and wage theft in the nail salon industry in response to the NYT article.  The Governor’s strong actions were reported in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Business Insider (“following last week’s NYT bombshell report”), and a raft of others. CBS Los Angeles reported that the problem exists in Los Angeles too.  LA and NYC are a continent apart, and I can’t make the connection.

Returning to the featured image for this piece, I can’t help but giggle at the overwhelming force aligning against those (fighting!) salon owners.  My mood is then tempered by the Korean media’s choice of angle in this story.


EDIT:  I regret my choice of title for this article, only because the title seems to have devolved discussion into charges of “sensationalism” and detracted from the piece’s real issue.  I would have replaced this piece’s original featured image with the headline from the article that inspired this piece (see below).

As far as charges of sensationalism go, I see only three places in the original piece that are not purely objective, lack citation, and interject opinion:

  1. “What’s more alarming is the context that the owners of the salons get mentioned in:”
  2. “LA and NYC are a continent apart, and I can’t make the connection.”
  3. “Returning to the featured image for this piece, I can’t help but giggle at the overwhelming force aligning against those (fighting!) salon owners. My mood is then tempered by the Korean media’s choice of angle in this story.”

All other statements and claims are cited.  My goal is to return the emphasis to the content of the piece.  If I could rewrite the piece’s title, I would have likely used a title adapted from this piece’s inspirationKorean media calls NYT ‘potentially racist’

Screen capture of KT article that inspired this piece:

KT - Local Mdia Call NYT 'Potentially Racist'

 

Strange Denials

South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo (Yonhap)

Prosecutors will question South Gyeongsang Province Govenor Hong Joon-pyo Friday at 10 a.m. over allegations that he received 100 million won from late Keangnam chairman Sung Woan-jong in 2011.  Sung named Hong and the amount in a note found in Sung’s shirt pocket on Sung’s dead body the day Sung committed suicide.  Hong is the first of the eight fingered in Sung’s note to be questioned by the prosecution.

Hong is a former prosecutor who launched a political career in the 2000’s after prosecuting many high-profile corruption cases in the 1980’s – 1990’s.  Friday he will face questioning from his former “junior prosecutors“:

The prosecution decided to call in Hong after the authorities obtained testimony from Yoon Seong-mo, the former vice president of Keangnam Enterprises, who claimed that he was the one who carried the political funds to the former four-term lawmaker four years ago. Hong was then running for chairman of the Grand National Party, the precursor to the ruling Saenuri Party.

…The prosecution appears confident about the case as authorities have also interrogated Hong’s aide to cross-check Yoon’s testimony. For the prosecution, the outcome of summoning Hong is crucial as they are also tasked to reveal the truth behind the scandal that involves President Park Geun-hye’s close confidants including former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo and incumbent Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee.

“Pundits said it would not be easy to bring the ex-prosecutor to court as he knows the process well.”

Hong seems to have taken the aforementioned former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo’s and PGH’s incumbent Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee’s tactic of spinning the press with strange denials.  According to the Korea Herald,

The governor tried to water down the claim, raising fresh speculation that Yoon has been making inconsistent testimonies. Hong claimed Yoon’s memory was not accurate because he delivered Sung’s money to many politicians.

That not only doesn’t make me think he’s innocent but also makes me wonder how he knows Yoon “delivered Sung’s money to many politicians”?  I can only hope that prosecutors press Hong to elaborate.

Hong’s denial follows Lee Wan-koo’s threat (?) of suicide (!), Lee Byung-kee’s vow to quit immediately if any of the bribery allegations against him are proven to be true (duh), and my personal favorite, PGH’s first Chief of Staff Huh Tae-yeol’s spit-take worthy  non-sequitur “‘such money trade is unimaginable’ as then-candidate Park stressed the need for a ‘clean primary’.”

There are more, but I’ve got to towel off my keyboard.


(Featured photo:  South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo. (Yonhap))