The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Korean Diaspora (page 1 of 32)

Harvard-Stanford Math Prodigy Hoax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m at a loss for words.

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

Enough already.

CNN International butchers “Park Geun-hye”

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

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

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

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

I blame Koreans.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ethnic Caste System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen capture of KT article that inspired this piece:

KT - Local Mdia Call NYT 'Potentially Racist'


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.

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