The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Korean Diaspora (page 1 of 32)

PM offers to resign, President Park meets with K-Pop fans in Peru

Oh, how the blogging gods have conspired against me.  I have been working on pieces and considering titles: “Prime Minister impeached, President Park impickled” and “PM impeached, PGH in Peru“.

Alas, they are not to be.

According to the Korea Herald, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo submitted his resignation today to President Park Geun-hye amid accusations that he took bribes from Sung Won-jong.  Sung named Lee Wan-koo among seven others in a note found on Sung’s dead body, which was found hanging from a tree in an apparent suicide.

“Prime Minister Lee offered his intention to resign to President Park as of April 20,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “The president will decide whether to accept his resignation or not after she returns from her trip.”  A presidential spokesman, Min Kyung-wook, accompanying her in Lima, Peru, confirmed the announcement of the Prime Minister’s Office.

President Park is currently in the middle of a 12-day Latin America trip.  Park departed on the first anniversary of the Sewol Ferry sinking, this Korean generation’s where were you moment akin to Americans’ Pearl Harbor, FDR death, JFK assassination, John Lennon murder, or WTC 9/11 attack, and amid the growing bribery scandal that threatens not only Korea’s government’s credibility but also constitutional succession:  the prime minister is first in line in case of the South Korean president’s incapacitation.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the Sewol Ferry sinking’s first anniversary, the crisis engulfing PGH’s presidency, and by-elections on April 29, less than two days after President Park’s return,  Blue House Foreign Affairs and National Security Secretary Ju Cheol-gi said in a media brief one day before PGH’s departure, “there is no good reason to delay the trip, and it must go forward as planned. We have to create opportunities to help the economy, and ethnic Koreans in Central and South America are looking forward to the trip, so we will do what needs to be done.”

President Park is scheduled to return to Korea next Monday and as of this writing has no plans to cut short such an important tour of South America.  “President Park Geun-hye met with hallyu fans in Peru, Sunday, during the second leg of her South American tour. …Park’s encounter with 14 Peruvian hallyu enthusiasts took place at a hotel in Lima at the request of some of the fan clubs.”

President Park meets with K-Pop fans in Peru

President Park pictured at an important meeting with part of and receiving a present (???) from a contingent of 14 K-Pop fans in Peru

“I heard that members of the fan clubs learn Korean dance and ‘hangeul’ (Korean alphabet) together,” Park said. “These activities will bring our two countries closer,” she added.

Park’s other important accomplishments on this trip include a pledge from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to accelerate efforts toward ratification of their free trade agreement (FTA,) which was signed more than two years ago.

I have seen no press information whether members of the Korean press corp have deigned to ask President Park “might she return?”

(Damn you, blogging gods.)

UPDATE:  PM’s resignation tender written large on CNN’s front page.  According to CNN’s article, “Park is in Peru and is expected to arrive back to South Korea on April 27.”

CNN Front page April 21, 2015

(I have no further updates on the K-Pop diplomacy initiative.)

FBI to crack down on Los Angeles Koreatown “doumis” (도우미)

In an investigative report by JTBC News, Los Angeles’ Koreatown is apparently rife with young women willing to sell (rent?) their time to eager men looking for companionship in karaoke singing rooms (a.k.a. noraebangs/노래방).

Some of the numbers JTBC threw around are huge.  At least 40 doumi “agencies” each managing 30-40 doumis for an estimated 1,600-1,000 total doumis in an area about three square miles.  Demand is apparently so huge that many of the doumis are non-Koreans or Koreans flown in from Korea to work as doumis for the extent of their tourist visas stays (three months).

For those of you that don’t know, a doumi (도우미) literally means “helper” but is now slang for a young woman who “helps” a business.  There are, for example, those “doumi” dancers that help bring attention to newly opened businesses, etc.  In this context these doumis are taxied into a regular noraebang, not room salon, mind you, to “help” drum up business for the noraebang.   Generally, the patrons of the noraebang specifically asks for doumis from the noraebang’s management who calls them in.  They sing, dance and talk to the patrons of the noraebang.  Generally speaking, there is light petting, flirting and sometimes kissing.  There is, again generally speaking, no sex.

JTBC alleges that these doumis breed casual drug use, gangs and are bringing “disgraceful” (JTBC’s words, not mine) attention to the Korean American community and by extension Korea.  Local law enforcement is keen on this trend and apparently the FBI had gotten involved in cracking down.


Like many “investigative” reports from Korean journalistic sources, there is a fair mix of fact, fiction and exaggeration here.  The absolute numbers might not be too far from the truth, as well as the “heterogeneous” mix of girls.  The fact that they have to recruit non-Korean girls and Korean girls from Korea sounds about right as local girls don’t ply the trade consistently because of the high likelihood that they will eventually run into someone that they know.

The assertion of massive drug use?  Almost always copious amounts of alcohol, but very rarely drugs.   I honestly don’t know about the gang part but my sources says it’s usually more small scale operations and loose networks of cab drivers, noraebang owners and doumi brokers who are managing the trade rather than gangs.

The WaPo believes Virginia Congressional candidates are pandering to Korean voters

Interestingly, the Washington Post’s editorial board has emphatically come out against Congressional candidates Barbara Comstock (Republican) and John Foust (Democrat) stated desire to introduce legislation to co-teach the “East Sea” along side the “Sea of Japan” in text books.  Both the candidates have made the campaign promise to their Korean American constituencies that, if elected, they will bring up the topic nationally in the U.S. Congress.

The WaPo’s editorial response was surprisingly strong, from the headline (“Pandering to Northern Va.’s Koreans is going to extremes”) right down to the actual text of the article which went into highly rhetorical phrases such as “poking their noses in a bitter dispute…” or “anguish and abuse…” etc.

Well, although I half jokingly said that Virginian Congressional candidates were “pandering” to their Korean American voters in an earlier post, I didn’t think the WaPo’s editorial board would take it so seriously!

Any ways, feel free to comment away.  However, bear in mind that what the Korean Americans in northern Virginia are asking for is that the term “East Sea” be taught along side the “Sea of Japan.”  The Korean Americans here, at last not officially, are not asking for “East Sea” to replace “Sea of Japan.”  Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion on that particular point in this debate.



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

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.

Virginian congressional candidate panders to Korean voters

Meet John Foust, Democratic congressional candidate for Virginia’s 10th congressional district.  The 10th congressional district covers suburban areas of Fairfax, WinchesterMcLean and Manassas.

The areas of Fairfax and McLean have a particularly large Korean population.  Believe it or not, the third most common language in Virginia is Korean.  The Korean Americans in Virginia have succeeded in establishing a significant voting block.  So much so that the present governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, made a campaign promise (which he kept) to have the state’s textbooks teach the East Sea, concurrently with the Sea of Japan.  

Any ways, Mr. Foust appears to be mindful of the demographics of his district and has been actively courting the Korean vote.  There’s even a Korean language television commercial:

A commercial depicting an American political candidate pressing Korean flesh and eating food samples at the local Korean supermarket (complete with a saccharin, and exaggerated, “it’s delicious” expression).  I never thought I’d see the day.


Apologies to our readers of the more GOP persuasion.  Didn’t mean to leave you fellas out.  Looks like GOP candidate for the 10th district, Barbara Comstock, isn’t surrendering the Korean American vote without a fight.  According to the WaPo:

… Comstock, who is facing Democrat John Foust in the Nov. 4 general election, has also made sure to advertise her appearances before Korean and Indian audiences. She touts her legislative efforts on their behalf even as advocates say she has supported measures that are anti-immigrant.


The newsletter also highlighted the first celebration of the Korean Bell Garden in Vienna, a new attraction she said she was “thrilled” to have in her district when she spoke to the gathering of Korean Americans in Tysons earlier this month.

Sponsored by the RNC, the event — held at Woo Lae Oak, a restaurant that is a pillar of Northern Virginia’s Korean community — is the kind of grass-roots affair the party is seeking to host around the country.

“Good to see you,” Comstock said repeatedly as she visited tables while an aide shot photos of her with Korean guests that were later posted on Twitter and Facebook. At one point, the candidate conferred with Harold Pyon, a Korean civic leader who could be heard teaching Comstock to say “How are you?” in Korean.

Interesting.  I never knew there was a Korean bell and garden in Annandale, VA.

Not The Role Model Hoped For

I remember reading of how Ahn Chang-ho help instill civil spirit, pride and honorable virtues in the Korean expatriate communities in California, Hawaii and Mexico.  I think he would be appalled to pick up the paper and read how one established and well-known Korean business in the US is now under investigation for enslaving Chinese-Koreans and hosting prostitution – Spa World in Fairfax County, Virginia.


It seems there is more of a back story to the events at Spa World – the spa owner and some clients reportedly were uncomfortable with at least one transgender customer and thought they could simply ban the LGBT crowd, however, this is a political and social issue (as demonstrated through this facebook page and has caused them trouble due to their misunderstanding of the issues involved. As a result of the backlash against the spa, Spa World has clarified its position, stating that they do not bar gays or transgenders and that they are welcomed.

Reading through the reports, it seems that some customers were uncomfortable being around one transgender customer and complained to Spa World management.  They asked her to leave, setting into motion a series of events that may or may not have lead up to the charges involving enslavement and prostitution.  The spa has every right to discourage people from having sex on the premises, as since it seems that some people think that Spa World is a great sex hookup spot!

One interesting result of all this is that since Fairfax County and Virginia have no laws prohibiting discrimination by businesses against members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community, this incidence may prompt political action to address this issue.

I should put Wangkon down as a direct contributor to this thread as well.  Thank you to everyone that added to this thread!

Donald Sterling and the Koreans

The news in the U.S. that’s been the subject of water cooler talk is the National Basketball Association banning the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, from the sport for racist comments he said about African Americans and Latinos.  Recorded by his mistress/girl friend (I’m not sure what to call her because Donald is still legally married) V. Stiviano, and somehow distributed to media gossip blog TMZ, Donald apparently admitted his belief that both African Americans and Latinos were racially inferior to Whites.

The NBA is also going to force Sterling to try and sell his team, but Donald is expected to fight this legally.  Apparently, the NBA, as it is a private organization, can ban members for beliefs contrary to the organization’s mission.

So, why blog about it here?  Somehow the Koreans got dragged into this.  You see Donald has made most of his money through commercial and residential real estate.  He also manages the properties that he owns.  Many of his buildings are in Los Angeles’ Koreatown and there have been ongoing allegations that he favors Korean tenants over African American or Latino tenants.

So, leave it to Slate to capitalize on this racial train wreck with an article entitled, “What Donald Sterling’s Love Of Koreans Reveals About Racism In America.”

… here’s another piece to Sterling’s warped worldview, one that illustrates the bizarre and incoherent ways in which racism works. As Sterling allegedly schemed to rid his properties of certain racial minorities, he sought to fill his development with Koreans, an ethnic group he valorized as hardworking and reliable.

Sterling did not take a passive approach to attracting Korean tenants. He changed the name of one of his buildings to “Korean World Towers,” adorned his buildings with Korean flags, and explicitly stated a preference for “Koreans” in his housing ads.

I’m not sure if this article will be remembered in the same breath as other seminal works on race relations, but it is certainly popular.  553 comments and counting on Slate’s site as of 6:28 am GMT.

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.

Times Square Dokdo ad and others past due since 2012, billboard agency sues for payment

Well, this certainly can’t be good for the cause or the causes.

This from Monday’s Korea Times:

It turns out that high-profile Dokdo and comfort women ads to be paid for by singer Kim Jang-hoon and a bibimbap ad, to be sponsored by MBC’s Infinite Challenge, are currently overdue.

All of them — coordinated by “Korea publicist” Seo Kyoung-duk — were put up on Times Square billboards operated by City Outdoor USA, a New York-based company that filed a lawsuit for the missing payments.

According to the complaint, acquired by Korean-American journalist Ahn Chi-yong, the company is demanding approximately $70,000 (75 million won) for four billboard signs that have been overdue since 2012.

According to Seo, a Korean American ad agency is to blame.

“Kim, Infinite Challenge and I have done nothing wrong whatsoever,” Seo told The Korea Times. “All of the money has been passed on to a Korean-American ad agency, which was responsible for making the payment to City Outdoor USA. But obviously, that never happened.”

And, while on the subject of promotional ads gone wrong, the now infamous NY Times Bulgogi ad, which Sports Illustrated called “bizarre”, got a pretty prime ripping by NPR.

Read it all here, but one of the best lines –for those of us up on their Internet history:

In pursuit of greater understanding, I visited the website listed at the bottom of the print ad: That just led to greater confusion.

First off, it looks like something that belongs on a cached GeoCities page.


I’d like to say that these promotions would be best taken out of the current hands and left to a coordinated agency, but that hasn’t worked out too well either.

Oh well. Onward and upward.


Dokdo times square ad


Egypt bombing: Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis tweets responsibility

Al-Qaeda-inspired nutjobs Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis are claiming responsibility for the bus bombing that killed four Koreans and one Egyptian and injured scores more at the Egyptian border crossing of Taba. From the Times of Israel:

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organization, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, according to various Arabic-language media outlets.

The group said on Twitter that it would continue to attack Egypt’s economy, tourism and its military commanders, Israel Radio reported.

Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis (Champions of Jerusalem) have been very busy since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Since the fall of Mohammed Morsi, they’ve focused largely on attacking the Egyptian police and military.

It should be noted that the attack coincided with the start of the third Morsi trial. No link has been demonstrated, though, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice Party has condemned the attack.

The motives of the attack are yet unclear, but The Times of Israel speculates that the attack served two purposes:

“It is very hard for them to penetrate into Israel,” said Maj. (res.) Aviv Oreg, formerly the head of Al Qaeda and Global Jihad desk at the IDF’s military intelligence directorate. But for jihadist organizations in the Sinai Peninsula, this sort of attack is ”very sufficient in order to pinpoint that Israel is their target in their aspirations.”

More concretely, it targeted tourists on Egyptian soil. Last year, in the wake of president Mohammed Morsi’s ouster and the ongoing attacks in Sinai and the Egyptian mainland, tourist revenue in Egypt dropped by 41 percent. The $10 billion earned in 2012 dwindled to $5.9 billion in 2013, Reuters reported in January. This, the first attack against tourists since Morsi was pried from power, will further cut into the foreign cash flow. It will also push Egypt, and certainly the Sinai Peninsula, one more step in the direction of anarchy, the ecosystem in which terror thrives.

Egypt’s Al-Ahram points out that this was the first attack on tourists in Egypt since 2008, and that this could mark the beginning of a new phase in the militant campaign against the Egyptian government:

For Iman Ragab, a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Centre, the attack represents a “new phase” in Egypt’s ongoing battle against terrorism, which has spiked following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Until Sunday, however, all of the bomb attacks had targeted only security installations and personnel.

Rageb expressed her fear that Sunday’s attack might open the door for a wave of terrorism similar to the one that took place in the 1990s, when Egypt was rocked by recurrent militant attacks on tourist sites across the country, which severely crippled tourism and threatened security.

It’s still unclear how the bombing was carried out—some say it was a suicide bombing, others say a guy chucked a bomb into the bus, still others say it was a remote-controlled device. I’m sure we’ll get a clearer picture soon enough.

In addition to condemning the attack, the Korean government is advising Koreans travelling in five countries—Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia—to leave. Why those five countries, I don’t know.

The Koreans were mostly members of Jincheon Central Church in Jincheon, Chungcheongbuk-do, to whom we offer our deepest condolences. They were in Egypt as part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land planned to mark the 60th anniversary of the church. It’s not an especially big church, but it is one of the larger ones in the Jincheon area, and it does conduct missionary work in Korea’s migrant worker community. To mark its 50th anniversary it also sent missionaries to “Northeast Asia”—I’ll let you speculate what that means. One of the dead was reportedly a missionary from Jincheon active in Egypt, but the church says he had nothing to do with them, and at any rate, nothing’s been confirmed.

The Korean Foreign Ministry had placed travel restrictions on the Sinai and Gulf of Aqaba due to the deteriorating security situation there since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, although the curate of the church says he was unaware of this. The ministry has now placed a total travel ban on the Sinai and Gulf of Aqaba.

Racist flier at UCLA, USC

So, Uncle Marmot, what did you learn from the John and Ken Show today?

How about this?

A horribly racist and sexist flier denouncing Asian women as “cunts” and “only dating honkie white boy” has sparked outrage at UCLA and USC.

The flier, which was sent anonymously on Feb. 1 to UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center and USC’s Asian Pacific American Student Services Department, appears to condemn Asian women for dating white men, according to the Daily Bruin. The crude and grammatically poor language in the flier includes lines like “Asian cunt sluts have low self-esteem up xi ass” and “Mexican womyn don’t worship honkie white boy like Asian cunts do!”

I just want to say this would never have happened at Georgetown.

Anyway, the Daily Bruin has posted the actual flyer. Classy stuff.

I do find the way it’s being reported to be mildly interesting. Naturally, it’s being painted as an attack on Asian-Americans. Which I guess it is, in the same way that threats against white women dating black men are an attack on white people.*

* Judging from the content, I’m guessing the flyer was distributed by either a) angry Asian men or b) jackass white dudes pretending to be angry Asian men. Judging from the over-the-top language, it could very well be the latter, but what the hell do I know.

Female Korean rabbi to lead one of America’s largest synagogues

Hey, if you can’t beat the Wall of Jews ™, join ‘em.

Anyway, the WSJ reports that Angela Warnick Buchdahl—born in Seoul to a Korean Buddhist mother and an American Ashkenazi Reform Jew father—has become the rabbi at New York’s Central Synagogue.

This is remarkable as she’s a) young, b) female and c) Asian. Descended from King Taejo on her mother’s side, she was raised Jewish, although as the WSJ points out, it wasn’t always easy being the Asian Jew:

For Rabbi Buchdahl, who studied religion at Yale University before enrolling in rabbinical school, her commitment to Judaism had a long evolution. By 14, she was the music teacher at her synagogue; in high school, she argued to postpone student-government votes when they fell on Yom Kippur.

But a trip to Israel at 16 drove home some challenges.

There were no other Asians on the streets. “I was kind of an oddity all the time,” she said.

Her biggest surprise came when fellow students questioned whether she was actually Jewish, since her mother wasn’t. “It was extremely painful and destabilizing for me,” she said.

Israeli daily Haaretz ran a profile of Rabbi Buchdahl yesterday—give it a read.

The WSJ also notes that she’s one of only a handful of people in North America ordained as both a rabbi and cantor. She is renowned for her musical skill, in fact:

Rabbi Buchdahl often contributes original music mash-ups that blend pop culture and prayer. Once, she supported Rabbi Rubinstein’s sermon on his love for the community by reworking Steve Winwood’s hit song “Higher Love” into Hebrew hymn.

Now that I just had to hear, being a fan of the song. And thankfully, there is a Youtube video of it—fast forward toward the end of this sermon:

And classy headline of the day goes to…

MoneyToday, which penned a piece on the tragic death of a young Korean woman in Brisbane under the headline:

“Death of 20-something Woman on Working Holiday. Is It Now ‘Killing Holiday?'”

Well, at least it was better than the New York Post’s front page.

The woman in question, BTW, was accidentally hit by a train.

Interestingly, enough, the Foreign Ministry says there are 34,000 Koreans on working holiday in Australia. Some 5,800 Koreans are in Japan on work holiday visas, and 4,000 in Canada.

MoneyToday warns, however, that unlike Korea, Australia doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife, so when it turns dark, shops close and the streets are deserted, thus crime-prone. In 2012, 99 of 108 crimes committed against Koreans on work holiday took place in Australia. In 2011, 117 out of 121 took place in Australia, as did 99 out of 110 in 2010.

Anyway, I hope Brendan Berne has stocked up on antacid.

So, I take it your Australian work holiday experience was less than satisfactory

The Korea Times dedicated a two-part series to the problems—well, alleged problems—faced by Koreans who participate in the Australia Working Holiday program (HT to Rod).

Two Koreans participating in the program were recently killed in separate incidents.

Anyway, just to give you an idea of what we’re talking about, Kang Tae-ho—who wrote a book critical of the program—complains he was subjected to racist treatment at the hands of his Aussie coworkers:

Working as a janitor in the Working Holiday Program, Kang would often find rolls of toilet paper stuck in china and scores of stickers attached to the floor that he had to clean up.

“I found out that my Australian coworkers put them there to harass me,” said Kang, who stayed in the country from July 2011 to June 2012.

That’s just mean.

Other problems cited were labor exploitation on fruit farms and the temptation for female participants to engage in prostitution due to its legal status and relatively high wages.

In the second report, the Korea Times notes that many participants find it difficult to improve their English because their inability to speak English limits their job opportunities:

But the reality is that participants can hardly land decent jobs which require a good command of English. Their choices are therefore limited to manual jobs in rural farms, menial jobs or working for Korean immigrants which rarely offers an opportunity to improve their English skills.

“I worked at a farm which only hires Koreans. Almost all the colleagues whom I talked with were Koreans so it was hard to improve my English. In fact, we spent most of time working without any conversation,” said a 28-year-old office worker who had been to Australia on a working holiday visa in 2009.

Other issues included exposure to crime due to insufficient knowledge about where they are and exploitation by, ironically enough, ethnic Korean employers.

Brendan Berne, the Charge d’affaires of the Hojustani embassy in Seoul, wasn’t especially pleased with the reports—in a letter to the KT, he says more and more Koreans are participating in the program and participants have shown a high level of satisfaction with it. He concludes:

The feedback we receive from citizens from the other 27 countries who participate in the program is also overwhelmingly positive. Your newspaper is rightly proud of Korea’s impressive achievements. I would ask at the very least that your paper adopt a more balanced approach when reporting on developments in Australia, a close friend of the Republic of Korea.

I wouldn’t blame Berne for being annoyed—some of the recent reporting in the local press has made Australia look almost like something out of a Mad Max movie. Or Detroit on a good day. That can’t make his job any easier.

And in case you were wondering, no, not many Australians come to Korea on the working holiday program. In May 2012, there were only 23 Australians in Korea on working holiday, roughly equivalent—or so I’m told—to the number of Australian bartenders per square kilometer in London. Simultaneously, there were 15,000 Koreans in Australia. In fact, there were only 1,120 people in Korea on working holiday visas, the overwhelming majority of whom from the Evil Island Nation We Dare Not Name (i.e., not Australia. Or Kiwistan). The Korea Herald did manage to find a real live Hojustani in Korea on working holiday, who explained that Korea was not as popular because of a) Australians knew little about the place, b) it didn’t have quite the tourist draw as some other countries, and c) language. I do wonder, though, if perhaps there’s more to it—in 2012, the Canadian ambassador complained that the working holiday program was biased:

Canada requested Thursday that its citizens on the working holiday program in Korea be granted the same benefits their Korean counterparts enjoy in the North American country.

“We have about 5,000 Canadians teaching English in Korea,” David Chatterson, Canadian ambassador to Korea, told The Korea Times, explaining that they were E-2 visa holders and would not be eligible to teach if they were here on the working holiday program.

According to the Canadian Embassy in Seoul, the North American country allows Koreans on working holidays to find work in a broad range of fields, including teaching, while Canadians are not allowed to teach English in Korea.

I have no idea if that alleged bias has since been fixed.

And for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to read press reports of Koreans having a rough time in Canada with the work holiday program. Weird sex cults and cultural “misunderstandings” about corporal punishment, yes, but no bitching about racism. At least none that I can remember, and I’m too lazy to do an archive search.

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