The Irish have the Blarney Stone, the Chinese rub Buddha’s belly and the Kansas City Royals have Lee Sung-woo.
They have who, what, huh?
Okay, so the story goes that in the middle of the American major league baseball season the Kansas City Royals were just an average team in a small market with average talent, having yet another ho-hum average season in their bland 45 year history (playoff-less in the last 28 of those 45 years). That was until a foreigner named Sung-woo Lee from far away South Korea came on the scene. Through social media, Sung-woo was a regular fixture on Royals’ fan sites and blogs and exhorted Royals’ fans to persevere, which helped to inject much needed enthusiasm into the traditional fan base. Interestingly enough, Sung-woo’s online participation started as an attempt to learn English by consistently conversing with American baseball fans.
(Image from KMBC, Channel 9)
Native Kansas City residents were curious about this Asian man from a far away country and his interest in their local team. Usually, when a foreigner is interested in an American baseball team, it’s usually a team from one of the bigger markets like the NY Yankees, LA Dodgers or Seattle Mariners, etc. But Kansas City? As a Midwestern town they are not close to Asia or Europe and the “city” of barely 500,000 people does not have the ritz and glamour of a New York or Los Angeles.
But a committed fan Sung-woo appeared to be. He even came to Kansas City in August of this year for a 10 day stay. Locals gave him a hero’s welcome, rolled out the red carpet and showered him with Midwestern hospitality. They named a hot dog in his honor and even had him throw the first pitch in a game against the A’s. But the real news is what happened to the team during his little Kansas City vacation: an eight game winning streak that put them in the wild card hunt. The New York Post called this the baseball “feel good” story of the year. Locals call him the “superfan.” NPR said he’s spread “Korean pixie dust” on the team. Korea Times US Edition called it “Korean Karma.” KMBC channel 9 reporter Kris Ketz simply called Sung-woo their “good luck charm.”
American baseball is a notoriously superstitious sport. The 2002 Angels had the rally monkey, which some believe helped propel a pretty average talent wise team all the way to winning the World Series. Well, not to say that a man and a monkey are the same thing, but it appears the good luck charm thing is happening again this year and this time it could very well be the Royals who benefit. They swept the Baltimore Orioles for the AL Championship yesterday and will either play the Giants or Cardinals for the MLB World Series.
(Image from KoreaBANG)
Saenuri lawmaker Rep. Kwon Seong-dong using company time and bandwidth to explore extracurricular pursuits.
Well, well, what do we have here? A larger version of the picture that the Honorable Rep. Kwon was so intently staring at?
(Image from Seoul Shimbun)
Why, say hello to September 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Month Tiffany Toth.
Today’s WSJ discusses how Korean faces are changing over time. With interracial marriage, plastic surgery and even nutrition factored in, the Korean face is changing. Apparently, the Korea Face Institute has taken computer assisted calculations based on 20,000 photographs and skull measurements (when the time period didn’t have photography available).
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.
In what may or may not be a sign of changed times, the drug bust of “Dozens of foreign English teachers” has not gone viral even though the intrigue and insinuations are heavy. On Wednesday evening, Yonhap broke the story, which was then carried by the The Korea Times (no not that one) and The Herald.
As usual with these cases, the details are spotty and rather confusing. Two things that stand out for now:
- Reportedly the drug dealers used the following rationale for selling to foreigners/teachers:
“Shin and his group mostly dealt with foreigners, given that if they are (caught and) convicted of drug related charges, they could be punished and kicked out of their jobs,” the police said.
Well, that’s some policy.
- And the Nigerian drug dealer also taught English to kindergarteners while high on his product; as the article reports (and the strange picture supposedly shows):
The police investigation showed that the arrested Nigerian drug dealer has taught English at a kindergarten in Yongin near Suwon while he was under the influence of marijuana.
Oh, there is one more thing that bears mentioning:
An American English teacher, who was among those arrested, shaved all his hair to evade a drug test, but he was tested positive in a urine examination, the police said.
He must have watched a lot of CSI or something.
All jocularity aside, perhaps this will not be the usual case of judging all English teachers as evil drug users living in Korea because they’ve been banished from their homes. One can only hope.
Apparently so. Back in 2009 51 Koreans were arrested for illegally selling American MREs. Well, last month more people have been arrested for selling American MREs! Apparently, the people are being arrested not so much for selling the MREs but for selling expired MREs (i.e. after 10 years). Supposedly, Korean hikers and campers like expired American MREs. At $2 a pop for a meal containing 3,000 calories, it is hard to beat the price too.
Personally, I don’t see how Koreans can be all that excited about 10 year old (or older) beef “patties,” faux pork “ribs,” chili & beans, cajun rice & sausage, meat loaf with gravy, etc. However, according to this video, even a Desert Storm era MRE can be edible. Any ways, I just don’t see the aforementioned flavors being all that exciting to the Korean palate. Anyone have some inside information here?
Meet Colin Marshall, a Seattle native who somehow ended up living in Koreatown, Los Angeles shortly after college and currently writes for the British daily The Guardian. Recently, he just wrapped-up a five part series on Korea for The Guardian. An index of the articles is available on this link.
Unlike many commenters and writers on this blog, Colin has not lived in Korea for years. His Guardian series was based on about a week’s travel in the country. He has live in Los Angeles’ Koreatown for awhile and claims he can speak a functional amount of the language. Apparently, he even has a Korean girlfriend (in Los Angeles). This might be a plus or negative for some people. However, when it comes to urban vibe and city planning, Colin might have some experience to speak as he’s traveled to Mexico City, London, Copenhagen, Osaka, in addition to his native Seattle and current home of Los Angeles.
The Korean American magazine KoreAm interviewed Colin about his Guardian articles. It’s an interesting read and he says some rather insightful observations that I think may have a kernel of truth.
In a way, some Koreans here [in the U.S.] are actually more conservative than the ones in Korea.
Talking to the twentysomethings there [in Korea], sometimes they’re way more mature than me, but sometimes it feels like they’re still in middle school.
[English learning in Korea is]… not even about learning English. It’s about getting above the others.
[Koreans burn too]… much energy on competition with each other.
Korea has brashness, which isn’t the same thing as confidence.
Some interesting surveys regarding Korea and Koreans, and their relationship with other countries, have come out.
First of all let’s look at some surveys regarding Korea’s attitudes on China. According to one sponsored by the JoongAng Ilbo and the Asan Institute of Policy Studies, South Korea’s attitudes of the PRC have improved, particularly after President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Seoul recently. Results summarized in the graphic below:
(Graphic source from the JoongAng Ilbo)
There are however, misgivings. Most South Koreans think China is still an economic and military threat. Also, since most Koreans have lungs, a whopping 95%+ hates China’s most pervasive (and unwanted) export: pollution.
The good ole’ U.S. of A also gets high marks. According to the latest Pew Research results, South Korea’s “positive” attitudes of the U.S. are in the 82% region, up from 78% in 2013, the highest they have ever been since Pew has conducted the survey. Only the Philippines (former colony) and Israel (fellow U.S. military aid dependant) had higher rankings. According to the Pew, South Korea’s attitudes of China are comparatively in the 56% positive territory, a rise from 46% last year.
Lastly, non-Koreans (living outside of Korea) continue to admit they have a hard time distinguishing North from South Korea. Ah, Egypt. Not only do they hate the U.S. more than any other country out there, but they are the worst at telling the difference between North and South Korea.
Ah, Paris Baguette. The ubiquitous Korean bakery, with the strange name, serving Asian inspired and decidedly non-French pastries everywhere from the plush streets of Gangnam, to the shigol to even the doomed Sewol. They, along with Caffé Bene and Tom N Toms, are expanding into ‘Murica. Their foray into the land of the free and the home of the brave is highlighted in this recent Fast Company article:
Three of South Korea’s biggest coffee shop chains, Paris Baguette, Caffe Bene, and Tom N Toms, have all embarked on American market expansion over the past several years…. Bene and Paris Baguette, especially, play down their Korean origins–and are planning to ramp up even more U.S. market expansion over the next two years. In a vivid example of 21st-century globalization, both chains are bringing South Korean-style customer service and corporate organization to the United States–except they are serving French- and Italian-style pastries and sandwiches instead of Korean food.
Surprisingly, there are already 35 Paris Baguette locations and 99 Caffé Benes in the States. Here are some boots on the ground reviews:
No word on if “A Twosome Place” (투썸플레이스) would be making the Transpacific plunge. If they did, one would most certainly think they would have to consider a name change.
Here at TMH we often get “colorful” commentary on what foreigners think about their Korean places of work and their bosses. With that in mind, I’ve often wondered how the rank and file Korean felt about working in foreign owned companies and with foreign bosses. Would Koreans be happier in a Western work setting vs. a Korean work environment? Conventional wisdom may indicate that a Korean might be less stressed in Western work culture where there could be less emphasis on leadership hierarchy, expectation of face time, and perhaps the ability to exercise a bit more creativity and/or independence.
According to the JoongAng Daily, employment website Job Korea surveyed 942 Korean workers in both Korean and foreign owned (i.e. mostly Western) companies and government agencies with questions on their job satisfaction. The results were not as clear as the expectations may be and point to there being a fair amount of stress and frustration for Koreans at foreign companies.
Unlike people working at Korean companies, who said their jobs caused them stress because they were concerned about their future and job stability, those employed by foreign companies said that they felt stress when senior workers gave them too much work and had unreasonably high expectations.
The survey results are ironic because many first-time job seekers consider foreign companies their top choice because of good benefits and a horizontal corporate culture.
“In Korean corporate culture, senior workers become a guardian when a junior first joins the team,” [Jung Joo-hee, a spokesperson for Job Korea] said. “Even though they nitpick or scold the juniors .?.?. the seniors have the intention to guide them to learn job tasks more efficiently and to help them become part of the team quickly.”
She explained that the absence of such guidance, which puts full responsibility for a task on a junior worker, may make Koreans feel even more pressured and isolated.
Here’s a summary of the findings:
(Source: JoongAng Ilbo)
Interesting. Everybody got the same number 2, however foreigner bosses appear to be piling it on more than the others (32.1% vs. 28.9%, 28.7% and 27.4%). Relationship ambiguity with their foreign seniors also appears to be scaring the crap out of Koreans.
The Korean press is reporting on statements made by a Kiwi MP (Labour) Shane Jones in a speech given during his visit to Auckland University, the nation’s largest and most well-known university.
Here is the report by the New Zealand Herald.
“They (universities) tell us they don’t have enough dough so, disproportionately, they are racing into the crescent from India through to China and bringing in more and more international students. I don’t want to have a situation where there is no room for Kiwis at the intellectual inn.”
The New Zealand Herald has the following numbers :
Almost a third (1,576) are from China, with significant numbers also from Malaysia (591), the United States (529) and Korea (456).
I completely agree with him. Already the academic level of such a rural backwater of a country has been suffering, as is seen by the brain drain of its own brightest and the best. Unlike those who worry about the short-term economic aspect, I don’t think that the whole country turning into a English language school for Asians who cannot afford Europe or the US is the solution to its problems, especially at the cost of drop in the overall standards.
The more fundamental problem that needs to be considered is that countries like N.Z., Canada and even Australia – those countries which have relied on immigration-prone policies until quite recently – need to think carefully about the kind of people landscape they want for themselves. If they just want the money but not the people, then it may be far better to stick to things like niche-tourism than pimping(promoting) further education.
. . . The Snowden case is something I consider to be misuse.” The UN chief added that the opening up of digital communications should not be “misused in such a way as Snowden did” (from the Guardian)
This message came from the Secretary General while speaking to a gathering of the foreign affairs committee of the Icelandic parliament in Reykjavik on Tuesday. This unprecedented personal comment from the Secretary General likely occurred because “Snowden identified Iceland as one of his top choices as a possible safe haven. I wonder if the Secretary General is not delivering his opinion AND a message to the foreign affairs committee in Iceland (?).
Oddy enough, other people think that it was the NSA that “misused” their access to “digital communications”.
I thought some of you readers might be interested in knowing that two of our long-time resident foreigners in Korea – Brother Anthony and Frederic Dustin celebrated/are celebrating their birthdays this week. Both of these men have done a great deal for Korea -not only Korea Studies but also for their everyday acts of kindness.
Brother Anthony just had a piece come out in Korea Times a couple of days ago that I enjoyed reading. I think it is a shame that so much of Korea’s past is being lost in the present. Brother Anthony is also the president of the Royal Asiatic Society – Korea Branch (RAS-KB).
Fred Dustin has been – for the most part – in Korea since 1952 and lives on Korea’s self-proclaimed Hawaii of the Far East. (I still remember the first time I went to the island with the military so many decades ago during the winter. I was there for training and had been told it was a tropic paradise – I arrived to snow). Mr. Dustin runs the Kimnyoung Maze Park (English tab at the top but the Korean site gives the best images of the park), cares for a large number of cats and does a lot of good work for the community that (his) modesty prevents me from going on about.
If you get a chance – come and see one of the RAS-KB’s lectures or go on one of their tours. And speaking of tours – why don’t you visit the Kimnyoung Maze Park – the oldest maze park in Korea. When you go to one of these events why don’t you say hi to the gentlemen and wish them a happy birthday. Also tell them you read about them on The Hole.