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Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Korean Culture (page 2 of 72)

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.

When 존댓말 (honorifics) goes out of control..

You have no idea how much I just laughed, like a crazy woman, and felt like shouting, “FINALLY THEY HAVE NOTICED” watching this SBS report.

I had started to notice how people in shops in Korea seem to be putting 존댓말 to *everything* even if the subject is not the customer, but the merchandise itself. This has been driving me up the wall for quite a number of years.

It seems this rampant wrong honorific usage to denote all merchandise being discussed has resulted from having to deal with the odd ignorant customer(yes, usually the older lot) who has little idea about correct grammar usage themselves and shouts at the poor kids, and this has managed to turn the whole service industry into some sort of ruled-by-fear Third Reich of honorifics – the return of the well-known joke “아버님 대갈님에 파리님이 앉으셨습니다.” (the joke is that a newly married daughter-in-law was so scared and mindful that when she tried to say “There is a fly on the head of father-in-law” she made the mistake of putting honorifics for the fly as well as using a very derogatory word for the “head” (대가리) and putting a 님 at the end)

So here is the youtube link to the satirical video produced by the 한글문화연대, this should get shown on TV.(It’s a bit too long, they should cut some of the beginning..)

The big LOL sentence for me, was when the Coffee 알바 (short for 아르바이트, “Arbeit(work)” from the Japanese-German arubaito/baito which denotes part-time workers in Korea) in the video says,

그 사물 들에게 우리는 존경의 마음을 억누를 수 없습니다. 커피 나오셨습니다. 커피가 제 시급보다 더 비싸거든요.

roughly translated as:

“We cannot control the boundless respect we have for these things. “Here’s your coffee.” (this is the kind of sentence they are talking about, which to my ears, can only be translated into English as (with a little bit of exaggeration) “His Coffeeness has graced us with his presence.” Then she goes onto say “It’s because (a cup of) coffee is more expensive than my hourly wage.”

Trailer for ‘Lucy’ released

Here’s the trailer of Luc Besson’s upcoming science fiction film “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and… Choi Min-sik.

Shooting in Taipei apparently had its moments.

Is Newsweek owned by a Korean Christian?

Newsweek, like many old traditional print news sources, is getting hammered by declining readership and circulation.  In August 2013, dying Newsweek was sold to International Business Times (“IBT”).

So, who owns IBT?  Apparently, it is a privately owned enterprise with two main shareholders, founders Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis.  However, there has been a wealth of information uncovered that IBT, and its founders, have very close ties with Olivet University founder David Jang.  Olivert is a Christian evangelical university and David Jang is a evangelical Christian leader who may have controversial religious and secular views.  Billy Graham’s Christianity Today accuses Jang of unorthodox religious views such as Jang claiming to be the second coming of Christ.

Of course, when one links “second coming of Christ” and “Korean religious leader” the first thing one may think of is the late Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon.  The Guardian actually tries to link Jang with the Moonies, whereas Mother Jones thinks the link is now dead (David Jang went to Moonie meetings when he was younger, but now rejects that church and its teachings).  A cursory review of Olivet University’s mission statement would also indicate that its theology is not compatible with the Unification Church.

Anyways, what’s really gotten the press riled up is the possible association of a stalwart of left leaning news to right leaning religious organizations.  Both Jang and the founders of IBT appear to support controversial anti-gay conversion therapies, where individuals go through programs to reduce same sex attraction and increase opposite sex attraction.

Disclaimer: “Very close ties” and “Legal ownership stake” are two very different things.  Currently, there is no conclusive proof that Jang owns IBT.  The connections are certainly deep and “interesting,” and may be more so as this story develops.

Korean words starting to get loaned into Chinese

I would be the first person to admit many Chinese loan words have made it into Korean.  However, it’s interesting when there are reports that the reverse is happening.

The Chosun Ilbo reports that due to the popularity of Korean dramas in China, Korean terms such as “oppa” (오빠) and “ajumma” (아줌마) are entering Chinese popular vernacular.  The Chinese, however, are putting different meanings behind the words.  오빠, which in Korean can mean anything from a female’s older brother to a female’s older male friend or even boyfriend/lover, has adopted the Chinese characters “,” pronounced “ou-pa” in Mandarin and the meaning of “…amorous feelings toward the subject.”

Ajumma/아줌마?  Well, the Chinese already has a popular word for “auntie,” (阿姨/āyí in Mandarin) the rough equivalent of “아줌마” so it’s adopted the meaning of “…to refer to tough women.”

Encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism

The Ven. Hyewon and friend (and sometimes MH poster) David Mason have recently released the first-ever encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism.

David’s got a ton of info about the book and how to purchase it at his website, so please, click on over and give it a look.

American troopers in “Real Men”

As you all know every healthy Korean male is suppose to serve a two year stint in the armed forces.  It ain’t easy and it ain’t relished by most Korean men.  However, some time after their service, many Korean men develop strangely nostalgic memories of their service.  The Korean has a good series on this here and here.

Capitalizing on this phenomenon is MBC’s reality show “Real Men” where older Korean actors relive their days in the military for the benefit of their television audiences.  Surprisingly, the show has become popular with women who want to know a little bit of what their men had gone through.

Any ways, now “Real Men” has started to have troops from the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division interact with the Korean stars.  The American troopers, for example, don’t seem to mind eating Korean food.  What’s the first thought that runs across the Koreans’ minds when they see the non-Korean faces?  “Gosh, my English sucks.”  A surprising number of the American troops knew some Korean.  The cross cultural exchange is “interesting,” to say the least.

‘진짜 사나이’ 샘 해밍턴 “250원 바나나라떼 정말 맛있어” 극찬

(Photo credit edaily)

Cross Cultural Influences – Mental Distress Or An Instance of Growth?

cardinal_ROne Japanese gentleman – Hoji Takahashi has sued NHK in Japan for 1.4 million yen, citing “mental distress” caused by an excessive use of words borrowed from English.  Mr. Takahashi is a member of a group that supports the primacy of the Japanese language, in Japan.

As found in Korean, Japanese does have loan words from English.  Loan words can take different forms in South Korea, for instance, if you walk into a franchise coffee shop, you will find signs for cinnamon that instead of reading “계피 가루” (a perfectly acceptable Korean term) will read “신아먄 퍼아드” which is simply “cinnamon powder” phonetically rendered into Hangul. There are many words from English that can be found in just the same manner: 헤어 스타일 (hair style),피트니스센터 (fitness Center), etc. and so on.

Some of these words are technically a sublanguage (Konglish), existing neither in Korean or English, for example: Officetel 오피스텔 (Office + Hotel).  Even in other countries such as Germany, whose own language has influenced English with its own loan words (haus), how has experienced a reverse influence, for example sogh-ee (sorry).  Instead of using the comparable word in German, Entschuldigung.  Per one article from National Public Radio,

‘sorry’ is quite a useful way of apologizing because it doesn’t commit you to very much. It’s very easy to say ‘sorry.’ The closest equivalent would be Entschuldigung, which is, ‘I apologize, . . . That’s really like admitting that you’ve done something wrong, whereas with saying ‘sorry,’ you could also just be expressing empathy: ‘I’m so sorry for you, but it has nothing to do with me.’
“Sorry” is one of more than 10,000 American words Germans have borrowed since 1990. Language experts here say English is the main foreign language that has influenced German over the past six decades. This cultural infusion is pervasive, with English used by journalists, by scientists and even at the highest levels of government.
“Germany doesn’t really have a very purist attitude to language — unlike France, where you have an academy whose task it is to find French alternatives for borrowings; or if there is a new technology that needs to be named, then the academy will find a name. . . (cite)

Other countries like France do have an official body to police their language (L’academie Francais), founded in 1635.  “Le walkman” used to be common in France but the academy decided a proper French word was needed, thus Le Baladeur was born and use of “Le walkman” in a news advert could gain a business a fine from the academy.

According to Holger Klatte, this use of loan words and influence from English is a problem:

“Languages do tend to affect one another, but the influence of English in Germany is so strong that Germans are having a hard time advancing their own vocabulary, . . . The second world war and Nazi times have led Germans to downplay the importance of their language, unlike the French, Finns and Poles — they promote their languages a lot more than we do.” (cite)

I also note that there is a divergence between the Korean used by the ROK and DPRK.  The DPRK, in its political quest for racial purity, excludes the use of Chinese or English loan words and, as such, contains up to forty percent different vocabulary that is unique to the north, as opposed to its cousin in the south.

Loan words – aberration or growth?  It is difficult to tell.

The other side of the cosmetics and plastic surgery discussion

When it comes to the topic of plastic surgery, many people take a “good or bad” value position.  The unofficial consensus is if a lot of it is done to a normal face then it’s “bad,” but if it’s done to restore looks lost due to an accident, then it is generally thought of as “good.”

When it comes to South Korea, much of the press is negative and borders on reporting mostly on the strange and/or weird such as the so-called “tower of jaw bones,” the proliferation of plastic surgery ads in Gangnam-gu, startling before and after shots, or the fact that South Korea undergoes the highest number of plastic surgery procedures per capita in the world.

Korean culture, particularly modern urban culture, puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on outward appearance.  Clearly, sociological pressures play a decisive role.  Interestingly enough, there is pressure on the supply-side too.  Korean doctors essentially have their incomes capped by price controls mandated by the National Health Insurance plan, so there is pressure to turn to plastic surgery to escape limits on their pay.  All this has created a massive aesthetics-based business of cosmetics companies, skin care clinics and plastic surgeons.

All points well taken from a position that’s attracted a lot of attention, debate and discussion.  IMHO, criticism of Korean sociological pressures and aesthetics culture is not without merit.

However, is it all bad?  If we are to take perhaps subjective values out of the equation and just look at economic impact, then is this all “bad,” per se?  From an economic and business perspective, Korea’s highly demanding aesthetics culture is creating an expertise, technology and infrastructure base that’s become the core of a highly developed cosmetics and plastic surgery industry.  It’s an industry that’s so developed it is attracting considerable overseas demand, particularly in medical tourism and cosmetics.  The big prize is China’s aesthetics market, for which Korea may be uniquely positioned to capture a greater share of than more established players in Japan (i.e. Shinseido), France (i.e. L’Oreal) and the U.S. (i.e. Procter & Gamble).  From a plastic surgery standpoint, Chinese patients now make up the largest percentage of medical tourists visiting Korea.

Tremendous domestic demand and emphasis on quality is creating a “virtuous cycle” of sorts, that’s in turn supporting an industry that’s becoming increasingly more attractive to a lot of non-Koreans.  The demand translates into sales and profits, which creates additional capital to be available to fund more product and service improvements and to keep comparative costs down due to efficient capacity utilization and expansion of economies of scale.  This creates even more non-domestic demand, further expanding and accelerating the cycle and thus giving Korea, Inc. yet another industry to hang its hat on.

Korea is like a dolphin, not a shrimp

says Daniel Tudor, who’s tired of hearing the description from Koreans who like to use it as a sort of self-effacing excuse for themselves. The Korean expression from which “shrimp” originates is : 고래 싸움에 새우 등 터진다 – “Kore-ssaumeh-saeu-deung-tojinda” literally translated as “During a fight amongst the whales, shrimps (back) explode”. I always wanted to know if this is based on a scientific fact, i.e. how feasible this is and whether this is a common occurrence. I don’t know if the sizes of the relative species concerned (shrimps and whales) and their common habitat could actually result in such a phenomenon. Maybe somebody could ask the Mythbusters program. At any rate here is a footage of a whale fight. In my opinion, it’s more likely to happen during whales mating than fighting, if at all.

Anyway, I can only find the link to the Korean version of the JoongAng article by Tudor씨. I don’t know if there is an English version. Tudor씨 is an ex-correspondent of the Economist, and is also the author of the book, “Korea: The Impossible Country”.
His main point is that maybe Koreans (especially the elite or the leaders in the society) like to say that they are a small country or a developing country to prevent change – because that prevents further discussion of things like equal opportunities or work-life balance, and everybody would continue to sacrifice themselves for development.

확실한 증거는 없지만, 자기 회의적인 그런 얘기들은 변화에 저항하는 수단으로 쓰이고 있는 것이 아닐까 싶다. 평등주의나 일과 삶의 균형에 대한 논의를 막기 위해서는 한국이 아직도 개발도상국이라는 인식만큼 좋은 게 없기 때문이다. 그래야 성장과 진보를 위해 모두가 희생을 감수하지 않겠는가.

He also goes on to say where he is now (in Malaysia) people envy Korea as successful developed nation and he often gets asked to give interviews about Korea. Now while I understand what he is trying to say and agree with some of it, I think there are also other reasons such as:

1. Koreans often like to say, “Koreans are like this – that’s why they’re no good” not including themselves in it. It’s rarely “We are like this that’s why it will never work”. The elite and the leaders are separating themselves from the people they are referring to. I am sure I am guilty of this myself, but to my defence I always fight with my parents whenever I go back.
2. Living standard alone does not make a truly developed nation. While I enjoy watching some Korean TV/dramas which his Malaysian friends might watch, I still cringe at the Cinderella mentality and the 식상한 story-line.
Let me just add, I don’t like dramas from the US or Britain/Australia etc. when they try to be realistic or tackle issues, sometimes they are just plain old bland beyond hope..it’s a delicate balance between escape from reality, and reality packaged as an episode.
3. It’s also like a sports announcers mentality when they say : “네, 정말로 뛰어난 패스, 김 아무개 선수 – 슛 – 네 그럴 줄 알았습니다.” They build themselves up with hope when things are going well, only to say “I knew it” when the ball bounces off the goal post. Deep down, we know we are shite. A bit like the Brits and their Wimbledon dreams.
4. Finally, yes, unfortunately, his Malaysian friends are right in that some Koreans look down on them. I am sure the Korean entertainment business is very careful in controlling their fan-base in places like Malaysia, but most Koreans would already probably feel superior to the South-East Asians, especially with respect to colour of the skin and money. They mainly want to feel superior within the club they feel they belong to geographically and culturally: the China-Japan-Korea club.

Anyway, I also thought it was funny that he chose dolphin, especially with the dolphin-related news going around nowadays.

Korea a great place to get fertility treatment… as long as you’re officially married

A piece in the, again, the Chosun Ilbo notes a rather odd quirk that’s hurting the medical tourism industry.

Namely, a number of foreign couples who come to Korea for artificial insemination procedures are being denied the procedure because they aren’t officially married.

Korea’s biological ethnics law apparently requires couples to submit a marriage certificate or a similar certification before they can undergo an artificial insemination procedure. This particularly sucks for potential patients from Russia and elsewhere in the former Eastern Bloc, where—due to decades of rule by godless commies—only about 60% of couples living together are officially married.

Some 90% of foreign patients who come to Korea for fertility treatments come from Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Over the last three years, the number of Russians who’ve come to Korea for fertility treatments has quintupled.

Anyway, some now ask if perhaps some flexibility might be required in the case of foreign patients.

Chinese tourists feel disrespected in Korea: Ye Olde Chosun

Despite being the biggest customers in the Korean tourism market—both in terms of numbers and money spent—many Chinese tourists come away with bad feelings.

Or so reports the Chosun Ilbo, citing a poll it took of 100 Chinese tourists in Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun and Gangnam taken last year.

A full 25% of respondents said their image of Korea worsened after actually visiting the country. In particular, 37% responded that they were the target of real or perceived contempt from Koreans. Only 10% said they’d felt such contempt when traveling in other countries, which would suggest—says the Chosun—that globe-trotting Chinese tourists get such a strongly negative impression only in Korea.

Chinese not only accounted for a full third of all the foreigners who entered Korea last year, but they also spend the most money here. In 2012, the average Chinese tourist spent USD 2,153.7 in Korea, 140% the foreign tourist average of USD 1,529.5. They also spent USD 378 per day; likewise, this was the highest among foreign tourists. Chinese tourists are also responsible for a considerable amount of added value—perhaps as much as KRW 7 trillion’s worth.

Of the disrespected Chinese tourists, 12 said they were verbally disrespected, 11 pointed to facial expressions, and eight cited body language.

One 20-something Chinese tourist the Chosun met in Myeong-dong recently was pissed off about an incident that took place in a subway. On the second day of her visit, she was talking in Chinese with her friend on the subway when an ajumma tapped her with her foot and motioned for her to go into another carriage. She could feel the contempt in her eyes, she said. At Dongdaemun Market, the only time she felt welcomed was when she handed over money.

When Chinese tourists head off the major tourist track, things get even worse. Volunteer Chinese interpreters say the places about which they get the most complaints are the well-known beauty salons in places like Sinchon and Apgujeong (Marmot’s Note: Well-known hair stylists? Being dicks? To tourists? Noooooooooooooooo!). One volunteer said he took a 20-something Chinese woman to a hair stylist in front of Ewha, but when they got there the owner’s faced turned sour. The volunteer said the open display of dislike was embarrassing.

Despite this, Korean officials are still saying there’s nothing to worry about. A government survey on inbound tourism taken this year showed the Chinese tourists were highly satisfied with their travel experience, scoring 4.14 points out of 5. This was the same level of satisfaction as the total average. Experts say this is an illusion, however. The government polls are often given of tourist groups at select shopping malls, hotels and restaurants—places where tourists are unlikely to meet the “real Korea,” so to speak.

China experts warn the impact of this goes beyond money—it could affect the entire Sino-Korean relationship. One foundation director head said the Sino-Korean relationship was an important matter on which Korea’s future depended, and lessening the gap in culture and values was the basis of diplomacy, both at the private and government levels. He added that this social value was a national asset much more important than money.

Marmot’s Note: Being from New York, I just naturally assume tourists are treated like jerks and am pleasantly surprised when they aren’t.

Speaking of which, somebody posted this on Facebook yesterday. I thought it was hella funny:

Anyway, Korean readers, on your way home today, please hug a Chinese tourist. They apparently need one.

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