Asian Correspondent » Yoo Eun Lee Asian Correspondent Wed, 27 May 2015 09:06:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Psy’s new SKorean tourism commercials baffle locals Wed, 05 Jun 2013 18:25:25 +0000 The Korea Tourism Organization, in an attempt revive a sluggish tourism industry hit hard by inter-Korean tensions, has selected international K-pop sensation Psy as its new face. There is no denying that Psy is a winning choice to promote travel to Korea, with the international media following his every state. However, some statements about Korean culture in the commercials have left South Koreans perplexed and bemused.

Psy: If he's good enough for the presidential inauguration, pictured, he's good enough for Korean tourism. Pic: AP.

The South Korean tourism office has made six, 15-second TV commercials featuring Psy, which already started airing on major international TV channels early this week. Watch a compilation of the six clips below. The quality of commercials is not too bad; they are snappy, the concept of Wiki is refreshing, and Psy’s presence works quite well with the content.

One noticeable aspect of the ads is that they use the original Korean terms, rather than translating them. According to the promotion director, they wanted to promote “original Korean terms that represent unique Korean culture”… ‘just like how the Italian word ‘pasta’ is being used’.

This commercial is definitely a major improvement on previous ads which heavily relied on K-pop stars who mainly appealed to young K-pop fans in Asian regions. However, some of descriptions and several terms promoted in the ad have baffled Koreans.

Here is the list of Korean words featured in the commercial. For the terms that have created controversy, I’ve marked with asterisks and added my explanation.

1) Banchan (side dishes)

2) Olle-gil (a walking trail in Jeju Island)

3) Cosmeroad (streets in Myeongdong, Seoul, where major South Korean brands are lined up in every corner)

4)*Samgyopsal (Korean style pork-belly meat): Many Koreans could not suppress a laughter when seeing a description that ‘Samgyopsal goes well with a glass of champagne’. Anyone who had Samgyopsal in the country knows that it is normally consumed with Korea liquor, Soju. Eating this with champagne is unheard of.

5) *Bulgeum (Korean abbreviation for ‘Friday on Fire’, similar to TGIF): Bulguem is not even a proper Korean word. It is a sort of trendy slang that has been trending for about two to three years tops, and unfamiliar to older Koreans.

6) *Dongdaemun (a district in Seoul): It was introduced as a shopping district, which is partly true. However, it is one of oldest shopping districts in Seoul, teeming mostly with retailers buying raw materials in bulk, foreigners and small shops selling low-end goods, and being far from a hip, trendy place to go in Seoul.

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Japan’s nationalist agenda: The year so far Sat, 18 May 2013 21:33:19 +0000 Is the Japanese government turning more nationalistic and militaristic every day? The evidence tells us so. This week Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s comments about WWII sex slaves caused a lot of offense in nearby Asian countries who suffered brutal Japanese occupation during the 1900s. Here is a look at some of the nationalistic noise that has been emerging from Japan this year.

May 17, 2013: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo said in an interview that a visit to Yasukuni Shrine is ‘natural’. The shrine is seen by many in Asia as a symbol of Japanese militarism and high-profile officials’ visits have caused diplomatic with problems with China and Korea for a number of decades. Abe, back in Oct 17, 2012, paid a visit to shrine despite sharp criticism.

May 17, 2013. Defending Hashimoto’s ‘sex slaves wwere necessary’ remarks (read below), lawmaker Nishimura said during a party meeting, “We better fight back by telling them that the words ‘comfort women’ and ‘sex slaves’ are completely different” (thereby insinuating that comfort women had voluntarily sold sex in exchange for monetary benefit) and added “there are numerous South Korean prostitutes roaming around Japan.”

May 15, 2013: Prime Minister Abe again stirred up anger with his latest militaristic photo opportunity. Abe appeared riding a jet with the number 731: the same number of a notorious Japanese research facility that ran cruel human experiments on war captives, mostly Koreans and Chinese, during the war. The Nelson report stated the act was “equivalent to a German prime minister wearing a Nazi uniform and explaining that it was done for fun”.

May 13, 2013: Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said women who were forced to act as sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War 2, were “necessary” to maintain discipline in the Japanese army.

- Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China became so-called “comfort women” – sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in military brothels. These girls were between 12 and 19 years old and their average age is believed to be around 16. They had been either abducted or tricked under false pretenses that they would be sent to work as factory workers in Japan and be able to send home money.

April 23, 2013: During the Japanese Upper House session, Abe said Japanese war time “aggression” has yet to be determined and “can be viewed differently” – thereby denying the 1995 statement by Tomiichi Murayama who apologized for Japanese colonial rule and “aggression that cause tremendous damage”.

Jan 28, 2013 : Abe, in his first policy speech at the parliament, said he intends to amend the post-World War 2 constitution. He added he will start by changing Article 96 of the constitution, a move that may alter the definition of Japan’s armed forces. US occupying forces, after the war, imposed the constitution to limit Japanese army’s role to defence. Abe’s plan is underway now and has raised tensions in the region.

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SKorea sexual assault fiasco: Attacks on the victim and an SNL parody Mon, 13 May 2013 09:26:55 +0000 The South Korean President’s ex-spokesman Yoon Chang-jung, who was fired for sexual assault during Park Geun-Hye’s high profile trip to the U.S., has admitted that he “groped the buttocks” of an embassy intern and was naked when she entered his hotel room next morning, revoking his previous claim that he “merely tapped her around the waist”.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye's ex-spokesman Yoon Chang-jung surrounded by journalists leaves after a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 11, 2013. Pic: AP.

Here are more updates and shocking revelations.

1) Attack on the victim and a witness resigns.

– Within less than two days, victim’s personal information (including her photos) was unearthed and shared [ko] by insensitive Internet users, some of whom even commented on the victim’s appearance.

– It was revealed later that a staffer at the Korean Culture Center who reported the crime to the police has since resigned. The female staff shared rooms with the victim and called police after she found the victim crying and listened to her story.

2) The Fired Spokesman – It was not his first time.

Korean news agency Newsis reported [ko] that Yoon made another inappropriate advance towards another intern in New York during the visit. The intern said Yoon asked her to order drinks for him and come to his hotel room late at night, which she refused politely. Another staffer interviewed recalled that Yoon made a bad impression by acting too friendly to female interns.

3) Saturday Night Live parodies the incident.

Even the famous American late-night comedy show Saturday Night Live appears to give a nod to the Yoon fiasco in its latest sketch.

Although the skit is more aimed at the Disney Channel and parodies the Japanese horror movie ‘The Ring’, it shows a mom who had an affair with a “Korean government big wig”, and around 50 seconds, a naked man appears in the background (look closely). Surely a Yoon reference.

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Reports: SKorean President fires spokesman for molesting US intern Fri, 10 May 2013 08:32:16 +0000 South Korean President Park Geun-hye fired spokesman Yoon Chang-jung Friday for an “unsavory” act. Yoon is believed to have sexually assaulted a 21-year-old intern earlier this week, during the President’s high-profile trip to the United States. A community website for Korean women living in the US, Missy USA, first reported the case and a screen capture of its disclosure [ko] spread quickly online. Now more details are coming out from various media outlets.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Pic: AP.

It is still bit too early to  confirm the scope of Yoon’s alleged sex crime (whether it is a misdemeanor sexual abuse or close to a rape as claimed in the Missy report) and under which jurisdiction he will be judged (whether in U.S. Court or in South Korea). There are a number of murky aspects to this story.

1. An epic diplomatic failure? 

According to local reports and the initial Missy USA post, the victim is believed [ko] to be a Korean-American US citizen who worked at the Korean Embassy in the United States. Based on various reports published so far net users speculate [ko] that after the victim reported crime police visited Yoon, but as Yoon is a member of a diplomatic delegation needed to take the proper steps required when dealing with diplomats. While police sere handling the extra paperwork Yoon fled the country.

This theory is partly supported by a Yonhap news report [ko], which confirms that Yoon did not even packed his things. Yonhap adds commentary that, “it seems he hurriedly returned to Korea to run away from US police”.

Since the alleged crime took place on US soil it must be investigated and prosecuted according to US law, explains [ko] News Tomato. But the report adds that “it is also possible that the investigation will move to South Korea which follows the nationality principle […] If that happens, things turn extra complicated for the victim since sexual crimes are treated as ‘offense subject to complaint‘ and the more feasible scenario is Yoon trying to to make a settlement with the victim.”

2) Yoon’s hurried, desperate escape.

According to Yonhap news [ko], Yoon did not even packed his things, and Hangyoreh even re-enacted the scene and wrote  [ko] that Yoon, while President Park was giving a speech, took a cab to a nearby airport and bought an airline ticket – and paid with a credit card, without forgetting to upgrade it to business-class.

Several local media added even more details [ko]; Yoon, as soon as he came back to South Korea, requested the Secretary’s Office (full name: Senior Secretary to the President for Civil Affairs) to accept his resignation. But his request was denied and, soon after, Yoon was officially fired.

3) Yoon’s previous record and statements 

Yoon, who is an extreme right-winger, is quite a controversial figure even for the conservative ruling party, and there has been sharp criticism of his appointment as spokesman. It is ironic that Yoon, a former columnist, attacked [ko] the previous administration’s lawmakers over their sex scandals and commented, “Korean people endure much stress from hearing news about those ‘crazy dudes’ who constantly commit sexual assault/harassment.”

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Korea: Kaesong Industrial Complex explained in numbers Sun, 28 Apr 2013 15:02:12 +0000 The South Korean government ordered the remaining workers at a shuttered jointly-run industrial complex in North Korea to return home. The decision was made a day after Pyongyang rejected South Korea’s proposal for negotiation. Amid increased tension between the two Koreas, the North blocked access to the Kaesong Industrial Complex earlier this month.

Watching politics surrounding the Kaesong Complex is like seeing an abusive on-again and off-again relationship. Following weeks of exchanges of war rhetoric with South Korea, North Korea has regularly denied entry of South Korean workers and supplies to the industrial zone. As tension has gradually alleviated, the workers slowly returned to factories and things calmed down only till the next crisis. This pattern has repeated itself multiple times since its beginning in 2004. The North expelled some businessmen from the Complex to express its anger at the South for sending balloons that carry materials assailing the Kim regime (in 2008) and over an annual U.S.-South Korean military drill (in 2009).

South Korean vehicles carrying products from North Korea's Kaesong industrial complex arrive at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Saturday, April 27, 2013. Pic: AP.

As inter-Korean tension has escalated to unprecedented levels recently, there have been talks among South Koreans about whether the government should close the industrial zone down permanently. Hawkish conservative groups have  lashed out for years that the industrial zone has been used as a way of handing out weapons to North Korea who hold our workers hostage.

There are too many factors to consider in this stormy inter-Korean relationship beside these discussions and there is no guarantee this will actually lead to a shutdown – many experts say it probably won’t. For North Korea, Kaesong is a bonanza, where it can earn a handsome amount of foreign currency by getting its people hired (North Korea makes around $90 million a year through this deal). However, a shutdown is also a very tough decision to make for the South Korean side as well, even after considering the constant political instability South Korean companies have to risk. Here are some facts about Kaesong Industrial Complex explained in numbers.

Due to South Korea’s ridiculously high land prices, South Korean companies have rapidly relocated their factories to either China, Vietnam etc. A 2012 study by Hyundai Research Institute [ko] clearly explains the advantage of the Kaesong Industrial Zone, by comparing it with the expenses companies would spend in launching and maintaining factories elsewhere (translated bits of information from this table [ko] in the study, raw data mentioned in the table was collected from various sources).

The labor cost: South Korean workers cost about 13 times more, while Chinese workers cost three times more and a Vietnam worker’s wage is 1.5 times higher than North Koreans.

The labor increase rate: Kaesong’s labor cost advantage is maximized by its controlled increase rate. While in other countries, there is a two-digit minimum wage increase rate (in China and Vietnam), a Kaesong worker’s wage increase rate is limited to ‘less than 5%’ by law.

The land price: In China and Vietnam it is between three to six times higher (South Korea 17 times higher) than Kaesong.

The transportation cost: is roughly about three times higher in China and Vietnam (no exact comparison was made in the study). The amount of time spent on shipping also makes Kaesong favorable. It takes less than a day to ship to-from Kaesong-South Korea, while it takes about five to seven days to China and nine to ten days to Vietnam.

Tax: Some tax benefits given to foreign companies have vanished recently in China and Vietnam. The huge advantage of Kaesong is, of course, that the zone is customs-free. Chinese and Vietnamese customs rates range between 6.5-13%.

There have been various studies on North Korean workers’ labor productivity. According to an earlier study by two researchers at the Korea Economic Research Institute:

-Work skills of North Korean workers (under the context South Korean workers are measured as 100%) : Less than 60% : 10 % / Between 60-80% : 40% / Between 80-90% : 10% / Between 90-100% : 10 % (30% unanswered)

– Product Defect Rate:Average defect rate is 7.9%.

The study explains the defect rate is lower than (Korean companies’) a Chinese factory’s rate and adds it is because guidelines are delivered more accurately due to the lack of language barriers.

One of the local newspapers, the Financial News elaborated on the significance [ko] of Kaesong in their feature series and wrote “A government report in 2009, estimated that South Korean side’s loss caused by the shutdown would surpass 1.3 trillion Korean won (1.2 billion USD).” The report also included experts’ opinion that “Kaesong’s non-quantifiable value can be tremendous considering its political/social/cultural contribution of creating peaceful atmosphere, reining in the chance of war and being used as a place for reunification experiment. […] For North Korea side, it is just more than a place where they earn foreign currency, but also where they learn about the market economy.”

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Gentleman: Psy defies critics with another YouTube sensation Tue, 16 Apr 2013 03:12:14 +0000 South Korean pop sensation Psy released his new single ‘Gentleman’ over the weekend. Media reviews have been not that favorable so far, but the YouTube count tells a story of its own with over 80 million views. It has already broken records, with  over 50 million views in the first 40 hours.

I personally noticed how some people, though saying they were bit disappointed, were sharing lots of Psy-related articles on social media. Another mega-hit is a tall order, of course, but it is addictive enough to keep everyone talking and hitting play multiple times. Well done, Psy. He has delivered again despite enormous pressure.

South Korean rapper Psy performs his new song 'Gentleman' at the 'Happening' concert in Seoul, Saturday. Pic: AP.

When I first blogged about it on my K-pop blog, only about 24 hours had passed since the music video’s YouTube upload, and it had already garnered 19 million. There was even a brief time period on Sunday (about six hours after the release), the YouTube hit count just could not keep up. Now as of early Tuesday, it has surpassed 81 million hits.

1) Sarcasm and Irony : The beauty of Gangnam Style music video was in its irony, and so it is with Gentleman – at least that is what it is aiming for. Psy explained in previous interviews that the Gangnam Style video shows how un-Gangnam Psy’s character is, but he claims to be a sleek, cool guy from Gangnam (poshest area of Seoul). In the Gentleman music video, scenes of pulling pranks on women were clearly meant to show how un-gentlemanly Psy’s character is though he kept saying “mother father gentleman” (and yes, “father” was used instead of “f**cker” to keep it clean).

What people found it bit disappointing were that some scenes, which were supposed to be hilarious, were not that funny at all, but rather stale, unlike Gangnam which made even the most bored Internet addicts hit replay multiple times.

2) Reviving Sexy Abracadabra:  Psy explained [ko] at his latest concert ‘Happening’ that he adopted the dance routine of Abracadabra and reinterpreted it in his own way. Many South Korean net users were bit taken aback when they first saw this familiar dance routine by the Brown Eyed Girls which rocked the whole country back in 2010, but now welcome Psy’s decision since it gives tremendous international attention to Korean dance moves.

Gain rose to stardom for rocking this super sexy, signature dance move back in 2010 and she now appears in Psy’s video (read more about the dance).

3) Keeping The Faith: Fans found it adorable that he debuted his new single in Seoul during the concert, rather than somewhere in the United States, and Koreans seem to really appreciate this gesture, although critics would not call it an entirely clever move. Psy knows that whether he makes another hit or winds up becoming the one-hit wonder (on an international scalee), he cannot just throw away his loyal fan base who loves his music for years.

From his debut back in 2001, Psy has kept his color and uniqueness– his songs, mostly electro, club music, were always racy, explicit, yet fun to the point that most of his songs were labeled as “inappropriate for young audience” and his hilarious dance routines were, and still are, something that you cannot find elsewhere. It is still too early to call Gentleman a hit or a failture, but surely his fans would never call him one-hit wonder. Gentleman is just another Psy song that sounds just like Psy.

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North Korea’s got talent? Video of North Korean singing contest Wed, 24 Aug 2011 18:40:04 +0000 A three-minute, edited video of the North Korean singing contest was posted on Youku, a Chinese video hosting service. It is believed that a Chinese net user had edited video clips from North Korean Central TV that airs a singing contest taking place in across North Korea. In the video, a 20-year-old North Korean college girl sings a North Korean “revolutionary” song, the song lauding its communist regime.

South Korean business newspaper Money Today, quoted [ko] Daily NK’s earlier report on the singing contest. According to the Daily NK, an online newspaper focusing on issues relating to North Korea, the contest is a nation-wide contest open to all North Koreans except people from bad family background, such as political dissidents.

Ordinarily, the winner is awarded a television and second winner gets an accordion, the third a guitar. But the report added that since it takes about four to five months to get to the final round of the competition and the bribe works when it is hard to judge who is a clearly better singer, amateur singers from poor families choose not to apply in the first place.

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SKorea: Anger as Seoul allows fur at Fendi fashion show Sun, 29 May 2011 16:02:12 +0000 South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, has allowed Italian fashion house Fendi to display fur items in a fashion show on the city’s newly built floating island on June 2. The show is part of Seoul’s grand plan to promote its man-made floating island on the Han river as the city’s new landmark.

Animal rights and civil rights groups have strongly protested against staging fur items since early this month. Seoul city government who initially blocked fur items from the show, finally decided to back off. Last Monday, Fendi announced that Seoul has allowed them to feature fur.

Until last week, only several civic groups have accused Fendi of animal cruelty. But as Seoul stepped back from its tough stance, more citizens have joined the anti-fur movement and social sentiment against fur has grown ever-stronger. Spearheaded by animal rights groups, people have started boycotting Fendi products [ko] and few even vowed to disrupt the event.

Seoul’s man-made 2.5 acre island, the ‘Floating Island’ has now been nicknamed; the ‘Tax Floating island’[ko], to suggest a tremendous amount of money injected in building luxurious facilities and the ‘Blood Floating island’ [ko] to indicate the animal blood shed while making fur products. South Korea’s citizen/blogger news, Wiki Tree [ko] said that the island’s facilities which should serve as new cultural space for citizen, is in fact a “playground for the super-rich”.

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Is NKorea behind cyber attack on SKorean bank? Wed, 04 May 2011 13:45:12 +0000 South Korea’s Prosecutor’s Office concluded on April 2 that the North Korea is to blamed for last month’s cyber attack on the Nonghyup bank which forced it to shut down for several days and hobbled the banking service for over a week. But many South Korean IT experts and media outlets have refused to take in the Prosecutor’s version of the story.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office reported in a briefing that hackers turned an IBM employee’s laptop into a “zombie PC” on last September and has been managing and controlling it since, gaining full access to the Nonghyup Internet banking service without any restriction. (Nonghyup outsourced Internet security to IBM) The Prosecutor’s Office reported that they have detected similarities between this Nonghyup case and the previous attacks, such as last March’s DDos attack on major South Korean websites. It said the mal codes were distributed and the Internet Protocol (IP) of a server used to control the zombie PC were identical and the crime was committed by the same hacker group who attacked major South Korean websites in 2009 and last March.

Hackers Do NOT Use Real IP Addresses

Mainstream media and IT expert, however, raised a series of questions on the authorities’ explanation, and stressed that it is preposterous to draw a conclusion from poor evidence and unconfirmed precedents. They pointed out that the IP addresses can be manipulated easily and hackers almost always use other IPs. They also added that the malicious software and code planted on the zombie PC are commonly found in the hacking world and do not exclusively belong to North Korea.

IT Expert’s Questionable Behavior

The IBM employee’s behavior also came under fire. IT experts commented that it is weird that a security expert had continued to use the infected laptop for over seven months without noticing that it had turned into a zombie, while even ordinary people clean up their personal computers regularly. This is especially true in Korea, as major sites suffered from several DDos attacks in recent years and public awareness on the zombie PC has been increased.

Media’s Talking Points

South Korea’s progressive news outlet, Presssian coalesced [ko] several major media’s responses and analyzed from which angles they have published their stories.

While one of largest conservative newspapers, the Chosun, sided with the authorities’ theory with a sensational subtitle — ‘North Korea hacker squad almost matching CIA team’. However, the DongA, one major conservative media outlet pointed out major controversial point. DongA commented that since the IP address cannot work as a irrevocably clear evidence and as we are yet not 100 percent sure that last DDos attack were actually carried out by North Korea, jumping to that conclusion would be similar to making “an assumption based on an assumption”.

The Hankook wrote “what kind of hacker uses his own IP address?” and added that in the North, the number of IP addresses is so limited that they barrow internet networks from China. The Kyunghyang wrote, “if it is really the North who did this, would they have used the exact same IP address which they used in last March’s DDos attack?”. An online-based media outlet specializing in IT, ZD Net Korea, after addressing similar points, analyzed that the attack patterns detected from last DDos attack are different from that of the Nonghyup attack, which worked in a more interactive way.

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South Korea: Women’s Ministry cracks down on gaming Thu, 21 Apr 2011 00:54:05 +0000

The ‘shutdown system’ which prohibits kids younger than 16 from playing computer games between the hours of 12pm to 6am, passed the Korean parliament on April 20. The shutdown system was proposed by South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs on March 18, and it will start to take effect six months from now. The law will also force one percent of game companies’ revenue to be injected to the ministry fund, which will later be used in preventing gaming addiction.

Korean citizens have strongly opposed the law for over a month now, stressing that the system is neither effective in curing the game addiction, nor constructive for the future of the country’s web development. They even filed two rounds of online petitions [ko] and urged the ministry to halt unnecessary regulations on the internet space.

The petition defined the minitry’s move as ‘a clear abuse of the government power’ and blamed its silence in serious women issues, such as the latest Jang Ja-yeon [suicide actress] case. It further questioned why the ministry let the game industry takes care of the issue by itself as the Game Culture Foundation had already planned to build the addiction prevention facility by themselves to tackle the addiction issue.

Most Koreans agree with the futility of the new system, since young kids will easily circumvent the ministry’s censorship by using their parents’ identities. The age verification process in Korea is mostly done by confirming one’s social security number, which contains a person’s date of birth and most kids already know by heart their parents’ social security numbers.

The Ministry, which usually goes by the name the ‘Women’s Ministry’ among Korean people, has been criticized for over several years now, for both its silence on grave issues such as sex trafficking and sex crimes, and its enthusiasm in nitpicking over relatively trivial matters. After it censored many songs’ lyrics for being offensive to women, ridiculous theories have sprang up; one claiming that the ministry has tried to ban a particular snack brand because of its resemblance to female sexual organs and others suggested that the ministry had tried to block the game Tetris as it reminds people of ‘penetration’ during the sexual intercourse.

Its opposition even calls the ministry’s use of its official English name, ‘Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs‘, is an intended mistake. The direct translation of the Korean name of the ministry(여성가족부) would be the ‘Women and Family Ministry’, without any hidden message or context on the gender equality.

South Korean women are fairly well educated and actively engaged in the economy. However, while local statistics shows that the overall labor participation of women has increased by about 50 percent in 2010, a United Nations report in 2009 ranked South Korean gender equality among the lowest in the developed world, 61st out of 109 countries on the gender empowerment measure (GEM).

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SKorea: Insiders suspected in bank system shutdown Mon, 18 Apr 2011 15:31:05 +0000 Imagine waking up with your bank balance down to zero. This nightmare did actually happen to several South Korean customers. Twitterer Sitehis (@sitehis) tweeted ‘On April 15 early in the morning, My Nonghyup bank accounts showed 0 Korean Won.’ DongA Ilbo reported. [ko]

It has been six days the unprecedented breakdown in network systems of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, publicly known as ‘Nonghyup’, occurred. Most of the banking service has been stabilized now, but there are still minor glitches in the online and check-card transactions and the credit card’s cash advance service. Some of the damage will be hard to undo. Several bank transaction histories have been removed from the bank database and there is no major breakthrough in restoring the lost history.

On April 12, Nonghyup’s banking system totally shut down. The bank resumed its service three days later, on April 15, but with lingering failures. Apart from the basic banking services, such as withdrawing and transferring money by visiting offline banks in person, the credit card’s cash advance service and transactions via check card did not function smoothly. Errors also occurred in advance services such as processing and screening loan applications and postponing loan payment.

Customers have filed complaints against the bank. Although the bank promised to make complete compensation for the possible loss caused by the shutdown, experts commented the reimbursement process, though necessary, would create more chaos. In the case of customers losing a contract as they failed to transfer deposits by the due date, it would be hard to prove the bank failure has directly caused the loss, DongA added [ko]. Nonhyup at least exempted their customers from bank transaction fees.

There were two speculations: the systems being hacked by strangers or intentionally erased by insiders. The Prosecutor’s Office, pointing out that the hacker had commanded a ‘remove’ order in a code file form and erased the banking history, suspected insiders and summoned two to three employees who have unrestricted access to the server, reported [ko] Yonhap News. Its forensic team had found out that a suspicious USB had entered a notebook of IBM’s staff several times. IBM is the bank’s subcontracter in internet security and its employee’s laptop carrying a special code is believed to have started the problem.

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Is Kim Il-Sung’s head getting smaller? Sat, 16 Apr 2011 17:49:08 +0000 Several local media outlets in South Korea reported on the possible shrinking of the Mummy Kim Il-Sung’s head on April 16, with quoting the Daily NK, a Seoul-based Internet news outlet that focuses on North Korean affairs.

The Daily NK reported [ko] on April 15 that Kim Il-Sung’s mummy has continued to shrink and added that this information is spreading rapidly, but clandestinely among North Korean people. The report quoted one defector’s testimony who had seen the mummy in 2002 and 2003. Kim Il-sung is late father of Kim Jong-il and founder of the communist regime and his body has been embalmed and left on public display in a glass coffin in the Kumsusan Memorial palace:

I have seen Kim’s mummy twice a year and it was noticeable that his head has gotten smaller. […] And a high government official thought the same. […] It is clear people have reached an agreement on the shrink-down of Kim’s head. But no body dares to publicly point this out, since admitting it would risk one’s life.

The report explains that a rumor about Lenin’s mummy which is stored in the Kremlin palace in Russia gave birth to such idea. For several years now, words have been circulating among Russians and North Korean students studying aboard that Lenin’s head is getting smaller.

North Korean expert, Andrei Lankov, told in an interview with Daily NK, that although the information on Mummy Lenin’s condition is confidential, so it is hard to verify about the size of his head, it is widely acknowledged that the Mummy Lenin’s condition has gradually deteriorated. A local expert added that it is natural for the embalmed body to shrink down when it loses water.

North Korean regime mummified Kim’s body in 1994 to apotheosize Kim. It is estimated that it costs about US 1 million dollars for the process and an additional US 0.8 million dollars each year just to maintain the body condition.

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Four consecutive suicides in KAIST baffle Koreans Fri, 08 Apr 2011 13:30:43 +0000 South Koreans are buzzing over consecutive suicides that occurred in one prestigious university as it was later revealed that the school’s penalty tuition system may have pushed students to death.

Already four students at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology(KAIST), one of the nation’s top-tier universities, have committed suicides in less than four months. Local media outlets and KAIST’s students themselves have analyzed the situation and said  the pressure of intense competition and especially KAIST’s unique penalty system, which charges students extra fees for underachievement, may have contributed to the deaths.

The most recent suicide took place on April 7. According to a Korea Herald article [en], a KAIST professor who had consulted Park (the last victim) said Park seemed to be suffering from his unsatisfactory grades.

Penalty tuition

Adding to the already heightened pressure is the school’s unique penalty system under which students pay different amounts of tuition based on their grades. A summarized tweet [ko] read “If the grade point fell below 3.0, the student is forced to pay 63 thousand Korean won for each 0.01 point deficit. For example, if one gets 2.5 grade point, the fine would amount to 3 million Korean Won.”

Apologies not enough

Suh Nam-pyo, president of KAIST held a press conference right after Park’s death and announced the school will scrap its unique tuition system. However, enraged net users are calling for Suh to step down as a way of taking full responsibility for the systematized madness which he had created to boost competition.

Cho Gook , Seoul National University’s law professor and one of the most influential Twitters (@patriamea) tweeted ‘Though Suh announced to scrap off the system, it is about time for Suh to step down. He bears the responsibility on this tragedy which he had made by blackmailing the students with tuition and forcing them to become “study machines”‘. Twitterers and bloggers have also filed an online petition[ko] in Daum Agora site, urging him to resign.

Suh’s apparently misunderstanding of the repetitive suicides as mere personal matters has turned people against him. On April 4, Suh wrote on the school’s homepage a message strongly insinuating (related article[ko]) that the suicide was the result of the individual’s mental weakness, thereby further disappointing KAIST students and the rest of the Korean public.

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Fearful Koreans braced for radioactive rain Tue, 05 Apr 2011 03:02:49 +0000 Public concern and fears have intensified in South Korea over nuclear safety issues as meteorological offices have admitted the possibility of radioactive substances reaching the Korean peninsula from April 6 to 7. Though local media outlets conveyed messages with the same conclusion – ‘A westerly flow is prevailing in the upper air’- in a reassuring tone, South Korean citizens, craving for more objective information, went searching for information from other meteorological offices.

South Korea’s citizen media, Wikitree, introduced [ko] the German Meteorological report in Korean. On April 4, the German Meteorological Service (DWD) posted on its website that the radioactive substances from the hobbled Fukushima plant will be covering the southern part of the Korean peninsula on April 6 and on the following day they will reach up to the middle region.

April 6: […] The radioactive release is transported primarily in south-easterly direction to the Pacific. Over the Pacific at the same latitude as Shikoku the flow turns to more and more westerly direction therefore radioactive particles could be transported to southern Japan and furthermore increasingly diluted even to South Korea and China.

April 7: On Thursday with the high pressure moving eastward to the Pacific the wind direction over Japan turns to south west. Therefore the particles will be transported eastward to the Pacific.

South Korean Meteorological Administration admitted the possibility [ko] of the change of wind direction and predicted the radioactive rain could hit Korea on April 7 before adding that even if it did, the radiation level would be too low to be a health threat.

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Koreas agree talks on possible volcanic eruption Tue, 22 Mar 2011 08:13:54 +0000 North Korea has made a desperate attempt to win back the world attention diverted to the massive earthquake and radiation crisis in Japan and the grave situation in Libya. The North suggested a meeting on a possible volcanic eruption of Mountain Baekdu last week, and South Korea decided to agree on it today, but with extra care. Numerous apocalyptic predictions on Mt. Baekdu’s eruption and its aftermath have created concern among the Korean public since last year.

Image of Mt. Baekdu's summit, Owns by Bdpmas. Wikimedia Commons. GNU Free Documentation License.

Yonhap News agency reported[en] today that South Korea agreed to hold talks around March 29 with North Korea on a potential volcanic eruption of Mountain Baekdu, which is the nation’s highest mountain with an active volcanic core. Experts interpreted the North’s suggestion as “putting out feelers for ways to resume dialogue”, the report added.

The possible eruption of Mount Baekdu has become a major public concern in South Korea since it began making the headlines in early 2010. Most reports wrote, quoting Korea scientists and Chinese researchers, that more volcanic activity was detected in 2010, including 300 small seismic activities and protrusion of the mountain adjacent to the area by 3 millimeters each  year. Several media even quoted people’s testimonies, which claimed numerous snakes had fled the mountain.

In North Korea, even its leader Kim Jong-il himself had admitted “since Mt. Baekdu will erupt in 2016” workers must “produce iron ore when it is available”, according to PSCORE repor t(People for Successful COrean REunification). (Korea Times provided a translation[en] of PSCORE report)

The gigantic Baekdu Mountain is located on the border between North Korea and China. Geologists and other experts said that Baekdu’s damage could be 10 to 100 times greater than that caused by the April 2010 eruptions in Iceland – based on its last eruption in 1903. Medical Today report [ko], which coalesced various scenarios, wrote that the volcanic ash from Baekdu would not only cause disruptions in flights, but it will hinder plant growth and hamper the functioning of high-precision devices.

About 1 billion tons of water stored on Baekdu’s peak could cause a massive flood, which could cost several thousands of lives in the impoverished North. Based on recent topographical signs and satellite images, South Korean experts have set the date between 2013 and 2015. It is hard to pinpoint the exact date, especially due to North Korea’s reclusiveness and lack of cooperation from the Chinese side on sharing data.

The disastrous aftermath of eruption can be magnified in the North. When the volcanic ash blocks a substantial quantity of the sun’s rays, thereby creating a sudden drop of temperature, it will inflict cold damage on plants, further worsening the already precarious food situation in North Korea. North Korean experts said public uproar and chaos could follow a disaster.

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South Korean websites suffer DDoS attack – who and why? Sat, 05 Mar 2011 01:29:57 +0000 Malicious computer codes attacked South Korea’s major websites including the presidential office, overnment ministries sites and major financial institution websites, and managed to shut some of them down temporarily. The so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack hit 29 institutions yesterday and another round of attack was reported this morning, but no significant damage was done. (Read Yonhap report on the details of the attack.[en])

Yesterday’s DDoS attack bears resemblance to the cyber attack in July 2009, South Korea’s major net security firm AhnLab said to local media outlets. Attackers hacked two local peer-to-peer file sharing sites (P2P) on Thursday to inject malicious codes in files. It were downloaded onto the so-called Zombie PCs and prompted the massive Zombie troop to carry cyber assaults. It is estimated between 4,300 and 11,000 computers were infected by malware.

South Korea’s Joongang Daily quoted industry sources that the size of the attack was significantly smaller than the July 2009 attack. After the 2009 attack, South Korea had tried hard to increase public awareness on the issue. For a DDos attack to succeed, hackers need to gather as many as Zombie PCs as possible. Not only the usual government campaigns and education were given to citizens, but even variety shows such as ‘Sponge’ had a special episode on the Zombie PC and DDos attack. As the attack started yesterday, the Korea Internet Security Agency (KISA) shared its special diagnostic test page on social networking sites so the computer users can check whether their computers have yet turned into a Zombie PC. Even the presidential house (@bluehousekorea) retweeted @withkcc’s shared links to free vaccine download sites, such as and

The Seoul Newspaper, quoting a security personnel from Ahn Lab, explained[ko] that South Korea’s heavy dependence on Microsoft made the country so vulnerable to DDos attack. Most South Korean users use Microsoft and its Active X and they often absentmindedly hit ‘confirm’ button when asked to install/update software. The attackers have injected virus and disguised them as one of these software updateds.

Kukinews quoted Police report [ko] suspecting North Korea of the crime, considering the fact that DC Inside Gallery was newly included on the attack list. The DC site hacked North Korean official website, Uriminzokkiri, and its YouTube and Twitter account two months ago. But more evidence is needed since the latest attack on DC site right after it hacked North Korean websites was done by a teenage South Korean hacker despite most people’s assumption that it was North Korea’s retaliation.

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SKorean star professor under fire amid violence complaints Wed, 23 Feb 2011 03:37:41 +0000 Kim In-hye, a popular soprano and a professor at Seoul National University, went under fire as allegations broke out that she habitually used violence on her students for over 10 years. A small complaint filed by her students has turned into a conflagration as more whistle blowers emerge, revealing institutionalized violence rampant in country’s music education system. Kim is now temporarily suspended from her position and the school committee is reviewing the allegations against her.

Kim’s physical violence on her pupils includes Kim slapping them in the face, beating them on their stomachs and backs and pulling their hair. She is alleged to have thrown key chains, a mirror and even the flowers after performances.

Another complaint raised by a student and filed to the school authorities claimed that the professor coerced her students to buy tickets to her concerts and Kim even “mobilized” her students, (yes, that is the word local media used) to perform at her mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party. Another report, citing Kim’s assistant, said Kim appropriated the university building for her daughter’s benefits.

Kim admitted her violent acts, but refused to call it violence. Kim explained during her DongA Ilbo interview (mentioned in Korea Times article), that she did not consider it to be physical violence. On complaints about coercive ticket-selling and mobilizing students for the birthday party, Kim claimed that she merely asked students for a small favor. Many responded that a tiny favor asked by a powerful figure, even if gently suggested, is easily perceived as a coercion.

Kim, SNU and Juilliard graduate, gained popularity by appearing on the popular TV entertainment show ‘Star King’ on SBS. Kim, during the interview, confessed that she ‘tends to have a temper’ and she ‘might have hit students in the stomach and back harder than other professors’, which angered some students. Kim, explaining that ‘Vocal music cannot be taught only using words, and so this is a very obvious method’, defended her method as the way she was taught and she is currently using when teaching her students.

The majority of people seem not to be buying her version of the story. South Korea’s internet users are demanding the popular TV show to suspend her and even some of her fellow SNU professors are urging the school to impose heavy punishment.

The JoongAng Daily, pointing out the uniqueness of the relationship between a teacher and a student in the music community, described Kim as someone who may have gone little over the top while following traditional music custom of intense, one-on-one lessons, which involve some physical contact. Kim asserted that vocal music requires singers to use their bodies and sometimes it is hard to draw the line between advice and abuse.

Many opined that the situation got ugly due to Kim’s prominence in Korean music field. Violence in the music field is an old problem, a dark aspect in the society unaddressed by insiders which was recently raised as a serious issue by bold risk-takers. Since the Korean music field is a well-connected and relatively small community, when student got stigmatized as a ‘rebellious, bad student’ by one accomplished professor, he will be totally cut off from the music world. But if one succeeds in coping with all the nonsense and humiliation for several years under a powerful music figure, he will more likely to become a successful musician.

Silence from the students had created a tradition and more submissions bolstered the system. Luckily, the vicious cycle is now under attack by few courageous aspiring musicians.

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Were SKorea’s spies behind botched Indonesia envoy break-in? Mon, 21 Feb 2011 05:34:18 +0000 South Korea’s spy agency has made headlines today as its agents allegedly broke into an Indonesian presidential delegation member’s hotel room last week in Seoul  in an attempt to steal classified information on Indonesia’s planned arms trade with South Korea. The intelligence agency, however, denied the allegation. Korean media and net users harshly criticized it as not only a shameful act on an ethical level, but also as an unimaginably terrible job.

South Korea’s major newspaper, Chosun Newpaper, reported, citing an unnamed senior official, that three intruders, two men and one woman, had broken into the suite room at the Lotte Hotel and fled after a delegation member saw them copying computer files onto a USB memory stick. It added that the three intruders were members of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s top intelligence office. The 50-member delegation of Indonesian President Yudhoyono stayed three days in Korea to discuss on expanding bilateral economic and military cooperation between South Korea and Indonesia.

Yonhap news agency gave out an interesting analysis claiming that there are too many rookie mistakes in the case which make it hard to believe that this act was carried by professionals. This report has been distributed to many local media outlets.

Details of the incident: The three spies were caught red-handed while handling two laptops in the delegate’s hotel room. When an Indonesian delegate walked into the room and faced them, one handed him a laptop right away while others walked out of the room, carrying another laptop with him/her to the hallway – only to hand it back to the delegate right away and then fled.

1. Copying files from a laptop? In case of classified documents, it is customary to carry it on USB rather than a laptop.

2. Lax security. The hotel room on the 19th floor was an ordinary room open to any customer, rather than a special hotel room with extra security only available to high profile government officials. Some assumed that those spies casually ‘gave it a shot’, thinking ‘even if we fail, no big deal’.

3. The trio wandering around the hotel together.

Three people walking around together in a group is a good way to draw extra attention, easily noticeable not only on security cameras but also by ordinary citizens. Yonhap suggested that it is more than weird that no one from the group kept watch at the door. All three of them were believed to have stayed well inside the room, immersed in their work, a scene only someone “who have not even covered the basics” can create.

Spying, and especially scavenging classified information from foreign delegates during their visits to the country is often treated as an ‘open secret’ in diplomatic world, as mentioned by MBC, South Korea’s major broadcasting station.

Still, the custom does not create goodwill. It has not yet been confirmed whether the Indonesian government has sent a diplomatic complaint over the break-in, but Asia Today predicted that it may adversely affect the collaborative economic projects between two counties.

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Tweet photos warn of Korean environmental disaster Fri, 18 Feb 2011 07:22:08 +0000 The spread of foot-and-mouth disease has slowed down, but the fear among Koreans is growing as experts predict the aftermath of the disease could be far worse than anything we have seen so far. Unfortunately, more and more of doomsayers’ anticipations are proving to be right. The country is not only seeing signs of environmental degradation, but disruption in the agriculture industry. The disease, which broke out last November, cost South Korea a quarter of its herd.

Image by Twitter @Hyeyounga, Posted on Wiki Tree, Creative Commons License

South Korea’s citizen media, Wiki Tree, posted two gruesome photos this week signaling the start of the environmental meltdown. Twitterer @Hyeyounga on Monday posted a photo of blood exuding from the burial ground where culled animal were dumped and it was running over a frozen land. The blood from culled animals may pollute nearby underground water (or in some cases rivers) and soil.

This photo is a tip of the iceberg. Some of the 4,600 burial sites were diagnosed as ‘prone to collapse during warm weather and rainy season’, revealed South Korea’s Environment Ministry last week.

Twitterer @Photomaker79 posted another image today of a flocks of vultures circling over a burial spot in Kyunggi Province, near the capital city, Seoul. It is possible the vultures carry germs, initiating another vicious cycle of foot-and-mouth disease.

Image by Twitter @Photomaker79, Posted on Wiki Tree, Creative Commons License

The mass culling has ruined many South Korean farms and the burden will fall on Korean customers. Numerous local reports revealed a steep price increase of agricultural products. The Seoul Milk, country’s leading diary product provider, announced up to 65 percent increase of its prices Wednesday, before withdrawing its decision just four hours later. The Donga Newspaper speculated[ko] the government may have dissuaded them.

In today’s Yonhap report, a senior finance ministry official commented the government will ease supply shortages of pigs and cattle by increasing the amount of imported pork and powdered milk in order to stabilize price — a promise not convincing enough to skeptic Koreans who know by practice, when the price is meant to go up, then leaving it soar a bit is the best option in many cases.

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Korean peninsula hit hard by the foot-and-mouth disease Fri, 11 Feb 2011 07:35:02 +0000 A foot-and-mouth outbreak has swept the whole Korean peninsula. South Korea is battling with its worst outbreak for several months now, with a quarter of its herd culled. And so as North Korea. Two dismal reports came out today; one confirming the disease outbreak in North Korea and the other expressing worries over the possibility of water contamination in South which caused by mass burial of the cattle near the river.

The foot-and-mouth virus has spread at an alarming rate in South Korea, as the country see more snow and unprecedentedly cold weather this year. (The virus lose strength in warmer weather.) The government made an inevitable decision to cull not only the affected cattle but also healthy herd within the danger zones in a desperate attempt to slow down the outbreak. Local media revealed at least one farmer committed suicide after his cattle were put down and his farming business met a disastrous end.

Yonhap news agency reported today[ko] that it is the first time the South Korean government department officially acknowledged the environmental group’s worries over the water contamination. The Ministry of Environment released its initial research result today telling that 16 out of 32 herd burial spots were discovered to be ‘problematic’. Eleven spots are dangerously close to the river, even adjacent to the upper stream of Han river which provides water to Seoul. Once contaminated water leaked into the river, it may cause serious degradation of water quality. The report added, the remaining four spots need additional water drainage channels and one location is located on the unstable slope. Luckily, the government research team has yet detected any serious leakage of the contaminated water.

About two weeks ago, NGO groups reported that the North Korea may also hit hard by the disease. More gruesome report from Open Radio for North Korea, a radio station founded and runs by North Korean defectors, claimed that hungry North Koreans are eating the infected cattle. Yesterday, AP, Reuters and major media outlets, quoting KCNA(Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official state broadcast), reported North Korea confirmed the disease outbreak for the first time in four years and more than 10,000 cattle and pigs have been infected and thousands of them dead in the North.

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‘Boat people’ issue leaves South Korea in a twist Wed, 09 Feb 2011 06:56:53 +0000 South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported[en] today that the South Korean government will respect the “free will” of 31 North Koreans who crossed the inter-Korean sea border by boat last week. Thirty-one North Koreans reached the coast of Yeonpyeong Island on Saturday, marking the largest number of North Koreans to cross the maritime border. The report quoted South Korean military officials who said they have not expressed any wish to defect, suggesting their boat just drifted into the South. Yesterday, the North called for their early repatriation.

Whether the 31 North Korean have drifted, defected or were even dispatched from the North, is extremely hard to decipher, for several reasons.

North Korea sees them as traitors, OR someone who unwittingly became traitors, OR at least traitors to-be. The news that 31 North Koreans went to South Korea, itself, poses great threats to the regime as it fears that the news may incite public resistance or, more likely, mass defections. Numerous human rights reports and defectors’ testimonies wrote that even after a defector proves that the (maritime) border-crossing was a mistake, North Korean security never really let them go free. At the very least they are forced to take an ideology test to check whether the brief contact with South Korean culture and people has managed to taint their thoughts. The consequences varies from light reprimands to harsh legal punishments.

On the South Korean side, the arrival of the boat people is nowhere close to being welcome news as it further complicates the already aggravated inter-Korean relationship. The government will not easily repatriate them, knowing that they may face serious threats from the regime, but at the same time, the government could not completely ignore that it happened during a sensitive time period when the North suggested talks on family reunions. And there is pubic opinion. Some hard-liners have claimed 31 people is too much to have simply drifted in on a boat and suggested that there is a possibility that they were dispatched from the North. (Look at the two of three most popular comments below a news article[ko] and the rest of comments which raise suspicions about their ulterior motive).

The defectors have said that they have no will to defect to the South, but no one can be sure whether they really mean it. The South Korean government’s decision to ‘let them go choose their own ways’ seems like a wise move. Still, no one can predict how public response will turn out, as human rights people may criticize the government’s tepid measure, while most net users still throw suspicious looks at them.

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More Koreans say no to 30 minutes pizza delivery system Tue, 08 Feb 2011 15:03:27 +0000 A popular marketing slogan of  ‘Fresh, hot pizza, delivered in less than 30 minutes!’ has met with a public opposition in Korea as young pizza delivery guys have died of delivery-related car incidents.

The Young Union, FOEH(For Occupational and Environmental Health) and several labor unions held a press conference today in front of the Domino Pizza’s headquarters in Seoul, urging the company to scrap the 30 minutes delivery system which has cost several young peoples their lives and injured numerous delivery personnel. Several thousand people, including a famous author, an actress and intellectuals have publicly supported the abolition of the tough delivery system which lasted for about 20 years in Korea.

Last December, a 24 year-old pizza delivery guy who worked as a part-timer in a pizza parlor to pay for his education expenses died from a car accident during delivery. Three people from his pizza brand died for similar reasons last year alone. According to Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor department, more than 7000 bike-delivery accidents have occurred.

(PRNewsFoto/Pizza Hut)

A stiff competition between pizza brands has been blamed for the accidents. In the case of Domino, once 30 minutes have passed since the order, customers get a 2000 Won discount for each pizza and when it’s over 45 minutes, they even get a free pizza or free side dish. Similar rules apply to other pizza brands. When they received complaints about slow delivery, they give away a free pizza or a discount and delivery guys, whom are mostly young part-timers, are the one responsible for the failure. Often they got penalties or are even forced to reimburse the loss, which drives them  them to deliver faster even under dangerous circumstances.

And there are nasty customers who abuse the system. Some customers hold the elevator or do not answer the door until 45 minutes passes so they can get a free pizza. Some customers even demand a pizza delivery on snowy days even though many pizza parlors clearly state that deliver service is not available for the day.

Pressian reported, quoting the head of Pizza Hut Labor Union, that the 30 minute delivery schedule is almost impossible to meet. It takes about 15 minutes to make a pizza, which means the delivery has to be completed within 15 minutes. This makes delivery people feel very pressured and bike riders slip and fall on icy roads. In the United States, Domino scrapped the 30 min system in 1995 as accidents involving delivery occurred continuously. In Korea, Pizza Hut is the first one who had stopped the system.

An online petition Korean net users filed on the Daum Agora site has already gathered a thousand signatures and more people are joining the NO 3o Minute delivery Facebook page.

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Korea: Longer holidays mean more stress Fri, 04 Feb 2011 12:45:37 +0000 There are few mornings when the busy streets of Seoul are nearly empty and the bustling city feels like a ghost town. The Lunar New Years morning is one of these and possibly the eeriest day of the year. Today was officially the third day of the New Years holiday, (this holiday basically lasts three days) but the holiday atmosphere will continue throughout the weekend as the end of the official holiday is followed by Saturday and Sunday, making this weekend a so-called Golden Week, or the Sandwich Holidays. Longer holidays, however, cannot be all that good.

Traffic. As the majority of people started heading back to Seoul yesterday, highways saw heavy traffic with tens of thousands of people returning from their hometowns and cemeteries to pay visits to their ancestors. The route from Seoul to Pusan which usually takes about five hours by car took more than eight to nine hours. Mountains and ski slopes were also crowded with people who preferred to enjoy the longer-than-usual holiday with their close family or friends, rather than with extended family members whose names they hardly recall.

People wait to board the high-way bus to go their hometowns to celebrate the Lunar New Year holidays at the Seoul Express Terminal in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011. Pic: AP.

Strict gender roles. The holiday period is the time of year when gender equality issues are brought up most intensively. South Korea’s citizen media, Wiki Tree quoted[ko] a female novelist complaining about being a woman in this country after pointing out that she is the only woman who can be seen from Twitter timeline. While women cook several meals for extended families, clean dishes afterwards and take care of other chores, men usually watch TV shows, chat lazily with others and take a nap in a corner of the house. The unwritten social notion on the priority of visits aggravates the situation. While members are obligated to visit the husband’s side of the family, the wife’s family is optional. Families pay visits to the wife’s parents only after they spend most of the day at the man’s house, OR in some cases, woman’s parents are totally ignored. Women’s rights activists and organizations, and even the government department, expressed concerns over the inequality issue as the national divorce rate spikes up after big holidays. This time of the year is when the decades-old Korean idea that ‘Men should not enter the kitchen’ resurfaces and roams over capitalistic Korean cities.

Relatives. Relatives. Relatives… Emotional rifts and spats between family members are pretty universal. But in Korea, the disputes between relatives get uglier as religion take its role there. Religious conflicts between Christian members of the family and traditional Koreans has been a serious issue for decades. While Christians refuse to bow down before their ancestral altars, explaining that it is against their religious beliefs, other members accuse them of disrespectful behavior. Nagging inquisitions on your relationship and whereabouts (whether you are married yet, got a good job or entered a prestigious school) are a must in Korean holidays and lots of young members came up with excuses to get exempt from family gatherings as a result. South Korea’s most visited public forum site, Daum’s Agora picked[ko] this issue as the theme of the day and even made a special forum page for the net users to vent their holiday stress online.

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Somali pirate case sparks Korean media frenzy Mon, 31 Jan 2011 04:16:06 +0000 Five of the Somali pirates who hijacked South Korean crew members arrived in Korea yesterday and now are under investigation. Korea’s regional court issued arrest warrants for them, marking it the country’s first legal case involving pirates.

There has been a media frenzy surrounding this case. Updates were prominently featured  on all mainstream media, with most reports focusing on the rarity of the case. Chosun Newspaper[ko] wrote an article with every single detail about the captured pirates they could glean from the Coast Guard.

[Rough Translation]Yesterday at 7.25pm the pirates ate rice, cooked-Kimchi (mixed with rice), fried eggs, Doenjang soap, Japchae and etc,.  They ate it all without leaving any leftovers. According to Pusan Coast Guard, they all slept soundly and didn’t wake during the night. The following morning they were served with rice, pollack soap, fried eggs, Kimchi and tofu. One person asked them in English whether the food was okay and one pirate answered “good, good”.

Within less than half an hour after its release, the report became the most read article, reflecting people’s huge interest in the case. Many commented: ‘why did they ask that stupid food question?’ and ‘they are being fed well, too well as if they went on a field trip or something’. The fact that the pirates arrived on a private royal jet lent by the United Arab Emirates has drawn similar responses.

The pirates are being charged with maritime theft and attempted murder. Seoul Newspaper[ko] speculated that once all the charges are confirmed they will potentially face heavy punishment, such as execution or long-term imprisonment in a Korean jail. The captain of the hijacked ship Samho Jewerly wast shot several times during the military raid and is currently in grave condition.

The investigation has been hampered by the language barrier. The police have hired several translators to interpret(/translate) Somali into English, then again into Korean. Kookmin Newspaper[ko] said that there are four translators now, 1 Somali (Somali-English), two Koreans (English-Korean) and one professor of Pusan University of Foreign Language,  to translate Arabian into Korean. However, the police have failed to get a translator who can make direct interpretation from/to Korean and Somali.

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Korea VS Japan Asian Cup semi-final, Korea lose, old feud lingers Tue, 25 Jan 2011 16:28:59 +0000 Korea and Japan met again in the 2011 Asian Cup semi-finals in Qatar. Korea lost by 0-3 on penalties after a hard fought 2-2 draw after extra-time. After each scoring one goal in normal time, they went to extra-time only to tie 2-2.

Even to non-football fans, this match was extremely hard to ignore. A silent apartment building shook violently when the first goal was scored by Korean team. In the nation’s famous portals sites, the word ‘Korean VS Japan match’s Umpires’ made into the 10 most-searched words list as numerous net users studied the umpires’ nationalities and their records to gauge whether they would be impartial toward the Korean football players. Twitterers have jokingly enacted the fifth duty of Korean citizens.  Beside the responsibility to protect its country, pay tax, work and educate, the new one read, ‘Watch the Korea VS Japan football match.’

Twitter @Ksoyeonism, pointed out[ko] that all tickets for the match were sold out, which is pretty rare in Qatar and commented this demonstrated the importance of the match not only to Koreans and Japanese, but to Asians overall.

As emotion ran high during the game, one of KBS’s programs (@KBS 24th) tweeted[ko] that it is welcoming comments on the over-concentration and emotional attachment to the match. The old feud Koreans hold against Japan, which colonized Korea in the early 1900s for 35 years, frequently surfaces during sports match against Japanese.

This grudge Koreans have against Japan was well reflected in Ki Sung-young’s goal ceremony. Ki, the Korean team’s midfielder imitated a monkey scratching its chin after scoring the first goal. Some prudent Koreans, such as Mayo_longo warned[ko] players against using offensive racial gestures. Not a few net users defended Ki who tweeted[ko] later that he went emotional after watching Japanese World War 2 flags in the stadium.

To Koreans, beating Japan is a must and players and the coaching staff are under a lot of pressure. When the  Korean team is defeated by huge margins, the manager’s job is in danger. That is why Japan, who rank higher in the FIFA chart, have lost a majority of matches against Korea. The game history shows that the Korean team, in 73 games against Japan, has won 40 matches and lost only 12. Below sports analyst John Duerden’s column[ko] posted on Nate website, Koreans expressed their discomfort in calling Japan their rival.

This match meant something to South Korea’s beloved captain Park Ji-Sung, the Manchester United midfielder. Analysts predicted that Park may well be retire from international competition after this tournament.

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