US Defense ships Live Anthrax by mistake to South Korea

Korean media (Chosun article here) are reporting on a revelation that live anthrax was shipped by mistake to Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition Program (ITRP) at Osan Airbase in South Korea, from Dugway, Utah in the US. Some report that it is the first time the ITRP program was officially acknowledged at all. Needlessly to say, this Hankyoreh article is highlighting the unanswered – whether the US government had notified the Korean government prior to the shipping of the anthrax, how much was shipped, and if they ship (hopefully dead) sample often.

주한미군사령부는 살아있는 탄저균 표본을 발견한 사실을 27일 한국 정부에 통보했다. 하지만 주한미군 쪽은 실험 목적이나 사전에 탄저균 이동 등의 상황을 한국 정부에 통보하고 협의했는지 등은 밝히지 않고 있다. 탄저균 양이 어느 정도인지, 얼마나 자주 탄저균을 들여오는지 등의 의문에도 답하지 않았다.

The same article says that North Korea is meant to possess up to 5000 tons of Anthrax, and only 100kg of it in a large metropolitan city would kill 1 million to 300 million people.

This Kyunghyang article reports that the Korean defense ministry is trying to develop their own vaccine by 2016. They have been asking the US to buy the vaccination for the last 10 years or so, but the US have turned them down due to lack of previous such cases (exporting anthrax vaccine) and lack of stock. Korean government does however, possesses some amount of antidote (Cipro, developed by Bayer), but this amount is nowhere near enough for the number of Korean troops. Kyunhyang also adds that the US have been vaccinating its own troops based in South Korea, since June 2002. (they started in September 1998, but stopped for a while)

Here is the link to CNN report in English on focusing on just the event.

Sympathy for the Devil

Cho Hyun-ah arriving at Seoul Western Prosecutor's Office Dec. 30, 2014 - AP

South Korea’s High Court overturned a lower court’s February decision to imprison Cho Hyun-ah for one year for last December’s “nut rage” incident.  Seoul’s High court found that Cho did not violate aviation security law when she ordered the chief flight attendant off the December 5, 2014 flight, forcing the KAL airliner to return to the gate at JFK Airport.

Seoul’s high court meted out a 10-month prison sentence suspended for two years and set Cho free.  Deemed a flight risk before her trial, Cho had been jailed since her December arrest, and she effectively served five months in prison.

Seoul’s lower court had convicted Cho in February of “forcing a flight to change its route, obstructing the flight’s captain in the performance of his duties, forcing a crew member off a plane and assaulting a crew member.”  The lower court had found her not guilty of interfering with the transport ministry’s investigation into the incident.

At February’s trial, Cho pleaded not guilty and prosecutors sought a three year prison sentence.  Both sides appealed February’s decision and sentence.

In overturning the most serious of the lower court’s findings, Seoul’s High Court interpreted that Cho’s actions did not violate the aviation security law, which is meant to regulate severe acts such as hijacking. Seoul’s High Court determined that Cho’s actions posed no serious threat and that Cho’s demanding the return of the taxiing plane did not constitute forcing a plane to change its route.

Seoul’s High Court found that Cho had “shown remorse for the wrongdoing she committed. She must have learned a lesson from it. We judge she should have a chance to start her life anew.”

The head of the three judge panel Kim Sang-hwan found that even though Cho had used violence against crew members, Cho should be given a second chance.  The judge cited Cho’s “internal change” since Cho started serving her prison term.  Judge Kim also took into consideration that Cho had no prior convictions and was the mother of 2-year-old twins in lessening Cho’s sentence.

Former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah, center, is surrounded by reporters at the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, May 22, 2015. The upper court Friday sentenced Cho to 10 months in prison and then suspended the sentence for two years. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Cho Hyun-ah is surrounded by reporters at the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Upon leaving the court house, Cho “made no comment in front of the TV cameras, bowing her head and burying her face in her hands as the media pressed in and yelled for her to say something.”

“It appears that she will have to live under heavy criticism from society and stigma,” said Judge Kim.

Aside from the worldwide notoriety and igniting of the smoldering embers below the tinderbox that Korean society is in relation to its chaebols, I think her sentence, given her time served, seems fair.  Clearly, the three years sentence sought by prosecution was excessive as would be any sentence over one year.

My major objections to the High Court’s lessening Cho’s sentence are that KAL executives and an investigator who once worked for KAL (daddy’s fiefdom company) obstructed justice on Cho’s behalf and the reduction of her sentence from one year to 10 months (suspended) reduces the sense of seriousness of her crimes.   Of course, serious crimes or lengths of prison sentences haven’t prevented Chaebol heads or their family members from returning to their positions in the past.

Cho still faces civil lawsuits, not in Korea’s mealy civil courts, in New York.

(Featured image Cho Hyun-ah leaves a Seoul court in December. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP)


A question of love

This MBC report(in Korean) highlights the problem of the increasing number of failed marriages in the case of Korean farmers marrying women from abroad, mainly South East Asian countries (Vietnam, Philippines etc)

It is said last year 43 percent of such marriages ended up in divorce, and including non-divorce cases where the women simply left home, it could be as high as 60 percent.
Previously the news had highlighted the plight from the women’s point of view, sometimes citing violence from the husbands as a reason for the women to leave home in the first place, but it is interesting to see this report shows the other side of the fence, portraying the women themselves as only getting married in order to obtain the (Korean) nationality, and then leaving the farm/country life to go work in the city (often in Karaoke bars frequented by workers from other South East Asian countries).

I have probably said it before, and I will say it again.
I have little sympathy for either party.

I don’t even know why people would go on internet dating sites, let alone inter-country marriages arranged by brokers.
Am I old-fashioned?

Often people would say that is easy if you are a girl, or if you are eligible, but I don’t think this is the case necessarily. I find it strange that it is not easy to fall in love with somebody around you, if you are looking, with somebody around you or at school or at workplace. In the depths of Korean farmland, it might indeed be the case, but then to have to go abroad to bring wives?
In the case of women friends that I have around the globe, “who are fast approaching or missed their golden window of opportunity in terms of age” according to themselves, I find they are/were simply too picky..

This reminds me to look up and link to another recent article from Chosun that I have been informed from my mother that my parents had a fight over this morning. It says that men are more vulnerable to their “first love” apparently, and says that it was mostly men who were susceptible to a voice phishing scam which involved “I am your first-love in primary school” whereas most women find out by the age of 40 that all men are pretty much the same. So what did my parents fight about? My father told my mother about the article and asked how it was in her case. Her answer was “I found out much earlier than that (that all men are pretty much the same)”, with which my father got all huffed up and stormed off the hill by himself.
Cute, my parents.

Language Buffs (and others) might find this interesting

I came across this very interesting article/podcast that I would like to share with TMH readers. The podcast is actually much more interesting and goes into much more detail, leaving the theme of the North/South Korean dictionary smartphone app to go into how Korean just changes for everybody when it interviews a KA woman who has never actually lived in Korea but learned it from her mother who left in the 1970’s.

The only thing I wanted to point out listening to that interview is that it is probably *not* because of the fact that the waitress didn’t know what she meant when she said the word 다꾸앙 that she rolled her eyes, it is more likely that she knew but also know that this is one of those words that the Korean government at some point actively discouraged Koreans from using due to the Japanese origin. This is actually the one word that I think Koreans (South Korea) are stupid and go over the top with their nationalistic tendencies..just like the North Koreans they are actually accusing of..I mean the yellow pickled radish is so clearly Japanese in origin, and it is supposedly named after a Buddhist monk of the same actively make up a new word called 단무지, just to replace something that has been in use.

This and another word I had an argument with a very stubborn Korean woman (who herself had lived in the US) and that other word was 건배 (cheers) In her very unsightly Pusan accent(boy, she is loud) with spittle flying out of her mouth, she objected in front of all the foreign people who asked me how to say “cheers” in Korean, and when I said “건배” she was like “No, it’s 위하여! 건배 is Chinese or Japanese! Koreans say 위하여!” – so I had to quickly explain this background of how the Korean authorities every so often, getting the urge to arbitrarily purge the influence of a perfectly good language and overhaul a perfectly good system (included is the new Romanization). The laugh was on her when the Kyosu (professor) in charge of the conference stood up from the other end of the table (he had not heard the conversation on this end) and toasted “건배!” – she went red in the face and said “he’s from the old generation”..The funny thing is, it is not just the old generation, even now most young people in Korea will say 건배, so it is actually she is just stuck in some weird time slip limbo by herself..위하여 is just going to to go into history into the room 101 of arbitrary bad ideas..

Times like these, it easy to see why the Japanese use the katakana system for words of foreign origin. Talk about hang-ups carrying over to the area of language, talk about nationalism lacking in self-confidence.

CNN International butchers “Park Geun-hye”

UK Daily Mirror's Butchered PGH Photo

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.)

Pizza night

Pizza Vending Machine

Wednesday might have been Prince Spaghetti day for Anthony Martinetti in the north end of Boston, but Friday night was pizza night for Anonymous_Joseph growing up on the east side of Anonymous_City.  Whereas the north end of Boston was home to the Prince Spaghetti company, my Anonymous_Hometown had some of the best pizzerias, featuring wood-fired brick oven, hand-tossed pizzas.  The pizza makers were like clockworks, stewing their fresh tomatoes into sauce at four in the morning daily.  When I go back, I plan to eat pizza for the first year.  (BTW, my Philistine reader, just as true steak lovers order theirs seared on the outside and bleeding rare on the inside, true pizza lovers order the Margherita.)

The KT US, if you can trust them at the risk of being dragged out into the streets and shot, announced “the world’s first pizza vending machine has landed in Korea.”

World’s first pizza-making vending machine in S. Korea

By Rachel Lee

The world’s first pizza vending machine has landed in Korea.

The “Let’s Pizza,” made in Italy, was launched at Seoul Food 2015, Tuesday, at Kintex in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.

The four-day food industry exhibition, established in 1983, is the third largest in Asia. Under the theme “Wave on the Table,” about 1,480 exhibitors from 44 countries are taking part.

The vending machine creates the pizza by kneading the dough, mixing the ingredients and selecting the toppings ― margherita, pepperoni, ham or bacon. The pizza takes about three minutes to bake.

“All the ingredients used are from Italy, and we use 100 percent real cheese,” Seo Soo-jin, 28, CEO of distributor P & Food System, told The Korea Times. “It’s good quality and the prices are reasonable, too.”

Prices are expected to be between 6,200 (US$5.70) and 6,800 won (US$6.25) for a whole pizza. Cash, credit and check cards can be used in the machine.

The company said maintenance was designed to be quick and easy, with daily cleaning taking about 10 minutes and a weekly cleaning requiring 45 minutes.

The Let’s Pizza machine has enough flour and tomato for 100 pizzas before it requires filling.

“Our product has drawn a massive interest among those visiting Seoul Food because the pizzas taste great,” Seo said.

The “Let’s Pizza” machine can be placed at public places including underground stations, universities, theme parks, stadiums, theaters and swimming pools.

No word yet  whether corn will be added to a localized menu.

I wish them well and am initially curious enough to override my instincts to squeeze a penny into copper wire to spring for one.

(Photo Courtesy of Ripped from Working P Company.  Somehow, I don’t think they’ll mind.)

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

Korea Nail Salon Owners - Fighting!

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'


Strange Denials

South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo (Yonhap)

Prosecutors will question South Gyeongsang Province Govenor Hong Joon-pyo Friday at 10 a.m. over allegations that he received 100 million won from late Keangnam chairman Sung Woan-jong in 2011.  Sung named Hong and the amount in a note found in Sung’s shirt pocket on Sung’s dead body the day Sung committed suicide.  Hong is the first of the eight fingered in Sung’s note to be questioned by the prosecution.

Hong is a former prosecutor who launched a political career in the 2000’s after prosecuting many high-profile corruption cases in the 1980’s – 1990’s.  Friday he will face questioning from his former “junior prosecutors“:

The prosecution decided to call in Hong after the authorities obtained testimony from Yoon Seong-mo, the former vice president of Keangnam Enterprises, who claimed that he was the one who carried the political funds to the former four-term lawmaker four years ago. Hong was then running for chairman of the Grand National Party, the precursor to the ruling Saenuri Party.

…The prosecution appears confident about the case as authorities have also interrogated Hong’s aide to cross-check Yoon’s testimony. For the prosecution, the outcome of summoning Hong is crucial as they are also tasked to reveal the truth behind the scandal that involves President Park Geun-hye’s close confidants including former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo and incumbent Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee.

“Pundits said it would not be easy to bring the ex-prosecutor to court as he knows the process well.”

Hong seems to have taken the aforementioned former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo’s and PGH’s incumbent Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee’s tactic of spinning the press with strange denials.  According to the Korea Herald,

The governor tried to water down the claim, raising fresh speculation that Yoon has been making inconsistent testimonies. Hong claimed Yoon’s memory was not accurate because he delivered Sung’s money to many politicians.

That not only doesn’t make me think he’s innocent but also makes me wonder how he knows Yoon “delivered Sung’s money to many politicians”?  I can only hope that prosecutors press Hong to elaborate.

Hong’s denial follows Lee Wan-koo’s threat (?) of suicide (!), Lee Byung-kee’s vow to quit immediately if any of the bribery allegations against him are proven to be true (duh), and my personal favorite, PGH’s first Chief of Staff Huh Tae-yeol’s spit-take worthy  non-sequitur “‘such money trade is unimaginable’ as then-candidate Park stressed the need for a ‘clean primary’.”

There are more, but I’ve got to towel off my keyboard.

(Featured photo:  South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo. (Yonhap))


A Youth Drinking Problem or A Business in Need of Regulation?

baby-drinkingAccording to reports, a bill that restricts people under the age of 25, from appearing in advertisements for alcoholic beverages, has passed a  committee vote, and will become law if approved in the National Assembly.  This strange bill was passed due to a perception that younger Koreans (teenagers?) are drinking more.  The same lawmakers, who had such a problem passing a decent anti-corruption law, have decided that pop stars, athletes and people of note, who are younger than 25, may encourage teenage drinking, since many of their fan base are in that age bracket.

. . . That means 21-year-old singer Lee Ji-eun, known to her fans as UI, would have to stop advertising a popular brand of soju liquor, . . . the bill was proposed after skater Kim Yuna helped advertise a brewery when she was 22 years old, leading lawmakers to question whether young idols could be enticing teenagers to drink. <link>

This sort of reportage dodges a better question though.  Are those cheap bottles of soju actually encouraging the noted rise in South Korean drinking?

Soju is really cheap in South Korea at just 3,000 won ($3) for a bottle. People tend to go out to drink almost every day, including women. At the very minimum, drinking is done three times a week” said South Korean native Lim Hyun <link>

As noted in other articles, often there is a correlation between economic problems and drinking in both unemployed and employed.  During the current “deflationary spiral amid near-zero wage growth” in Korea, the one thing that has sold better is alcohol. <link> This is more than merely a youth problem that has been exacerbated by young celebrities’ promotion of alcoholic products.

The only winner in this period of economic troubles & the ongoing problem of alcohol abuse are large beer and liquor manufacturers such as Hite-Jinro

with a 47% market share in Korea’s drinking habit.  If Korea’s drinking problems are so large (About 1.6 million of South Korea’s 50 million population are alcoholics, while social costs stemming from drinking is around 23 trillion won annually), wouldn’t cheap soju and neighborhood stores selling to younger Koreans be more of a problem than young stars marketing alcohol?  How about the management for the “younger celebrities” that are willing to force their talent to help Hite-Jinro expand their market share? How about the advertising campaigns put out by Hite-Jinro that target a younger audience?  Also, considering the advertising spent in printed news media, why is their no media-lead examination of the business side of this alcohol problem in Korea?

Adultery Is Now Officially Legal & Ashley Madison Is Back

what-Once upon a time . . .

adultery was illegal in South Korea. People could go to jail because of it.
Sites such as Ashley Madison – that promote married people having affairs – were banned in South Korea, despite their efforts to sue Korea, claiming that the Korean Government was protecting local hook-up sites (see Brendon Carr’s first comment on the linked page), until, one day, the law was changed.

Now, according to the claims of Christoph Kraemer, director of international relations for Ashley Madison, “. . . Membership is growing quickest in India, South Korea and Japan.” (cite)
When I read about this, I checked and, yes, the site is accessible now from Korea and does offer support in Korean, however, since there are quite a few complaints of this service being fraudulent.  Several people I know thought that this site was a typical dating scam setup, where there are fake accounts setup just to drawn in the unsuspecting, so we thought it would be a good idea to test this and to ascertain if previous complaints had any merit and the following is what we found.

First, any adult can sign up for an account, which we did. We fought more over the online name than we did about anything else. We were torn between choices like “Nunchi lover”, “Peachy white guy” or “Tall and handsome carpet muncher” and so many other corny names but, just as soon as we created our account, we got four notices in our mail account from interested women, but wait, under the “viewed me” section of our account, it said “no one has recently viewed your profile”! Wow, these women must be psychic and married since they knew we had just joined Ashley Madison before anyone had even looked at our profile yet.

We went on to search the site for Seoul listings, for women that listed both Korean only or Korean and English as languages. We viewed several listings; many without photos. We pulled up one listing several times, arguing over whether or not a certain woman looked good or not. Lo and behold, some hours later, the same woman whose profile we had argued over had sent us mail but – we had spent no money to buy “credits” for the site’s service, thus we could not read the obviously juicy mail sent to us by the very women whose profile we poured over. We were also amazed because the site dashboard told us that no one had viewed our profile as of yet, thus this women must also be another psychic married woman, looking for action.

Well, it was obvious to us that the time had come to make a decision – do we wisely save our money or do we give in to our lustful, now legal desires?

After splitting the cost, we bought the cheapest option, which is still pretty expensive for one person. We also discovered a little tricky thing about this site.  As listed in the conditions for this service (DO READ THE FINE PRINT) they have the option to automatically charge your card or Paypal account to purchase additional credits for you to keep your account active:

. . . (we use an) automatic re-bill “top up” feature to keep your account active. In the event that any action you take or features you use on the Service that require the expenditure of credits results in you having a “zero balance” or a negative balance of credits, WE WILL AUTOMATICALLY PURCHASE (WITHOUT FURTHER AUTHORIZATION FROM YOU ONCE YOU OPT IN) FOR YOU THE SAME MEMBERSHIP PACKAGE THAT YOU HAD PURCHASED PREVIOUSLY . . .

basically, they reserve the right to charge you again if you are careless and opt-in without understanding what you are agreeing to. This auto-charging is a similar practice to one used by certain illicit online streaming sites where they offer a free trial for their service but the fine print says that if you don’t cancel the trial before a certain time, they will charge you the full fee and their fine print also says there is a cost to cancel.  Ashley Madison also charges for a “full deletion” of account information from their site as well, which again is in the fine print. (link) though you can hide your account from viewing.  It is definitely not clear just what happens to a members photo if they should cancel their service either.

There is also this bit of fine print from the site:

Our profiles message with Guest users, but not with Members. Members interact only with profiles of actual persons. Guests are contacted by our profiles through computer generated messages, including emails and instant messages. These profiles are NOT conspicuously identified as such.
You understand, acknowledge and agree that any interaction or messaging with our profiles is independent of, and separate from, our general database of Members who may be seeking in person or other kinds of encounters or introductions. You understand that you cannot meet any of the images associated with our profiles in person and you acknowledge and agree that such communications are solely for your entertainment and to encourage your use of our Service. You acknowledge and agree that the user conduct provisions of these Terms apply to your interactions with these profiles. If you do not wish to continue to receive communications or other interaction from our profiles, to which the receipt of such messages you hereby agree to and consent, go to “Manage Profile” and click on “Profile Options”, in “Profile Options” select “Check this box if you do not wish to by contacted by Market Research.” Then click on “UPDATE”.

This means that the “psychic married women” we encountered were actually Ashley Madison bots that were inticing us and giving us the impression that their site is really active with women looking for sex.

Once having bought credits on the AM site, they charge five credits to send mail to any member (or bot) though any additional follow-up mail to a member is free, according to their site.  Having loaded up on credits, our itching fingers grabbed the mail that had been out of our reach, only to read that the women wanted a photo and would reply if interested. She never did, in fact, after having purchase our credits, all mail from these psychic married women stopped completely.

Almost once every other day, we did get a “wink” from women who actually viewed our profile, right after we logged on, but were located on the opposite side of the earth from Korea (!??) and a couple looked like sex pros, but the dashboard on the AM site still told us that no locally available married women, including the ones we “winked” at, had viewed our profile. We are smug in a dejected sort of way at this point since we suspected that this very thing would happen, however we picked the sexiest pictures we could for our profile and feel that they have been wasted so far.  Even Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung is more popular than we are and we feel we are collectively much more handsome than he is.


“no one has recently viewed your profile”!

We sent out more “winks” to certain local women to show our interest in them. We tried a combination of English and Korean but to no avail and still no members in Korea, who are Korean, have viewed our profile! Only one local “member” (we never “winked” at them) did view our profile but they were listed as having English as a primary language and wanted to only chat, which was not a selected option for our profile.  Why were they trying to send a message to us?  We were looking for action and fun; not “chatting”.  Despite the sites’ statement in their terms and conditions that their “angel” bots would send messages to only “guests” we still received one message (with a Korean online name) from what apparently was a bot since the “member”(?) was not listed as having viewed our profile. We believe this should have been a violation of the terms and conditions of their site. (Note: we have kept a log and screenshots of everything as well just in case . . . )

A few listings did look like they *might* be actual people but we felt that the cost alone to determine if they were real would preclude investigating this further and some of the accounts had pictures that looked very much like the shots seen on those little business cards that litter the streets around Gangnam and Seolleung. Humm . . .

Even now, our conclusions are unanimous. We feel that people would have a better chance of meeting someone in Korea – married or not – by learning some Korean and learning how to smile and be pleasant rather than wasting their money and time on Ashley Madison’s site.  This site left us with more doubts about the veracity of the site than fun.  We think it is also probably a good idea for the Prosecutor’s Office, in Seoul, to investigate these people or have their site blocked since they are probably not the sort of people that should be allowed to operate in Korea.

Seoul Ed Superintendent likely expelled

…and in other corruption news….

The Seoul Central District Court convicted Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, of disseminating false information against his rival during last year’s election.  The Seoul Central District Court Wednesday fined Cho five million won (US$4,600) for spreading false rumors against his conservative rival Koh Seung-duk during the election campaign.

Under current election law, any fine for “running a smear campaign” in excess of one million won leads to an automatic nullification of one’s election.

Cho is appealing to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the Seoul District Court’s decision, Cho will forfeit his office and be made to return three billion won in campaign funds. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to be announced in one year.  (One year???)

Cho, the only liberal candidate and a former sociology professor, earned a surprise victory in the election for Seoul education chief last June, beating two favorites, including conservative rival Koh Seung-duk, a lawyer turned politician.

The Seoul District Court found that Cho disseminated false information about  Koh by claiming Koh was a permanent resident of the United States and used his permanent resident status to educate his two children in the U.S.  Koh publicly explained that he did not hold permanent U.S. residency and his children were U.S. citizens by birth.   The court found that Cho continued to accuse Koh with the allegations even after providing a valid explanation.

Cho is the third of four Seoul education superintendents and latest Seoul education superintendent to be convicted of violating Korea’s election laws.  In 2009, Gong Jeong-taek lost his post after the Supreme Court fined him 1.5 million won for receiving bribes to bankroll his election campaign.  In 2012, Kwak No-hyun lost his office after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction on charges of bribing Park Myoung-gee to withdraw from the 2010 election for the job.  The court sentenced Kwak to one year in jail and made him return 3.52 billion won he received as a refund for campaign costs.

What of our one beacon of hope?   “Cho’s predecessor, Moon Yong-lin, was also put on trial on similar charges after he stepped down.”

So the soap opera is told and unfolds
I suppose it’s old, partner, but the beat goes on
Da da dum da dum da da….

Yep, this was bound to happen.

A Kenyan man lands in Pyungyang when he thought he was heading for Pyungchang for a conference :
from this WSJ report

Maybe they should have an Olympic slogan,
“2015 in Pyungchang, not Pyungyang”,
simple, effective and funny, much more cool than any of the dynamic sparkling shite variety they tend to come up with.
This story reminds me of how an acquaintance who was trying to book a plane ticket to Auckland (NZ) in a Korean travel agency in UK, talking to a Korean woman, nearly got himself a ticket for Oakland (USA).

What I want to know is why Chinese reporters (in Hong Kong?) are covering this story.

How to survive a drinking session in Korea


How to survive a drinking session in Korea is the title perforce and not my title of choice.  Anthony Bourdain travels to Korea for the season five premiere of “Parts Unknown” and teases the segment with that title on CNN’s website.

Here is an abbreviated, in consideration of my reader’s time and attention span, sampling of the original article.

Hoesik is the Korean tradition of eating and drinking together

(CNN)Most companies in South Korea have hoesik at least once a month and sometimes every week.

Literally, this means dinner with co-workers.

In practice, it means official eating/drinking fests involving multiple rounds of alcohol at multiple venues.

For the foreign business traveler, using foreignness as an excuse to bow out of the action only goes so far.

The pressure to participate is intense.

Drinking etiquette is the first thing you teach foreign guests,” says Bryan Do, a Korean-American director at the South Korean branch of a U.S. company.

“It was shocking when I first arrived in Korea.

“My boss was a graduate of Korea University [renowned for its hardy drinking culture] and at my first hoesik, we started out with everyone filling a beer glass with soju, and downing it on the spot. That was just the beginning.”

CNN’s piece continues with, “for Koreans, drinking is considered a way to get to know what someone is really like.  ‘I didn’t really like it in the beginning,’ says Charles Lee, a Korean-Canadian who came to Seoul to work for a South Korean company. ‘I was like, Why are you making me drink something when I don’t want to? But once I understood the meaning behind it, I appreciated it more.’ ”

The article notes that “drinking is such a big part of Korean life that Seoul traffic is said to correspond with the city’s drinking culture.  Mondays are a big night for hoesik, so there are fewer cars during evening rush hour, as most office workers leave them at work so they can go drinking.  Tuesdays are a rest day, while Wednesday and Thursday nights are also big nights for company drinking. Fridays have the worst evening traffic, as everyone is taking their cars home to use with their families over the weekend.”

Finally, the author offers these seven (edited for length, see original article for complete context) rules:

1. Know the hierarchy

Koreans always identify the “higher” person in the relationship, and defer to them accordingly.  Even someone just a year older is afforded a language of respect, though age is always superseded by a higher position.

2. Show respect

It’s considered rude for anyone to have an empty glass.  If a senior person is pouring — this usually pertains to hard liquor only — others shouldn’t drink until someone has poured the senior a shot.

After all glasses are full, everyone says “Gunbae!” and chugs — usually “one-shotting” the entire glass in one go.  While downing alcohol, you should turn your body away from senior figures so that your body visually blocks your drinking action from your senior.

3. Use two hands

Always hold bottles or shot glasses with both hands. By raising your glass or pouring alcohol with one hand, you are establishing yourself as a senior person. If you’re not, well, you’ve just breached protocol.

4. Do some research

It’s always a good idea to find out people’s drinking habits beforehand.  …Hoesik usually involves changing venues for a different type of alcohol — i.e., round one is dinner, accompanied by beer, round two is soju, round three is for whiskey, and so on.

5. ‘No’ means bad things

Unless you have an airtight reason, refusing alcohol is considered a mood killer and deemed rude.  Sorry, but “I don’t like soju” doesn’t qualify as a good reason not to punish your liver. Neither would “I’ve been on the wagon for three years.”

In fact, unless you’re pregnant or already puking, what might be a “good reason” not to imbibe elsewhere often won’t fly here.

6. Flex your vocal cords

…Koreans love singing, as evidenced by the country’s staggering number of karaoke bars, as well as the rush of audition programs on Korean television.  Your companions won’t rest until you sing.

7. Use the black knight or black rose as a last resort

If you simply cannot take any more, you can call a black knight (male) or a black rose (female) to your rescue.  This entails a person of your choosing drinking your glass for you, but it also means they get a wish.  As in, you might soon wish you’d just taken that last shot as you’re spelling your name out with your butt in front of your client.

Bottoms up.

(Anthony Bourdain missed out on the real ratings grabber:  the after-party ;-))

For those of us who have been here for any length of time, we’ve at some point bumped into, if not against, Korea’s hoesik business culture.  I am still incredulous and try not to judge, but I can’t resist:

Sorry, but “I don’t like soju” doesn’t qualify as a good reason not to punish your liver. Neither would “I’ve been on the wagon for three years.”

Pressuring an admitting and recovering alcoholic to drink? Really? (Unfortunately, I know the answer.)

I have worked with several of Korea’s top companies, and no one in upper management has ever asked me.  If I could, however, tell them one thing, I would tell them that their top young talent (by virtue of their degrees, positions, and matriculation in my training classes) tell me that if they could quit the company, they would.  Their cited reason:  the company’s drinking culture is ruining their health, if not “killing” them.

Perhaps I should go out on hoesik so I can tell them.

Raising the Sewol Ferry

Sewol in Korea Herald (Yonhap credit)

The good news is that South Korea announced today its commitment to raise the Sewol, which sits submerged in up to to 44 m (144 ft) at the bottom of the ocean.  The operation is slated to start in September, cost approximately 150 billion won ($139 million), and take up to 18 months.

According to the Korea Herald, “Public Safety Minister Lee In-yong said priority will be given to preventing the loss of the bodies of the nine people still missing and minimizing the possible damage to the hull.”

According to the WSJ:

The ferry, which weighs more than 6,000 tons, is lying 44 meters (144 feet) below sea level. Its more than 20-year-old structure is “severely weakened,” said Public Safety Minister Park In-yong. But a government-sponsored computer simulation showed the ship can be moved with cranes to an area with shallower waters and slower currents where it would be raised onto a floating dock, a maritime ministry official said at the same briefing.

A South Korea Coast Guard boat passes a buoy marking the site where the ferry Sewol sank off Jindo, South Korea. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
A South Korea Coast Guard boat passes a buoy marking the site where the ferry Sewol sank off Jindo, South Korea. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The WSJ quoted the public safety and maritime ministries as using a 200 billion won ($185 million) figure for the estimated operation cost.

EDIT:  A reader (see comments and discussion) has shown evidence that the photo credited to Yonhap was not retouched.  I have changed the title and retract the following from the original piece:

In its article, The Korea Herald published the photo (credited to Yonhap), which I ripped used as this blog post’s featured image.  The image appears photoshopped: the Sewol Ferry is impossibly propped on its stack and cut in half.  I am surprised that the Korea Herald, which I think of as Korea’s best online daily (high praise, indeed), used a manipulated image.

North Korea declined to make charges of tu quoque upon realizing the implications of the charge.


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

Prime Minister Offers to Resign

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.)