Monday, February 28, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Sweden - Not the Least Racist Country in the World

The Korean previously wrote that America is the least racist country in the world, because:
[I]t’s one of the few countries that racial minorities are in a position to threaten the racial majority, and it’s the only one among those countries that is by and large successful in curbing the racist sentiments that inevitably follow from such a situation.
...
[A] country that has no significant number of racial minorities cannot possibly claim that it is not a racist country. How can you confidently say that your morals will overcome your survival instinct, if your survival was never tested?
Right now, Sweden's survival instinct is getting tested, and sure enough, racism inevitably rears its ugly head:
For a time, Sweden seemed immune to the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment blossoming elsewhere on the European continent. Its generous welfare and asylum policies have allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees to settle here, many in recent years from Muslim countries. Nearly a quarter of Sweden’s population is now foreign born or has a foreign-born parent.

But increasingly, Swedes are questioning these policies. Last fall, the far-right party — campaigning largely on an anti-immigration theme — won 6 percent of the vote and, for the first time, enough support to be seated in the Swedish Parliament.

Six months later, many Swedes are still in shock. The country — proud of its reputation for tolerance — can no longer say it stands apart from the growing anti-immigrant sentiment that has changed European parliaments elsewhere, leading to the banning of burqas in France and minarets in Switzerland.

...

Mr. Gasi was able to earn a doctorate degree here, and he has a job as a teaching assistant. But he still does not feel welcome. He points to the swastikas and the Serbian crosses etched in the hall outside the mosque he attends.

“It’s hard to watch the news,” he said. “It’s Muslim this, Muslim that. Everything is about how bad we are. The Swedish won’t say anything to your face. But they say things.”
Swedes Begin to Question Liberal Migration Tenets [New York Times]

If one wants to truly gauge the level of racism in a country, one needs to take a serious look about whether minorities are in a position to threaten the majority. Any country can claim tolerance when there is no one around to tolerate. Put differently, the formula for anti-racism is the proportion and status of racial minorities, times the actual tolerance practiced.

Can you really practice tolerance when you feel the racial minorities might change everything around you? That is the true test of how anti-racist a society is, and there is still no country on the Earth that does better on that test than America.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Ask a Korean! News: What do Americans Know about Fighting for Democracy?

New York Times' Nicholas Kristof touched upon something that the Korean has been thinking about lately.
We Americans spout bromides about freedom. Democracy campaigners in the Middle East have been enduring unimaginable tortures as the price of their struggle — at the hands of dictators who are our allies — yet they persist. In Bahrain, former political prisoners have said that their wives were taken into the jail in front of them. And then the men were told that unless they confessed, their wives would promptly be raped. That, or more conventional tortures, usually elicited temporary confessions, yet for years or decades those activists persisted in struggling for democracy. And we ask if they’re mature enough to handle it?

The common thread of this year’s democracy movement from Tunisia to Iran, from Yemen to Libya, has been undaunted courage. I’ll never forget a double-amputee I met in Tahrir Square in Cairo when Hosni Mubarak’s thugs were attacking with rocks, clubs and Molotov cocktails. This young man rolled his wheelchair to the front lines. And we doubt his understanding of what democracy means?

In Bahrain, I watched a column of men and women march unarmed toward security forces when, a day earlier, the troops had opened fire with live ammunition. Anyone dare say that such people are too immature to handle democracy?
Unfit for Democracy? [New York Times]

To take one step further from Kristof's point -- what do Americans know about fighting for democracy? To be sure, Americans know a whole lot about running and maintaining democratic institutions and traditions. But do Americans know anything about creating democracy out of oppression? Do we know anything about reversing a millennium of un-freedom? In the last 30 years, has any American been beaten, tortured, broken for the sake of democracy? Are we not clumsily stretching the lesson from a bygone era over an inapposite situation of today? ("Founding Fathers had guns. Libyans should have guns too!")

As the Korean has explained before, America has previously engaged in successful democracy-building projects. But that does not mean we have the sole, or even superior, expertise about how democracy is created. The right thing to do is to lower ourselves humbly and assist the flowering democracy in any way we can, and not to spew garbage about who deserves democracy and who does not. After all, it's not like we know.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

AAK! PSA: Film Festival

Korean American Film Festival New York will be held next month. Below is their press release.

*                    *                     *

Now in its fifth year, the annual Korean American Film Festival (KAFFNY) is the only New York based independent film festival showcasing Korean American and Korean diasporic perspectives in film. Since 2006, KAFFNY has broadened its programming to include international films and videos by Korean and as well as non-Korean filmmakers.

For its fifth anniversary, KAFFNY presents New York audiences with a challenging and innovative program ranging from groundbreaking early Korean cinema to the most current emerging Korean American films.

This year KAFFNY honors the veteran documentary filmmaker Dai-Sil Kim-Gibson with a retrospective of six pioneering films that powerfully capture the complexities of the Korean diaspora. Special guest and long-time collaborator Charles Burnett will join Dai Sil Kim Gibson for a discussion about the LA Riots, 19 years later, after the screening of her documentaries SA-I-GU and WET SAND: VOICES OF LA.

KAFFNY’s opening night presentation features a live re-score of the seminal Korean Golden age drama MADAME FREEDOM (1956) by Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky with virtuoso violinist Sean Lee and acclaimed cellist Okkyung Lee. KAFFNY will screen over 14 feature films and more than 25 short films by emerging and established Korean American, Korean and international directors.

FESTIVAL LOCATIONS

Chelsea Clearview Cinemas: 260 West 23rd St, New York, NY 10011
White Box: 329 Broome Street. New York, NY 10002
Big Screen Project: 6th Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets

All programs at White Box will be live streamed to the Big Screen Project in the public plaza behind the Eventi Hotel at 30th and 6th Ave.

Please visit www.kaffny.com for program updates and final schedule.

*                  *                 *

After the jump, the roster of films and more information.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 34. Dongbangshinki

[Read more reviews from the Korean from the Library Mixer. To join, click here.] 

Starting with Number 34, this ranking is moving into Tier 3 - artists who had a strong impact on shaping Korea's pop music scene. Tier 3 begins with...

34.  Dongbangshinki [동방신기]

Also Known As:  DBSK, TVXQ.

Years of Activity:  2004-present

Members:
Choigang Changmin "Max" [최강창민] - Vocal
U-Know Yunho [유노윤호] - Vocal
Yeong'ung Jaejung "Hero" [영웅재중] - Vocal (until May 2010)
Micky Yucheon [믹키유천] - Vocal (until May 2010)
Xiah Junsu [시아준수] - Vocal (until May 2010)

Discography:
(Regular albums only - there are 39 singles unlisted here.)

Regular Albums:  Korea
Tri-Angle (2004)
Rising Sun (2005)
O - Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis [O - 正, 反, 合] (2007)
Mirotic (2008)
Keep Your Head Down (2011)

Regular Albums:  Japan
Heart, Mind and Soul (2006)
Five in the Black (2007)
T (2008)
The Secret Code (2009)

Representative Song:  Hug, from Tri-Angle


Hug

하루만 니 방의 침대가 되고싶어
Just for one day I wish to be the bed in your room
더 따스히 포근히 내 품에 감싸 안고 재우고 싶어
Warmer and softer, I wish to put you to sleep in my arms
아주 작은 뒤척임도 너의 조그만 속삭임에
For the smallest rustle, for your little whisper
난 꿈속의 괴물도 이겨내 버릴텐데
I will defeat the monsters in your dream

내가 없는 너의 하룬 어떻게 흘러가는 건지
How your day without me goes
나를 얼마나 사랑하는지 난 너무나 궁금한데
I am so curious how much you love me
너의 작은 서랍 속의 일기장이 되고싶어
I wish to be the diary in your little drawer
알 수 없는 너의 그 비밀도 내 맘속에 담아둘래 너 몰래
I will hold in my heart that unknowable secret of yours, you wouldn't know

하루만 너의 고양이가 되고싶어
Just for one day I wish to be your cat
니가 주는 맛있는 우유와 부드러운 니품안에서
With the delicious milk you give me and in your soft arms
움직이는 장난에도 너의 귀여운 입맞춤에
Your cute kiss given even when you are teased
나도 몰래 질투를 느끼고 있었나봐
I must have been secretly feeling jealous

내 마음이 이런거야
That's how my heart is
너밖엔 볼 수 없는거지
I cannot see anyone but you
누구를 봐도 어디 있어도
No matter who you see, no matter where you are
난 너만 바라보잖아
I am only looking at you

단 하루만 아주 친한 너의 애인이 되고 싶어
Just for one day I want to be your very close boyfriend
너의 자랑도 때론 투정도 다 들을 수 있을 텐데 널 위해
I will be able to hear all your boasting and complaining, for you.

In my heart in my soul
In my heart in my soul
나에게 사랑이란 아직 어색하지만
For me love is still awkward but
이 세상 모든걸 너에게 주고싶어 꿈에서라도
I want to give you everything in this world, even in a dream

내 마음이 이런거야
That's how my heart is
지켜 볼 수만 있어도
Just being able to look at you
너무 감사해 많이 행복해
I am so thankful, very happy
나 조금은 부족해도
I may not be much but
언제까지 너의 곁에 연인으로 있고 싶어
I want to stay by your side as your lover forever
너를 내 품에 가득 안은채 굳어버렸으면 싶어 영원히
I wish I could turn into stone, holding you in my arms forever

Translation Note:  The portion written in English in the original is marked blue. Is it just me, or is it normal to projectile vomit while translating?

In 15 Words or Less:  The peak of K-pop's global domination.

Maybe they should be ranked higher because...  They will easily win the award for "Most number of death threats sent to the Korean by their fans for not ranking them #1." That counts for something, right? Right?

Maybe they should be ranked lower because...  A huge apology to gay readers of this blog, but there is just no other way of saying this: DBSK is the homoest homos who ever homoed. They are responsible for ingraining "Korean men are gay" stereotype around the world. And that's before talking about their pile of diarrhea music. (Actually, come to think of it, does that make DBSK even more influential? Ugh.)

Why is this band important?
Why is DBSK important? Because they have a screaming horde of fans around the world, that's why. Does the Korean understand why there is a screaming horde of girls (AND grown women) around the world? No. But they are there, and they create influence.

The Korean is being glib, but that's really it. The current influence of Korean pop culture over Asia began with Korean dramas in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While there were certain pioneers (discussed later in this list,) K-pop as an international force was not yet to be.

Then DBSK came around, and their international popularity was unlike anyone that preceded them. To be sure, influence via the fans can take many forms. For example, no one can deny that Nirvana is one of the most influential pop musicians in the last 20 years. But there is just something about thousands of screaming girls at Justin Bieber's concert that the quiet, reverential homages to Kurt Cobain do not have. Same with DBSK -- there had been other K-pop artists who were successful outside of Korea, but not like DBSK. No one brought out a cloud of screaming girls all across Asia quite like DBSK. For many people around the world, DBSK is the first meaningful contact with Korea and K-pop. If for nothing else (and there really is nothing else,) DBSK deserves its spot here.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Professor B.R. Myers, of The Cleanest Race fame, bets that Korea will be reunified in the next five years. It's a bold wager, but given the events around the world, it actually seems like a reasonable guess.

Five Questions for B.R. Myers [Busan Haps]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Confucianism and Korea - Part III: Confucianism in Pre-Modern Korea

[Series Index]

In previous parts of this series, we took a look at the core concepts of Confucianism. How did these Confucian concepts affect Korea, and how are they affecting Korea now? The rest of the series will deal with the answers to those questions. This part will discuss Korea's historical interaction with Confucianism.

Confucianism reached Korea as early as the 4th century, and has always been a major part of Korean traditional philosophy. But it was hardly the only part, or even the most dominant part. Shamanism and more indigenous beliefs (which were sometimes co-opted into other philosophies, including Confucianism) have been a major part as well. Buddhism was the most dominant part of Korean traditional philosophy for more than a millennium.

This would change in the 14th century, when Joseon Dynasty replaced Goryeo Dynasty. This change in dynasties -- really, a revolution -- is very significant in the history of Confucianism in Korea. Joseon Dynasty was explicitly based on Confucianism and rejected Buddhism, which was the official religion/philosophy of Goryeo Dynasty. The revolutionaries of the late Goryeo Dynasty believed that Buddhism contained the core of everything that ailed Goryeo Dynasty, and decided that Confucianism (more specifically, the newer version of Confucianism espoused by Zhu Xi) would be the more suitable ideology by which a kingdom would be run. In other words, Joseon was the first Korean dynasty that was explicitly a Confucian state. We will proceed by examining three different aspects of the way in which Confucianism was used in Joseon, the Confucian state: as a governing philosophy, a tool for deeper and more raw political power struggle, and a system for social order.

Confucianism as a Governing Philosophy

From the very beginning, Joseon Dynasty made clear that Confucianism justified its birth. Shortly after the first king of Joseon ascended to the throne, he declared:
하늘이 백성을 낳고 임금을 세운 것은 임금으로 하여금 백성을 길러 서로 살게 하고 백성을 다스려 서로 편안하게 하도록 하기 위함이다. 그러므로 군도에는 득실이 있고 인심에는 복종과 배반함이 있으니, 천명이 떠나가고 머물러 있음은 여기에 달려있다.
That the heaven gave birth to the people and established a king is for the king to raise the people such that they live together, and to govern the people such that they comfort each other. Therefore, the king's way has gains and losses and the people's heart has obedience and betrayal; the departure and presence of the heaven's mandate depends on this.
This statement is very important toward understanding how Confucianism works as a governing philosophy, as it explicitly connects the people's heart to the heaven's mandate. If the people's hearts do not obey, it means that the heaven's mandate has left the king. Because such king no longer deserves to be a king, a revolution is necessary to establish a new king.

More after the jump.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ask a Korean! Wiki: What is the Maximum Age for SNSD?

Dear Korean,

What is the maximum age for a Caucasian male to be able to admit to a love of “Girls’ Generation” (소녀시대) without being rightfully considered a ridiculous pervert?

Viktor


Dear Viktor,

In Korea, Girls' Generation is actually very much loved by middle-aged men as well, who usually claim that they are fond of Girls' Generation like they are fond of their cute nieces. (This does not necessarily mean that Koreans do not think this phenomenon is slightly creepy, however.)

But then again, you are going to be judged by American standards, not Korean. So readers, have your say at it. What is the maximum age for enjoying Girls' Generation? The Korean's opinion: 40 if unmarried. If married, no dice.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Little Girls' Earrings and the Foreigner Rule

Dear Korean,

My family and I are moving to South Korea within the next month to teach English. Someone told me that they do not pierce the ears of young children and that my 2-year-old daughter's earrings would be offensive or, at best, looked down upon. Do you have any insight into this matter? If they are offensive, we will remove them. Otherwise, they are staying put.

Brandy


Dear Brandy,

It is definitely true that in Korea, ear piercing for girls does not happen for young children; it usually happens around middle school and high school, and sometimes as late as college age. Earring is like makeup in Korea -- if you put them on a little too early in a girl's life, it's considered trashy.

But that's not your question. Your question is -- will Koreans look down on your daughter's earrings? And that question implicates an important, general point that all non-Koreans who are interested in Korea must know.

You just won't find this in Korea.

In general, Koreans do not expect foreigners to follow Korean custom. In fact, Koreans don't even expect that foreigners know anything about Korean custom. If a non-Korean displays even a tiny bit of knowledge about Korea and Korean custom, Koreans generally find it surprising. Call this "the Foreigner Rule" -- i.e. Korean customs do not apply to foreigners. Hence, Koreans are not likely to look down on your daughter's earring. They would just think, "Those crazy foreigners, they will do what they do," and move on.

Of course, this is just a general rule and there are always exceptions. If you are more integrated into Korean society (e.g. being married to a Korean spouse and living in Korea,) you would be expected to follow more and more Korean rules. As Korea is becoming more prominent around the world, fewer Koreans find it totally surprising to find that non-Koreans know a great deal about Korea. So if you are trying to make Korea your long term home and live in Korea like a Korean would, the earrings would have to go. But regardless, the Foreigner Rule is still very much alive in Korea.

This means that if you are a non-Korean, you don't have to worry so much about offending the locals. Of course, you have to use your common sense -- if you are drunk in broad daylight and pick fights with anyone who passes by, that will still be pretty damn offensive. But you don't have to worry much about unknowingly violating small obscure rules. Koreans know you don't know those rules, and they will let it go.

But one demographic presents a tricky problem -- Korean Americans, especially second generation and beyond, or adoptees. How do Koreans react to people who look like Koreans, but know little about Korea's manners? That will be a topic for another post.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Friday, February 18, 2011

According to the new WHO survey, Koreans are the 13th heaviest drinkers in the world. The survey broke down the types of alcohol into beer, wine and spirits, and Koreans lead the world in per capita spirits consumption. Ah, the wonders of soju.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Absolutely incredible video on getting a haircut in North Korea, among other things.



Of course, much of what is shown is a facade put on by North Korean in Pyongyang, but it is pretty incredible regardless.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Can North Korea Democratize Like Egypt?

As always, Mr. Joo Seong-Ha does not disappoint. His latest installment on comparing the democratization trend in the Middle East with North Korea is translated below. (Please note that Mr. Joo's regular job is an international desk reporter at a major Korean daily.)

*                  *                 *
Observing the successful citizen revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, many may have held a strand of hope that such citizen revolution could occur in North Korea as well. A considerable number of news articles in fact tried to analyze that link. But I am the opposite: seeing the Middle Eastern citizen revolution made me believe even stronger about the difficulty of toppling a true dictatorial regime. Without having to discuss any kingdoms, Libya is an excellent example. Libya is situated between Tunisia and Egypt, but not even a weak breeze of democracy can be felt. Actually, there is no way to tell from the outside whether there is even a breeze or not. Why?

Considering many aspects such as deification, oppression, isolation and information control, Libya as a dictatorial state is at a different level from Tunisia and Egypt. Muammar al-Gaddafi has been ruling for 42 years, much longer than Tunisia's Ben Ali (23 years) or Egypt's Hosni Mubarak (30 years). In Libya, even foreigners have to call Gaddafi the "Leader." Libya is a step beyond with respect to political oppression also. In Tunisia and Egypt, one can at least find out where the arrested person went; in Libya, once you disappear, that's it.

But the most prominent difference between Libya and Tunisia/Egypt is its isolation. Libya is different from Tunisia, which is considerably Westernized, and Egypt that welcomes millions of tourists every year. Though Libya began to improve its relationship with the West in 2003 by abandoning weapons of mass destruction, it had been under America's economic sanction for more than 20 years.

This is similar to North Korea and Cuba. North Korea and Libya also share other similarities, such as long-term dictatorship, deification, attempt at succession, oppression of political dissidents and control of the press. They also share similar themes, such as pursuit of socialism, one party system, anti-Americanism, support of terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction. What is more, both regime sent their heir apparent to Switzerland to study.

But it is difficult to compare the level of authoritarian-ness between North Korea and Libya, which are both ruled by two dictators who were both born in 1942. North Korea has been a dictatorship for 66 years, since the times of Kim Il-Sung. It chugs along with three-generation succession. Libya does not have political prisons that hold hundreds of thousands, nor does it have guilt-by-association system like North Korea does. Libya's political prisoners are estimated at several hundreds, and several thousands at most.

Libya's isolation is no isolation at all compared to North Korea's. Nearly all Libyans have Internet access, and social network services like Facebook are fairly widespread. Libya also has more than a million foreign workers. It also has more than ten times per capita GDP. It is vastly different from North Korea, in which Internet and social networking are nonexistent, no foreigner can be seen outside of Pyongyang and beggars are all over the country.

It appears that the more apt comparison to Libya is Romania, whose authoritarianism fell with Nicolae Ceaucescu's execution in 1989. Regardless of the strength of Romania's dictatorship, it was deeply tied with its sponsor, the Soviet Union. The change in the Soviet Union meant change in Romania. Also, Eastern European countries had a close relationship at the communist party level, and ran their politics in a similar manner. Thus, they could not avoid the democratization dominoes.

But in Romania, the secret police (equivalent to North Korea's Security Bureau) fired indiscriminately to the protesting public in Bucharest. In just a few days there were 1142 dead and 3138 injured. Secret police's gunfires only ceased after the news of Ceaucescu's execution. Luckily, Romanian military did not shoot the protesters, as the head of the military withdrew the soldiers against the orders to suppress the protests. Some lower-ranking soldiers interpreted this to mean that it was ok for them to join the protesters, who then waged a battle against the secret police. If that didn't happen, how many citizens would have died? Especially if the military shot at the civilians? Even so, Romania had to pay a dear price of blood. This is how difficult it is to topple a true dictatorship.

In North Korea, which has much more sophisticated and ruthless dictatorship system and secret police than Libya or Romania, citizen revolution is that much more difficult. In fact, one can say there is no citizen to join the revolution. Nonetheless, if the flames of citizen revolution spreads to Libya, one may be able to have a feint hope on North Korea. One can recognize that even a strong dictatorship cannot avoid the wind of change if such wind reaches Libya.

But if Libya stands tall amidst the gusts from Tunisia and Egypt....

리비아를 보면 북한의 민중봉기 가능성이 보인다 [Nambuk Story]

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Coach Leta Andrews and TrueHoop

It is because of American Tiger Moms like Leta Andrews that the Korean still has faith in America:
GRANBURY, Tex. — At 7:15 a.m. on Monday, the girls’ basketball team at Granbury High assembled for practice. As always, shirts had to be tucked in, hair pulled back. If a shoelace came untied, it meant running the bleachers. Questions had two acceptable answers: Yes ma’am and no ma’am.

Sure, Coach Leta Andrews had her lighter moments. She might show up at practice in a crazy wig; once she even wore a bikini. But joking around is not how she got her name on the local water tower for winning more basketball games than any high school coach in the country — 1,346 victories, an average of 27 a season, in her 49-year career.

...

“She’s a tough coach,” Jordan said. “She doesn’t let you slack off. Sometimes she makes us cry, but we know it’s for the good. I can’t picture high school without her.”

Former players stay in touch. In 1996, Andrews traveled to Atlanta to cheer on Amy Acuff, who had played for her championship team in Corpus Christi and was now competing in the Olympic high jump. Three years ago, shortly after having stents implanted in a blocked artery, Andrews drove eight hours to attend the funeral of Cerny’s mother.

Acuff, a four-time Olympian, said: “I think people often are afraid to discipline kids; they feel it is too harsh or that the kid won’t love you. But I think the root of respect and love is a person expecting and demanding that you be as good as you can be every single moment.”

Andrews longs for more diversity on her team and more gym rats, players who want to win as badly as she does. “Don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut off,” she scolded her offense Monday. But she is not ready to retire. The only win that is important, she said, is the next one.

“I’m not ready to turn this over to these younger coaches,” Andrews told her husband recently. “They just don’t demand enough.”
Texas Coach Demands Best, Has Record to Prove It [New York Times] (emphasis the Korean's).

After hearing so much whining about Tiger Mom's "emotional abuse," it was so nice to know there are still people in America who get it. But over at TrueHoop (one of the Korean's favorite blogs,) Henry Abbott had a different take.

More after the jump.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


Monday, February 14, 2011

American Healthcare System is Fucked Up

True story with not a hint of exaggeration:

This past weekend, the Korean Parents had their friends visiting from Korea -- a couple in their late 50s. Unfortunately, the wife of the couple suddenly suffered a stroke on the second night staying with TKParents. TKParents called 911 and rushed them to the nearby hospital. The doctor there recommended going to UCLA Medical Center immediately, because the larger hospital had more sophisticated equipments and better doctors.

The couple refused. Why? Because they had previously lived in America, and they knew that going to UCLA Medical Center without an insurance meant spending upwards of $10,000. (The bill from the nearby hospital was several thousand dollars already.) They were fairly well-off in Korea too -- they would easily qualify as a middle class in the U.S. also. But $10,000 on top of whatever they owed already was a lot of money. So they elected to immediately return to Korea when, for all they know, the lady could be having a brain hemorrhage. She could hardly speak, move her arm or walk. TKParents pleaded that their friends go to the hospital, but to no avail.

They spoke to their doctor in Korea before boarding the plane -- luckily, the doctor thought she would be safe to fly. When she landed, the doctor was waiting for them in an ambulance at the airport. Then she was taken immediately to Asan Medical Center, one of the finest hospitals in Korea, and received MRI scan and treatment. The whole thing -- your doctor waiting at the airport, ambulance, MRI, medicine to clear the clogged arteries at a top-5 hospital in the country -- cost less than $600.

Please, spare the Korean of the politics. If you think America's healthcare system is just fine after reading this story, please try and explain how it is normal for a middle-class woman who just went through a stroke would rather fly 13 hours to receive treatment instead of going to one of the best hospitals in the world. If you are callous enough to suggest that the couple should have purchased travel insurance, the Korean will have you know the lady had no prior instance of stroke and really was very healthy previous to this episode.

The Korean is fucking enraged right now. He is embarrassed and pissed off. This is America. We are the richest and greatest country in the world. And the family friends decided to board the plane after a stroke rather than to trust an American hospital to save her life while not bankrupting them. That shouldn't be too much to ask. It should not be too much to ask America to take care of people's lives as much as Korea does. This is fucking disgraceful, and we Americans should all feel embarrassed.

If you want to read more about Korea's healthcare system, please take a look at this post.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Translation Review - 빛의 제국/Your Republic is Calling You by Kim Young-Ha (2010)

The Korean, apparently, is big time nowadays -- he is receiving free new books from publishers in hopes of having them reviewed on the blog. Life as a Z-list celebrity is sweet.

So far the Korean has received several novels, but he did not really review any of them. Truth is, the Korean is not much of a novel reader at all. When he does, he only reads canonical texts for the sake of being more educated, not really for the sake of being entertained. Because of that, the Korean is not very capable of giving a good review of a novel.

But the most recent novel sent to the Korean was different. Your Republic is Calling You is a translated Korean novel. See, the Korean may not be a good novel reader, but he is a pretty damned good translator. So he may not be able to give a good novel review, he can give a solid translation review.

Korean original of Your Republic is Calling You

So the Korean went out and bought Korean version of Your Republic is Calling You, which is actually called 빛의 제국 (“Empire of Lights”). For the first half of the two books, the Korean first read a section of 빛의 제국, then read the same section in Your Republic is Calling You. Then for the second half, the Korean read through and finished 빛의 제국, then read through the entire second half of Your Republic is Calling You.

But first, a little bit about the novel itself. Kim Young-Ha is a promising young novelist in Korea, and this is his fourth novel. 빛의 제국 was originally published in 2006, and the English version was published in late 2010. The translator is Kim Chi-Young.

Kim Young-Ha

Your Republic begins with main character Kim Ki-Yong, a 42-year-old who runs a small movie import business in Seoul. He is married to his wife Ma-Ri who is a saleswoman at Volkswagen dealership. The couple has a daughter Hyon-Mi, a bright high school student with typical teenage angst. Ki-Yong leads a peaceful if lethargic life, until one morning, a mysterious email directs him to Order Number 4: “Liquidate everything and return immediately.” Now Ki-Yong, a North Korean spy who had been undercover for 21 years and received his last orders more than a decade ago, has one day to undo his life of two decades. On that same day, Ma-Ri and Hyon-Mi go through their own unusual, personal adventures.

“Kafkaesque” is the word that is often used to describe the tone of the novel. That description is fair, in a sense that Your Republic sterilely narrates events that appear to be manipulating individuals beyond their control. But with Kafka, it does not really matter where the story was set. The value of The Trial endures because the aspects of the modern legal system (or more generally, the modern state) identified in the novel resonates universally. In contrast, Your Republic is completely dependent upon the stage. Unlike the story of Josef K., Ki-Yong’s story can happen only in the context of the two Koreas.

Therein lies the translator’s challenge. The events and emotions attendant to that story may be very familiar to Koreans, but not necessarily so for non-Koreans. Like most translations are, it is not simply about conveying meaning -- it is also about conveying the emotions evoked by the meaning. So how did our translator do?

More after the jump. WARNING: many, many spoilers after the jump.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 35. Song Dae-Gwan/Tae Jin-Ah

With these two towers of trot, we conclude the "Tier 4 - Notable" section in the top 50 ranking.

[Read more reviews from the Korean from the Library Mixer. To join, click here.]

[Series Index]

35.  Song Dae-Gwan [송대관]

Years of Activity: 1975-present

Discography:
(Regular albums only; "special" or "best" albums are too numerous and disorganized to trace.)

Sunrising Day [해뜰날] (1975)
The Looks [모습이] (1976)
20 Songs from Song Dae-Gwan [송대관 20곡집] (1976)
Song Dae-Gwan Solo [송대관 독집] (1977)
Me [나] (1977)
Myeongdong Vagabond [명동 나그네] (1978)
If You Go [당신이 가신다면] (1978)
Mi, Where are You [미야 너는 어디에] (1979)
With the Wife [아내와 같이] (1979)
Because of Jeong [정 때문에] (1989)
Who Are You To [네가 뭔데] (1991)
92 Song Dae-Gwan [92 송대관] (1992)
93 Song Dae-Gwan [93 송대관] (1993)
The Wife's Birthday [아내의 생일] (1994)
Song and Life [노래와 인생] (1998)
Memorial Album for Best Artist Award [최고 가수상 수상 기념] (2000)
Collection of Jo Dong-San [조동산 작품집] (2001)
Sorry I Loved You [사랑해서 미안해] (2005)
New Beginning [새출발] (2006)
For a Long, Long Time [오래오래] (2008)
Good Vibe [분위기 좋고] (2009)

Representative Song:  Four Beats [네박자] from Song and Life


네박자
Four Beats

니가 기쁠때 내가 슬플때 누구나 부르는 노래
When you are happy, when I am sad, the song that everyone sings
내려보는 사람도 뒤를 보는 사람도 어차피 쿵짝이라네
A person looking down, a person looking back, after all they are all koong-jjak

쿵짝 쿵짝 쿵짜자 쿵짝 네박자 속에
Koong-jjak, koong-jjak, koong-jja-ja koong-jjak, in the four beats
사랑도 있고 이별도 있고 눈물도 있네
There is love, there are partings and there are also tears
한구절 한고비 꺾고 넘을때
Each refrain, each peak, as it is repeated and climbed over
우리네 사연을 담는
Carrying the stories of us
울고 웃는 인생사 연극같은 세상사
The crying and laughing matters of our lives, the matters of the world like a play
세상사 모두가 네박자 쿵짝
All the matters of the world, just four beats koong-jjak.
쿵짝 쿵짝 쿵짜자 쿵짝 네박자 속에
Koong-jjak, koong-jjak, koong-jja-ja koong-jjak, in the four beats
사랑도 있고 이별도 있고 눈물도 있네
There is love, there are partings and there are also tears
짠짠 짜라라라 짠짠짠 짜리 짜리라라 짜라짠
Jjanjjan Jjararara Jjanjjanjjan Jjari Jjarirara Jjarajjan

나 그릴울때 너 외로울때 혼자서 부르는 노래
When I am longing, when you are lonely, this song that we sing alone
내가 잘난 사람도 지가 못난 사람도 어차피 쿵짝이라네
A person who's so great, a person who is not so, after all they are all koong-jjak

쿵짝 쿵짝 쿵짜자 쿵짝 네박자 속에
Koong-jjak, koong-jjak, koong-jja-ja koong-jjak, in the four beats
사랑도 있고 이별도 있고 눈물도 있네
There is love, there are partings and there are also tears
한구절 한고비 꺾고 넘을때
Each refrain, each peak, as it is repeated and climbed over
우리네 사연을 담는
Carrying the stories of us
울고 웃는 인생사 연극같은 세상사
The crying and laughing matters of our lives, the matters of the world like a play
세상사 모두가 네박자 쿵짝
All the matters of the world, just four beats koong-jjak.
쿵짝 쿵짝 쿵짜자 쿵짝 네박자 속에
Koong-jjak, koong-jjak, koong-jja-ja koong-jjak, in the four beats
사랑도 있고 이별도 있고 눈물도 있네
There is love, there are partings and there are also tears
짠짠 짜라라라 짠짠짠 짜리 짜리라라 짜라짠
Jjanjjan Jjararara Jjanjjanjjan Jjari Jjarirara Jjarajjan

Translation Note: Koong-jjak is an onomatopoeia for the sounds of a drumbeat. It has no meaning otherwise.

Interesting Trivia:  Song Dae-Gwan's grandfather was Song Yeong-Geun, a registered Independence Movement Patriot recognized for serving as a regional leader in the March 1 Movement in 1919. He was imprisoned and tortured by Imperial Japanese authorities, and died a few months after he was released from prison.




35.  Tae Jin-Ah [태진아]

Years of Activity: 1982-present

Discography:
(Regular albums only; "special" or "best" albums are too numerous and disorganized to trace.)

Gyeong-Ah's Love [경아의 사랑] (1982)
Tae Jin-Ah 2 [태진아 2] (1989)
Tae Jin-Ah 3 [태진아 3] (1990)
Tae Jin Ah Vol. 4 (1991)
Tae Jin-Ah Vol. 5 [태진아 Vol. 5] (1992)
93 Tae Jin-Ah [93 태진아] (1993)
95 Tae Jin-Ah [95 태진아] (1995)
97 Tae Jin-Ah [97 태진아] (1996)
98 Tae Jin-Ah [98 태진아] (1998)
2000 Tae Jina (2000)
2002 Tae Jin-Ah [2002 태진아] (2002)
Fool [바보] (2003)
2004 Tae Jin-Ah [2004 태진아] (2004)
2005 Tae Jin Ah [2005 태진아] (2005)
Good Woman [착한 여자] (2005)
Ajumma [아줌마] (2006)
2007 Tae Jin-Ah [2007 태진아] (2007)
2008 Tae Jin Ah (2008)
Love is Better than Money [사랑은 돈보다 좋다] (2010)

Representative Song:  Okgyeong-i [옥경이], from Tae Jin-Ah 2


옥경이
Okgyeong-I

희미한 불빛 아래 마주 앉은 당신은
You, sitting across under the dim light
언젠가 어디선가 본 듯한 얼굴인데
The face seems familiar from somewhere some time
고향을 물어 보고 이름을 물어봐도
Try asking her hometown, try asking her name
잃어버린 이야긴가 대답하지 않네요
Might be a lost story, she does not answer

바라보는 눈길이 젖어 있구나
The gazing eyes are moist
너도 나도 모르게 흘러간 세월아
The time that flowed away without you or me noticing
어디서 무엇을 하며 어떻게 살았는지
Where, what, how have you lived
물어도 대답없이 고개 숙인 옥경이
Asked, but Okgyeong hangs her head without an answer

바라보는 눈길이 젖어 있구나
The gazing eyes are moist
너도 나도 모르게 흘러간 세월아
The time that flowed away without you or me noticing
어디서 무엇을 하며 어떻게 살았는지
Where, what, how have you lived
물어도 대답없이 고개 숙인 옥경이
Asked, but Okgyeong hangs her head without an answer

Translation Note:  Okgyeong is an old-school woman's name. It is actually the name of Tae Jin-Ah's wife.

Interesting Trivia:  Tae Jin-Ah is a stage name constructed by taking one letter from three prominent trot singers -- Tae Hyeon-Sil, Nam Jin and Nah Hoon-Ah.



In 15 Words or Less:  The twin pillars of trot that kept the genre alive.

Maybe they should be ranked lower because...  How much does trot mean in the K-pop scene today? Is it any more than a novelty act?

Maybe they should be ranked higher because...  Longevity counts when it comes to influence. There might be only one or two other artists who had a 30+ year run of success like these two.

Why are these artists important?
As discussed previously in this series, trot has an awkward place in Korean pop history. It has very obvious roots to Japan's colonization of Korea, which evokes many bad memories. The music itself is thoroughly unoriginal, with its cheesy lyrics, unimaginative use of the same instruments (punctuated by the dreadful beats from mechanical drum boxes,) and the same goddamn one-two beat that just does not change no matter how many different songs are "composed." Instead of an expression of artistic endeavor, titles of trot albums read like an automobile model. ("Have you heard the 2005 Tae Jin-Ah yet?")

Young K-pop fans who follow the pretty faces like DBSK or SNSD consider trot to be decrepit. The too-serious K-pop aficionados (the Korean himself included) consider it to be hackneyed, stale, unoriginal. But the haters of trot must face this inevitable, uncomfortable truth that in Korea, trot simply refuses to die. One can talk about all the flaws of trot as a music until one's face turns blue, but trot fans of Korea will only turn up the volume.

So forget all your high-brow theories of what makes music great. Forget all the bullshit about conveying wrenching emotions or using innovative new sounds. And just listen to the music. Better yet, watch a performance live. Then you can understand why artists like Song Dae-Gwan and Tae Jin-Ah survived as celebrities for more than three decades. The one-two beat may be overused, but it's still catchy as hell. The lyrics are cheesy, but they still contain a sharp bit of satire or a maudlin piece of melancholy. It is so easy to bop your shoulders, so natural to sing along. (And another thing -- look at their clothes. They're pimps! Is there any other K-pop genre that comes with such surreal, over-the-top fashion sense?)

In fact, surviving is the perfect term to describe the career of Tae and Song. Korea in the 1970s and 80s was a very, very different place from Korea today. People liked different things back then. Yet Song Dae-Gwan and Tae Jin-Ah somehow churn out seemingly the same music year after year for more than three decades, and they keep showing up on TV while the younger, prettier faces change every month. And Korean people of 2010s are still attending their concerts, still buying their records. Even the younger generation is slowly returning to the fold, as Song and Tae act as a producer for a new generation of younger trot singers. Say what you will about their music, but there is no denying their influence.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Korea needs immigration to survive. That is true for any advanced industrialized country in which people have fewer and fewer children while living longer and longer. But it is particularly true for Korea because Korea's birthrate is declining so rapidly. Yet Korea's treatment of immigrants, particularly those from poorer countries, continues to be tone-deaf and shitty. A recent survey showed that as of last year, 17.2% of school-age children born out of international marriages did not attend school. This is an astounding number for a country that has over 95% attendance rate for elementary, middle and high school.

Korean government does seem to realize the direness of the situation, as they increased the budget for assisting multicultural families by 52 times in the last four years. But as governments do, that budget is being administered in a ham-handed manner, robbing its effectiveness.

다문화 예산 4년간 52배 늘었는데 체감혜택 적은 까닭은 [Dong-A Ilbo]

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

AAK! Wiki: Is Fluency in Korean Useful?

Dear Korean,

I have spent the past three years studying Korean, one of them as an exchange student at SNU. Although I have done well so far, I am still unable to read a Korean newspaper without a great deal of preparation and looking up of words. I found out today that I was accepted into a U.S. government program to study Korean for two years at the University of Hawaii. I am now trying to decide if it is worthwhile to spend two years becoming fluent in Korean and what I could do with Korean fluency.

Harald


Dear Harald,

The Korean finds Korean fluency to be quite helpful. Korea is a rising economy with ever-increasing interactions with the world. More people around the world care about Korea because Korea is becoming more important. And there are not enough people who are fluent in both Korean and English to satisfy the demand. So the demand exists even for people who are somewhat comfortable in Korean but not completely fluent.

But the Korean figured he would open this question up for everyone. How good is your Korean? Do you find it useful? How useful is it to have Korean language skills, particularly if you are living outside of Korea?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Understanding the Rise of Asia


BigWOWO recently put up this excellent TED lecture from Martin Jacques about understanding the rise of China. The lecture is very valuable, albeit a little bit too broad-brush given the limited amount of time Jacques must have had. And in the process, he also makes a couple of very important points that are applicable to understanding Korea as well. Jacques said:
I think attitude toward China, that of us is one of "little Westerner" kind of mentality. It's kind of arrogant, arrogant in a sense that we are the best and therefore we have the universal measure.
This is a very important point. Koreans talk about "the way Koreans do things." But Americans talk about "the way things are," and never "the way Americans do things." Often, it does not even occur to Americans that our way is not the only way, but in fact a chance result of our particular historical circumstances. Put differently, Americans universalize their own values, although America is certainly not the universe.

To be sure, Americans (and really, all Westerners) try to make allowances around the margins. Multiculturalism and promotion of tolerance prevalent in America are positive efforts. But when it comes to the most important questions like "How significant is an individual relative to a community?", "What does a modern democracy look like?", "What is the source of ultimate happiness?", Americans are utterly, totally blind to the possibility that there can be an answer other than their own. Truly, this is the point at which Americans earn the reputation that they are arrogant. The Korean does not think Americans are arrogant; but we are very self-unaware.

Often, this is the point with which Americans visiting/living in Korea struggle the most. Korea seems like a modern democracy. But the way Koreans approach modernity and democracy is not the same as Americans approach modernity and democracy. Koreans have their own historical experience. That experience sometimes overlaps with America's, and sometimes it does not. And too many expats get exasperated in Korea because Korea, apparently, is "doing things wrong." They make ajeossi and ajumma the symbols of everything "wrong" with Korea, while pinning their hopes on younger Koreans who are more sympathetic to the Western worldview.

Understanding a different culture is more than eating at a different ethnic restaurant once in a while, or even more than speaking a different language fluently. If you want to really, genuinely understand a different culture, abandoning your own perspective and seeing the other culture from an internal, inside-out perspective is the most critical step. And often, the best way to acquire that perspective is to carefully assess where your own knowledge of the world came from, and recognize there may be a different way of doing things, no matter how jarring that difference is.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Super Bowl 2011

By now, you know the drill. First, the updated annual rant.
Dear Commissioner Goodell,

Do you want to spread football to other countries? Then bring a goddamn franchise to Los Angeles.

Do you know how many Koreans watch MLB as Dodgers fans because Dodgers brought Chan-Ho Park? Do you ever wonder why there are 1.6 billion Houston Rockets fans? It is thanks to this guy named Yao Ming. Manchester United, the world's most successful sports franchise, opened up a whole new market by signing Park, Ji-Sung. Do you see a trend?

Currently Pittsburgh Steelers is probably the only NFL team that any Korean knows because Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward is half-Korean. Thanks to Hines Ward, this Super Bowl featuring the Steelers will surely be broadcast live on Korean television, and Korean people will stay up late to watch it. Think about how amazing that is. Your league has made zero efforts to advertise in Korea, but people in that market are watching NFL, even though they know practically nothing about the sport.

A hypothetical LA team would naturally recruit heavily on Asian and Hispanic population to appeal to the local demographic. Even if it does not, it will attract Asian American and Hispanic American fans, who will naturally transmit their love of football through their frequent traffic with their homelands. Sooner or later, people in Asia and Central/South America would be watching football! It's that simple!

You somehow seem to be married to the idea of spreading football in Europe. The Korean has to ask: Why? Why obsess over that London game, when 16 years of NFL Europa plainly showed that Europeans do not care about football? Both MLB and NBA realize that Asia is the future of professional sports. Asia has an up-and-coming economy, and its people are receptive to new forms of entertainment.

The Korean will repeat: BRING A FRANCHISE TO LOS ANGELES. It will pay off in more ways than you can ever imagine. The Korean will write the same rant every year until you comply.

Sincerely,

The Korean
The Korean cannot be happier with this year's Super Bowl matchup. Because of the lack of an NFL team in Los Angeles, the Korean has no NFL team to be a fan of. So he aimlessly casts about his allegiance to any NFL team that might give him a hook, and Steelers and Packers are as good as any. On one hand, Steelers has Hines Ward, the greatest Korean American athlete in American pro sports. On the other hand, Packers are led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the greatest QB in California Golden Bears history who surely reached superstardom through this impressive playoff run. As a bonus, Packers also has linebacker Desmond Bishop, another graduate of Cal. No matter which team wins, the Korean has already won.

Can you come back to play for the Golden Bears 
for just one season Aaron? We freakin' suck without you.

A fun tidbit about Rodgers. The Korean went to Berkeley the same time Rodgers did. At the time Rodgers was on the Cal football team, the team's punter was an extremely good looking blond Australian with a kicking accent. The joke around the school was that Cal was the only school where the punter gets more girls than the quarterback.

But the greatness of Rodgers is no joke. Packers' excellent corps of receivers will thrive in the domed stadium in Dallas, and Packers' underrated defense will shred the gimpy Pittsburgh O-line.

The Korean's pick:  Packers 24, Steelers 20.

The Korean's Glorious History of Super Bowl Picks That Are Never Wrong  
Was Wrong Only Once Because Peyton Manning Chokes Like a Bitch

2010 pick: Colts 31, Saints 21.
2010 result: Saints 31, Colts 17

2009 pick: Steelers 24, Cardinals 13
2009 result: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

2008 pick: Giants 27, Patriots 20
2008 result: Giants 17, Patriots 14
[Come on, the Korean still deserves some props for this.]

2007 pick: Colts 24, Bears 21
2007 result: Colts 29, Bears 17

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

-EDIT- The new streak begins!
Packers 31, Steelers 25. And despite the loss, Hines made a few key catches to make Koreans proud.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Is Korea's Economy Overhyped?

Dear Korean,

A perception exists in the US that S. Korea has a much stronger economy than much of the rest of the world. Modern infra-structure, high profits, and booming success. Is there too much hype?

SDH


Dear SDH,

The Korean is not sure if the perception is widely shared among Americans. Just the other day, the Korean got another "North or South?" question -- in real life, not from the blog. In fact, the Korean is nearly sure that a significant portion of Americans, if not the majority, probably cannot locate Korea in a map.

But the point that there is a perception is definitely correct. As shown in the Daily Show clip below, President Obama mentioned South Korea five times in his State of the Union address. The growth of Korean economy feels particularly palpable in America, because leading Korean companies often make final consumer products. The visible flood of Samsung Android cellphones, LG flat screen television and Hyundai cars definitely makes one feel that Korea has arrived. Korea's soft products -- movies, television shows, pop music-- are getting a massive dose of international attention. Major newspapers of America cover Korea-related stories much more frequently than before. Heck, this blog would not be where it is now if Korea did not draw people's attention as much as it does now.

Is there too much hype over this? The Korean's thought is -- maybe a little bit.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that the Korean is the biggest fan of Korea's success story. One of the poorest countries in the world (which is actually a nice way to describe a war-torn shithole) that had been a backwater monarchy for millennia turns itself into a modern democracy with world-class economy within 40 to 50 years. Find another country in human history that did what Korea did. You can't.

Is Korea a "stronger economy than much of the rest of the world"? Certainly. Korea's PPP-controlled GDP is either 12th or 13th in the world, ahead of such unquestionably wealthy countries like Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Switzerland. And Korea did not become this way by leveraging the number of its people or the size of its country, like China or India did. Among the top 15 greatest economies, Korea has the second smallest population following Spain and the smallest land mass. For example, Indonesia has nearly five times Korea's population and 20 times Korea's land mass, but Korea's economy is 50 percent greater than Indonesia's.

And Korea has no signs of slowing down just yet. A lot of countries -- say, Mexico or Argentina -- have experienced dazzling growth in the early going until they plateau at around $15,000 of PPP-controlled per capita GDP. But Korea shattered that ceiling, reaching nearly $30,000 in PPP-controlled GDP per capita at this point. Korea is one of only three OECD member (i.e. an advanced industrialized country) that did not experience negative growth in 2009, as the whole world still climbing out of the global recession. In 2010, Korea's economy grew by sizzling 6.1 percent. In other words, Korea has a greater upside than many other advanced economies.

But while all this is uniquely incredible, one must soberly look at where Korea is now. It's nice that Korea has world's 12th largest economy, but that still means that it has 11 more countries ahead. And the gap between Korea and the top 5 economies in the world (if we suppose the European Union to be a single country) is huge. Japan has an economy that is still three times the size of Korea's. China, more than six times. The U.S. and EU, more than 10 times. Also, there is a real question about whether Korea can maintain its torrid pace of growth for another decade, let alone beyond.

Because the Korean is a massive NBA fan, this "hype" over Korea's economy reminds him of a certain NBA player: Derrick Rose, point guard of Chicago Bulls. Rose came into this season with vastly improved jump shot, which made his spectacular drives to the hoop even deadlier. The Bulls have a sparkling 34-14 record this season, definitely on pace to significantly improve upon their last year's record of 41-41. Because of this, Rose is considered by many to be a legitimate MVP candidate and a front runner of that race by some.

But is Rose really the most valuable player of the NBA? Chicago is only the fifth best team in the NBA. Rose is also a surprisingly inefficient scorer (surprising because of the frequency at which he goes to the rim,) because he elects to shoot a more difficult shot than trying to draw a foul. Rose's defense improved from last year, but really it went from atrocious to salvageable. Yet a lot of people cannot get away from the idea that Rose should be the MVP this season, because they simply cannot take their eyes off Rose's gaudy scoring averages and electric finishes at the basket. People also factor in the fact that Rose has so much upside because this is only Rose's third season, although there is no real guarantee that Rose could get better than this. (For example, LeBron James never really improved from his third year.)

Same with Korea. Is Korea's economy exciting? Yes, as much as Derrick Rose's game is exciting. But we also have to recognize the fact that a lot of the excitement comes from the fact that Korea makes visible, high-tech stuff (the economy's equivalent of SportsCenter highlights) and because Korea seems to have a lot of upside. While one can get legitimately excited by them, one also has to realize where the reality stops and where the bubble sets in.

Just for fun, here is the list of matches between major world economies and NBA players that the Korean came up with:
  • India - Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors. Ellis has some ridiculous scoring numbers, which makes Golden State fans swoon. But those numbers come from the fact that the Warriors play at the fastest pace in the NBA (and therefore have more possessions,) and Ellis chucks up shots like no one else's business. Likewise, India's economy seems awesome, until one realizes that they have a billion people who speak English and are willing to work for cheap.
  • Brazil - Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks. Both have excellent economy/game, but are constantly omitted from the discussion of powerhouses/superstars.
  • Canada - Chris Bosh, Miami Heat. Standing next to a superduperstar, it is easy to underappreciate both Canada and Bosh. But they are both integral to the success of their more successful partner. Also fitting that Bosh's first team was Toronto Raptors.
  • European Union - Boston Celtics. A group of old vets that might be the best if they could work together and their joints don't fail. Kevin Garnett is Germany (formerly menacing), Paul Pierce is Great Britain (steady excellence), Ray Allen is France (used to be good, now good at only one or two things.) Either Italy or Spain could be Rajon Rondo, and Cyprus is definitely Luke Harangody.
  • Japan - Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers. There are tons of whispers that Kobe is slowing down because of his age, and at times he does look old and liftless. And then Kobe still throws down an occasional 40 point game to remind everyone who he was. Likewise, there are tons of talks about how Japan is near its demise, except Toyota is still the number one car company in the world and PlayStation still shapes the world's culture. (You have no idea how much this kills the Korean, an avid Lakers fan, to give Kobe to Japan.)
  • China - Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. Those huge muscles! Spectacular blocks! Nightly double-doubles! Those are just as enthralling as China's huge economy and seemingly cutting-edge development. Except Howard has surprisingly skinny legs and shaky post game that no one talks about, like the way no one talks about how much China's economy is leveraging cheap labor or utterly destroying its environment.
  • United States - LeBron James, Miami Heat. Both egomaniacs who/which can be totally oblivious to what other people/countries feel, which cause a lot of hate and anger. Both have weaknesses that they totally should not have. (James, total absence of a post game despite having the body of a power forward, the U.S. a miserably bad education and healthcare system despite having the most money in the world.) Yet when push comes to shove, there should be no doubt who/which is the best in the world. And now, the Korean will exorcise this blasphemy by watching Kobe: Doing Work for the 43rd time.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

What is Gujeong?

Dear Korean,

So, what IS the historical background and etymology of gujeong? I read in a rather reliable place that it's "actually pretty involved and can be fascinating." :)

Chris C.


Dear Chris,

First of all, happy new year of the Rabbit for you and everyone. Today is the Lunar New Year's Day. (Please don't call it Chinese New Year. Koreans, Vietnamese, Mongolians and other Asian countries also celebrate the Lunar New Year.)

The Korean already explained Korea's traditions surrounding Lunar New Year in this post. But this question is about the name by which Koreans call Lunar New Year -- gujeong. Why is this word interesting? Because the word means "old new year." Then what is the "new new year"? Why is there an "old new year" and "new new year" in the first place?

Answer: Japan. Traditionally, Korea has celebrated the Lunar New Year. But Japan celebrated the solar new year by 1910, when it annexed Korea. After the annexation, Japan imposed the "new new year" -- what is now referred to as shinjeong. (By now, you might have guessed that gu means "old," shin means "new" and jeong means "new year.") After the liberation, majority of Koreans went back to celebrating the "old new year," although some number of families remained celebrating the "new new year."

Again, happy new year to everyone! Here is a nice bowl of tteokguk (rice cake soup) for the occasion.


Got a question or a comment for the Korean? email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Americans are the fattest people in the industrialized world, while Koreans are the slimmest. There are many reasons for this, but one huge factor is diet. The Korean will have a post about the healthiness of Korean diet, but the most important point, for the Korean, is this: Koreans eat less. Portion size served in restaurants in Korea is anywhere between half to two-thirds of portion size in America.

Now, American government seems to have taken notice, which is a good news.

Government’s Dietary Advice: Eat Less [New York Times]
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