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Category: Korean Culture (page 1 of 71)

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.

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.

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.

Daum and Kakao Are On a First Name Basis

Kakao Corp. and Daum Communications announced that they will adopt the anti-hierarchical office culture of Kakao Corp.  after their merger in October.  All workers and executives will be required to call each other by English first names:  “Some 1,600 employees currently at Daum will choose a new English name for this, and by doing so, we hope to further promote the two firms’ work ethics that prioritize openness and active participation as well as create a synergy effect between the two groups.”

From Yonhap: “Of course, it may feel weird or awkward for people to call each other by a foreign name, but we’ll see how this system settles in when business begins at the new Daum-Kakao in October,” said Kang Yukyeong, a communications official at Daum.

From Korea Times:  “All workers at Kakao call co-CEO Lee Sir-goo by his English first name Vino.”  Kakao employee Dallas said he felt “‘kind of awkward’ when he first joined Kakao about six months ago.  ‘It didn’t take so long before I became used to being called my English name and calling others by their English names. I realized we are encouraged to make active communication in the office even with CEO.'”

State-sponsored Arirang News broadcast a piece, IT companies in Korea change corporate culture to promote innovation (video starts at 9:02):  “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?  A recent innovation index ranked Korea 16th out of 77 countries– higher than Japan or China.   But when it came to the so-called tolerance index, which measures how much a society tolerates different values and thoughts, Korea was ranked near the bottom at 62.”

The C- Word

News sources and quoted experts cited the move as an attempt to counter Confucian culture:

Yonhap stated in its article,”addressing employees of different ranks by their first name is uncommon in South Korea, where corporate culture is often perceived as rigid and is operated along regimented and hierarchical lines, a reflection of the country’s Confucian roots. Such hierarchy at workplaces is palpable in local companies….”

Arirang News aired a (translated) statement from Kim Jae-hee, Professor of Psychology at Chungang University, “if we look at our Confucianist culture, we were taught that there is a right answer to everything. We were never taught to look for new answers. To foster creativity, we need to learn that there isn’t just one correct answer to everything and understand there could be multiple answers.” 


Arirang posed an interesting question: “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?”  

If so, how effectively and at what social or cultural cost?

I suspect that the change in some Korean major players’ corporate culture will carry over to Korean corporate culture in general.  When casual Fridays and then casual dress came into corporate culture, employees liked and perceived it as a benefit.  Employers saw casual dress as a no-cost benefit, and companies that resisted discovered how much the labor marketplace valued casual dress.  I suspect that young, professional Korean talent will similarly place a value on casual address companies.

Will this spillover into wider Korean culture and be the end to Korea’s deeply rooted hierarchical culture?  I think ‘yes’, and we are witnessing a seminal moment.

Japan not thrilled with how some Koreans, uh “celebrate” Gwangbokjeol

Korean Independence Day [from Japanese rule] was last week, August 15th.  It is also known as Gwangbokjeol (광복절) or “Restoration of Light” day.   Any ways, the way in which it is celebrated by some Koreans has riled up some Japanese Netizens.  Of particular discomfort was the Japanese soldier “execution” water fight.

korean independence 3

korean independence 5

(Images from Kyunghyang Shinmun via RocketNews24.com)

Some translated Japanese Netizen commentary:

“Hey, Members of the UN…are you going to stay silent on this?”

“And yet, if something like this happened in Japan, there would be a huge uproar.”

“I’m starting to think that Korea is a third world country.”

“What century are we in? Until when are they going to keep doing nonsense like that?”

“A country that is not that different from North Korea. Or rather…worse than…”

“Isn’t this on par with hate speech?”

“Members of the UN…isn’t this sort of imprinting a really bad idea on children?”

Okay, so I don’t exactly think that the water fight, mock “execution,” is in the best taste, but asking the U.N. to look into this?  As horrible it is for kids to shoot water at imaginary Japanese imperialist troops, I somehow think the U.N. has bigger fish to fry.

Roaring Currents estimated to be most successful Korean movie, per gross receipts

The numbers are in and apparently “Myeongryang: Roaring Currents” will be the most successful Korean film made to date with admissions rates estimated to be well over 14 million after just 18 days of release.  The previous record was James Cameron’s “Avatar” in 2009 which had about 13.62 million admissions total, thus Roaring Currents will, excuse the expression, blow Avatar out of the water.  So far, the film has brought in gross receipts of W109.7 billion for CJ Entertainment.

(Image from Soopi.com)

Sure, a competently done movie about Korea’s greatest hero fighting a near impossible battle against that perennial Korean enemy the Japanese would certainly expect to do well.  It would appear that most critics believe the special effects to be quite good, even by Hollywood standards, however those same critics also believe the movie to have a healthy dose of nationalism.  At least one Korean critic lambasted the movie for overly playing to nationalistic heart strings.  However, the movie’s success may not be attributed to nationalism alone as some critics believe that the Korean population’s need for something inspirational after the Sewol disaster may be driving some of its admissions.

One half-Korean viewer took exception to the fact that many of the characters (both Korean and Japanese) took on familiar one dimensional caricatures.  Commander Bae Seol (who deserted Admiral Yi a day before the battle) was portrayed by an actor who had an untrustworthy ferret face.  The Japanese were, predictably a bit evil and/or crazy looking.  Admiral Yi, predictably was appropriately heroic, serious and savior-like.

(Image from FilmsMash.com)

Out of all the articles I read about the film I thought the interview with an historian on the film’s inaccuracies was most interesting.  Anyways, I saw the movie last week and I thought it was all right.  To me it wasn’t any less nationalistic than say Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” or both the “300” movies.  The battle scenes were competently done and exciting in my opinion.  Listen, let’s not kid ourselves here.  I agree with Jay Seaver over at eFilmCritic.com.  It’s not going to be Academy Award winning material nor is it going to be a completely accurate historical documentary.  It’s going to be crafted as an effects-laden crowd-pleaser and like “The Patriot” or “300,” historical license is going to be taken.

Is South Korea the Coolest Place on Earth?

Author and Wall Street Journal Online columnist Jeff Yang wrote a piece published by CNN Opinion in which he posits that South Korea, no longer Hong Kong or Japan, is the Asian nation at the center of cultural cool.

So, is Korea cool du jour or can Korea kewl stay even after school?

That’s a question Euny Hong addresses in her new book, “The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture.”

“I think it can,” she says. “The difference between cool Korea and earlier Asian pop culture waves is that Korea has been working to make this happen for almost two decades. Korea is cool because it decided to be cool — it’s the first country in history that has made being cool a massive policy priority, backed by the Korean government to the tune of billions of dollars.”

The fact is, the machine of Korean pop culture is as sleekly designed, systematically engineered and massively marketed as any Samsung gadget. It’s not just a gigantic money-making industry, it’s also the primary source of “soft power” by which the nation seeks to shorten its path from war-torn, third-world country to the top ranks of world influencers.

“Koreans have a deep-seated desire to see the nation recognized and validated,” Hong says. “We study harder than anyone in the world, we work more hours, and it’s all because of this need to see us finally come on top.”

Jeff Yang continues,

Japanese cool is quirky, the sum of the nation’s eccentricities. Hong Kong cool is frenetic, representative of the society’s freewheeling striving spirit. American cool is casual: It’s cool that’s anchored in doing without trying, it’s about being quintessentially effortless.

By contrast, Korean cool could not be more effort-ful.

…and in illustrating his point, he diverges with mine:

The hypnotic appeal of K-pop videos are not just their candy-colored, otherworldly aesthetic, it’s also because their performers — sometimes numbering in the dozens — are invariably dancing in perfect sync, with a level of precision possible only because candidates for K-pop glory are recruited as adolescents and trained for years in groups that are required to live, take classes, eat, sleep and rehearse together until they’ve achieved a transcendent level of harmony.

“It all underscores the fact that the rise of Korean cool was hardly an accident — and that it could well have staying power.”

It can if, like those technocrats in a planned economy, the pop culture makers can continue to guess right or throw money at marketing or throw increasingly more money at marketing their mistakes.  History’s lessons are full of semi-successful-for-three-years five-year plans doomed after so many succeeding and less successful five year plans ran those ministries into the dust heap.

The forced analogy makes me wonder, can cool be dictated by the decidedly uncool?  I have commented often (as recently as today) on the long-term faptastic mistake that I think the femmebot, (shall we say) compliant sort of K-pop that the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) subsidizes for export is.  At best the girl groups will be laughingly remembered in dorm rooms as their target cohort matures into university students.  At worst, they will resuscitate a hard-lost image of objectified Asian women.  All the while the corporativism that is the alliance between the MCST and the Ministry’s preferred big entertainment companies are missing Korea’s vibrant and talent laden hip-hop, rap, and dance scene

OK, so the author and I disagree about what is cool and even whether Korea can stay the  (as pronounced with a long ‘e’) it girl after the carriage turns into a pumpkin.   As things stand he and the ministry are right, and the validity of my opinion is yet to be determined.  Still Jeff Yang hit upon a larger, more important trend in Korea, though he missed the forest for the trees:  Korea’s MCST is writing the how-to manual for emerging countries to market themselves and project their soft power.

Brand Korea, which I sometimes use derisively, is a self-marketing juggernaut.  Korea’s branding prowess extends far beyond pop culture.   For example,  Korea recently gained recognition for Namhansanseong as a UNESCO world heritage site, which brings Korea’s total to  an impressive 11.  The Korean marketing machine is the real story here.

Read Jeff Yang’s full opinion piece at CNN.com

UPDATE:  I found an article, Korean Cool Is The Ultimate National Marketing Ploy written by Euny Hong, author of the above cited book in Newsweek Online.  She provides a brief, interesting bit of why:

“Very few countries have ever attempted to sell their pop culture to the United States. Even Japan didn’t try,” says Lee Moon-won, one of Korea’s most prominent cultural critics. So why would Korea focus its efforts on popular culture? Why not stick to cars and semiconductors?

The answer lies partly in the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, which left the country economically crippled, forcing the government to request a $57-billion loan from the IMF. The crisis exposed a huge fault line in the Korean economy: it was too dependent on the nation’s chaebols….  The government of then-president Kim Dae-jung realised it had to diversify.

…Was the president out of his mind? Building a pop culture export industry from scratch during a financial crisis seems like bringing a Frisbee instead of food to a desert island. …The creation of pop culture, Dae-jung argued, doesn’t require a massive infrastructure; all you really need is time and talent.

Read the rest of her article here.

The great green devil: soju. Should New Jersey legalize it as beer & wine?

Today’s New Jersey Herald debates whether or not the state should legal recognize the sale, or otherwise handling of, soju as under “beer & wine” licenses.  This provision has already been established under NY and CA law, but New Jersey currently includes soju as a “hard liquor” that can only be sold in establishments with a full on liquor license.

(Image from The Guardian)

The difference between a full liquor license and a beer & wine license is monetarily vast.  A liquor license can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but a beer & wine license is only a couple of hundred bucks.  The Korean community got the CA and NY governments to acquiesce by debating that the old liquor laws “inhibited their traditional culture” to routinely consume their “traditional” drink.

Kim, the attorney representing… businesses in Palisades Park [NJ], said that soju is “close to the heart” in Korean culture, and it can contain less alcohol — between 16 and 24 percent — than some wines. He compared it to beer because it is first fermented, and to Sake, the Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. “It’s not hard liquor,” he said.

Not “hard liquor” huh?  It’s “fermented,” huh?  Listen, I like swigging soju in a local restaurant as much as the next guy, but the average soju in those “green monster” bottles are most certainly distilled rather than fermented and if it’s not a “hard liquor” then it’s awfully close to it.  Gotta love lawyers and their ability to swerve around words.

Apparently, NJ’s laws being so different from neighboring NY’s laws have caused some Korean establishments to cheat:

Soju’s popularity has led to some problems in restaurants in Palisades Park and beyond, where police have issued summonses for its illegal sale and consumption.

[...]

In Palisades Park [alone], more than 20 citations have been issued in the last year to BYOBs for a variety of violations, including serving soju…

Will gochujang be the next Sriracha?

For those of you who haven’t been back home in the states lately, you may be surprised to see that a hot sauce from Vietnam/Thailand has become nearly as ubiquitous as ketchup.  It’s called Sriracha and the most popular brand was brought to us by a refugee from Vietnam and is named after a town in Thailand.

(Image from ColumbusCook.com)

The American food industry is among the most innovative in the world and they are constantly looking for new flavors, particularly of the spicy variety.  What’s next?  It might be gochujang.  In a recent taste taste, a gochujang derived sauce compared favorably with the most popular brands of Sriracha.  It’s not just L.A. or NYC restaurants that’s experimenting with it.  It’s apparently had some penetration into middle America as well.

A Water Concert For the Hot, Dry Season

SNJ2014_poster_web

There is one up and coming Jazz concert that should be a good way to cool off from the heat with some very cool sounds.  Ronn Branton is celebrating his new recording entitled  WATER, with a concert at the Sejong Chamber Music Hall this coming August 23, at 8pm.  This CD marks a wholly new and original collection of music based upon water themes, most of which are set here in Korea.

His band also includes some of the best Jazz musicians in Korea. If interested, you can try interpark.co.kr, yes24 or just call 02-888-0650.

Paris Baguette goes to… Paris?

In a move that can be determined as either the height of hubris or the proverbial roll of the dice, the parent company of Paris Baguette has decided to open up its newest location in the heart of Paris, France.

(Photo from Korean Herald)

Ah, notice the “Boulangerie” (French for “bakery”) sign a bit more prominently displayed than the “PB” or “Paris Baguette” signage.  Personally, I question the attempt to bring croissants infused with hot dogs to a population as finicky with their pastries as the French.  Then again, it couldn’t have been more offensive as opening up a Taco Bell in Mexico or a Pizza Hut in Italy.  Wait, there are no Pizza Huts in Italy.  Good thing too as it might create some anti-American backlash.

Asia observer Donald Kirk pens an interesting article over at Forbes with his take:

[SPC Group is]… opening a Paris Baguette, mais oui, in the heart of the city that provides its name.  Along with French restaurants that are truly French, Paris Baguette decided to compete where it’s likely to attract the most scrutiny and appraisal by knowledgeable customers.

[...]

The idea is to go beyond the chain’s Korean roots, to show it’s truly French, to match the most sophisticated, subtlest tastes of any French restaurant. In keeping with that approach, Paris Baguette is a little reluctant to publicize its history as a Korean company in the hands of a Korean billionaire, Hur Young-in,  chairman of  SPC

So, to “show it’s truly French” to French people in Paris, huh?  Okay, good luck with that Mr. Hur.

Snowpiercer to be shown on 250 screens in North America

Some of you may know, but Snowpiercer officially debuted in North America last week on about eight theaters in major metro areas.  It’s average take of over $20k per theater over the weekend was impressive enough that North American distributor Harvey Weinstein is expanding the release to 250 theaters this coming Friday (July 4th, happy birthday America!).

Wait a minute?  Didn’t this flick come out like in a year ago in Korea?  Why, yes it did.  It took so long to come out in the States probably due to some disagreements with Director Bong Joon-ho and the North American distributor on how well it would, uh, translate for a North American audience.  The Boston Globe has more of the grisly details on those “disagreements” here.

When Snowpiercer opened up last week it did so to largely positive reviews.  Among the more positive reviews, I liked Rolling Stone’s.

For shits and giggles, Variety compares Michael Bay and Transformers 4 to Bong Joon-ho and Snowpiercer.  But seriously, is there a comparison other then similar debut dates and the fact that both genres are “science fiction”?  It’s an amusing article none-the-less and perhaps enlightening on two different takes on movie globalization.

How do Koreans handle a foreign work environment?

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.

Poster, trailer of upcoming Seth Rogen, James Franco flick is ten kinds of awesome

Check out the poster—and translations/explanations—at Buzzfeed (HT to Colin).

Confucian confusion

Those of you tired of the cultural critique that inevitably pops up in the western world following Korean disasters should check out this piece over at Sweet Pickles & Corn. The basic gist is that, if anything, the Sewol tragedy could have been lessened had there been more adherence to Confucianism rather than less.

What these critics never bother to understand or to point out is that Confucianism is not a one-way street that merely demands unconditional deference to one’s seniors; it is a system of reciprocal duties that just as clearly describes the obligations of parent to child, teacher to pupil, ruler to subject, and by extension, of captain to crew and passengers. In a well-oiled Confucian system then, obedience is never blind; it is always underwritten by a social contract that obliges leaders to be virtuous and to carry out their duty with the best interests of their subordinates in view at all times.

On a completely different topic, if you’ve yet to read The Revolution will not be Grammaticized over on SP&C, it’s a helluva yarn.

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