Saturday, May 09, 2015

TK on Price of Nice Nails

Dear Korean, 

Could you please comment on the New York Times' article "The price of nice nails?" 

Brian N.

For those who have not read the article, here is the link. It is a great piece of journalism; TK highly recommends it.

As to TK's own impression: how is any of this a surprise? Seriously, have people never been to a nail salon? You are willfully blind if you ever stepped foot into a nail salon and did not detect the hints of rampant labor exploitation. Although the article is absolutely valuable in that it collected and curated what goes on in New York's nail salons, pretty much nothing in the article breaks new ground. Really, I'm surprised that you're surprised. 

The eternal truth of the consumer society is: if it seems cheap, someone is getting exploited for it. And that someone usually belongs to the lower rung of the social, economic, and racial ladder. In all likelihood, your shoes are made by young overworked children in a Cambodian sweatshop, and your iPhone is made by Chinese workers who work so long hours under such shitty conditions that some of them would rather kill themselves. Outsourced workers in the Philippines subject themselves to PTSD by reviewing thousands of beheading videos and pornography every day, so that you won't have to see them on your Facebook feed.

None of this is to say we should surrender our efforts to make our world better. It is definitely not to say that Korean Americans or Asian Americans are blameless because everyone does it. It is only to say that we should be clear-eyed about just how much is wrong with the things around us. 

If you are concerned about what you read, please consider donating to the Urban Justice Center. When TK was living in New York, he handled several pro bono litigation along with the UJC, suing to make sure Asian restaurants were paying their workers minimum wage. TK is proud to say that he was part of the effort that led to the shutdown of several Asian restaurants in New York. If this New York Times article leads to a wave of bankrupt Korean nail salons across New York, so much for the better.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Equally appalling is the second article in the series, "Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers" at .

  2. Regarding restaurant employees, I was abashedly unaware until recently that the Dept. Of Labor only requires employers to pay tipped workers $2.13/hour. Some states require more. Readers can check their state requirements here:


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