Friday, February 27, 2015

You're Not Going to be a Doctor in Korea. Stop Fucking Asking.

Dear Korean,

I will soon be taking my IB’s and start to search for colleges and universities, but I was really hoping to work as a doctor in Korea. My plan was to go to King’s College or Imperial College in the UK, and then as I get my degrees and stuff, apply as a doctor in Korea. I am not really good in korean, but I am willing to try my best to learn it as soon as possible. Do you think my goal will succeed ? In Korean hospitals, do they accept foreigners as doctors? What if I will not be able to master my korean? That will be a problem right? 

Valentina


TK cannot believe that he is writing a post about this question. But he must, because this question comes in with shocking frequency. Apparently, there is a sizable population of people around the world who really want to be a doctor in Korea. If only Korean hospitals accepted foreigners! Then these people can just pursue the dream, the dream! Of being a doctor in Korea!

(source)

Here is the simple answer: if you have to ask this question, you are not going to be a doctor in Korea. How does TK know this? Simple. In any given country, around 95 percent of the students will not be able to become doctors no matter how hard they try, because the material is too difficult, the requisite test scores are too high and the smarter students will crush them. Are you a top five percent student in your country? If you are, can you do the same in a completely different language? (And yes, if you want to be a doctor in Korea but can't master your Korean, it will be a fucking problem.)

A quick perspective on how hard it is to get into a medical school in Korea. Seoul National University is widely considered the best university in Korea. In 2014, to make it into most majors offered by SNU, the student had to score between 370 and 380 out of 400 in the College Scholastic Aptitude Test (CSAT). But to get into SNU as a medicine major? The student had to score 400 out of 400. Seriously. You could not get a single question wrong in an exam with nearly 200 questions that takes more than seven hours.

It gets better: getting admitted as a medicine major at colleges that are decidedly less prestigious than SNU requires a higher CSAT score than getting into most majors in SNU. Again, you only needed to score around 370-380 to get into most majors of Korea's best university. But to get into Chungbuk National University as a medicine major? Needed 390. Jeonnam National University medicine major? 387. Chosun University medicine? 386. Have you ever heard of those colleges? Don't lie, because you have not.

And this is even before getting into the fact that Korea's CSAT is probably a harder exam than anything that a typical non-Korean 17-year-old has ever seen in her life. Don't believe me? Here is a scale model of the 2010 CSAT that TK translated into English. Remember, if you want to be a doctor in Korea, you cannot get a single question wrong. And you would be taking this exam in Korean.

(A step back: in Korea, each major of a college administers the admission for itself. For medicine majors, each school uses a different proportion of CSAT--that is to say, in addition to CSAT scores, some colleges give their own exams and/or conduct an interview.)

Sure, there will always be special cases. Some of you guys will be hyper-geniuses who pick up foreign languages and medical school-level knowledge like we mortals eat a muffin. Some of you will have a family history that puts you close to Korea, such that you can compete on equal footing with other Korean students--like, for example, Dr. John Linton at the Yonsei Severance Hospital, who was born in Korea because his great grandfather Eugene Bell came to Korea as a missionary in 1895. (To be sure, Dr. Linton is a Korean citizen. But he was not one when he became a doctor, as he naturalized just three years ago.)

These folks can be a doctor in Korea although they are not Koreans. But they don't need to ask an anonymous Internet stranger to figure out how to become a doctor in Korea. You, on the other hand, sent TK an email with this question because you can't speak Korean well enough to figure out this information on your own. So I can say this with confidence: you're not going to be a doctor in Korea. Stop clogging my inbox with your stupidity.

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

What's Real in Korean Hip Hop? A Historical Perspective

Recently, Lizzie Parker addressed an important question in the Beyond Hallyu website:  what is "real" in Korean hip hop

The question of authenticity may pop up in any given genre of Korean pop music, because every genre of K-pop is an import. Yet the question of authenticity is particularly pressing in hip hop, because no other genre of pop music cares so much about "being real," to a point that authenticity is the genre's raison d'etre, as hip hop does. Indeed, even in the birthplace of hip hop, the quest for authenticity is elusive. (Is Jay-Z still real, even though he went corporate?) When hip hop is exported to a different cultural sphere, the hurdle of authenticity becomes ever higher.

Parker's article did a great job in identifying the elements of what is considered "real" in Korean hip hop. Consider this post a companion piece, about how the idea of authenticity evolved in Korean hip hop. This inquiry is necessarily a historical one. So let's jump right into history of Korean hip hop, and start with the pioneers.

I.  Pre-History:  Early 1990s

The very first piece of K-pop that may be considered "hip hop" appeared in 1989. Hong Seo-beom [홍서범], a moderately popular rock musician, recorded a song called Kim Satgat [김삿갓].


Even by today's standards, Kim Satgat's rapping, overlaid on funk beat, has held up surprisingly well. But Hong's attempt was clearly an experimental one. Hong never aspired to be a hip hop musician; Kim Satgat was a one-off, avant-garde take at the new form of music that was gaining ground in the U.S. at the time. In the popular recount of Korean hip hop's history, Hong name is rarely mentioned.

Instead, the K-pop artists who came after Hong, such as Seo Taiji [서태지], Hyeon Jin-yeong [현진영] and Lee Hyun-do [이현도] are usually considered the pioneers of Korean hip hop. But even with this corps of artists, the label "hip hop musicians" would be a stretch. Seo Taiji's first album in 1992 , for example, definitely caused a sensation with a historical rap number, I Know [난 알아요]. But hip hop was just one of the many musical styles that Seo Taiji played with; in his later albums, Seo drifted toward his original love, i.e. rock music. Lee Hyun-do and his group Deux showed more dedication to the genre, but Lee's creativity (at least for the music that he himself would perform) was cut short when Kim Seong-jae [김성재], Lee's partner in Deux and the animal spirit of the group, passed away under mysterious circumstances at the tender age of 23.

(More after the jump)

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


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bonus Fresh Off the Boat Post

TK lied--sort of. The best essay to read about Fresh Off the Boat is indeed the essay by Clarissa Wei. But the best piece to read overall is Constance Wu's interview with the Time magazine regarding the show.

(source)

TK made it his practice to share links and short thoughts on his Facebook. But the interview with Wu, who plays Jessica on the show, has such great insights that it deserves a post.

Below, for example, is pure gold:
I think the reason people have been quick to throw the stereotype criticism on us is because there will always be people who are laughing at the wrong thing. Some people are like, “Oh, stereotypical accent!” An accent is an accent. If there were jokes written about the accent, then that would certainly be harmful. But there aren’t jokes written about it. It’s not even talked about. It’s just a fact of life: immigrants have accents. Making the choice to have that is a way of not watering down the character and making it politically correct. It’s choosing authenticity over safety, and I think that’s bold.
This is such an incredible point. From the beginning of this blog, TK has been trying to figure out how to approach the distinctiveness of Asian Americans. (For example, this post. Reading this again after seven years, I have many regrets.) Plainly, Asian Americans are different. Then how should Asian Americans, and the mainstream society, talk about this difference? 

Some Asian Americans have carried on as if we should never talk about this difference. TK thinks this is a mistake, and Wu explains why: the difference is real, and pretending that the difference does not exist is to lie about ourselves. This is who we are, and we should not be embarrassed about it. 

Wu makes this point a bit more specific to her character Jessica, which makes her perhaps the most compelling character on the show:
She’s aware of her difference, yet she doesn’t think that’s any reason for her to not have a voice. It doesn’t elicit shame in her. She doesn’t become a shrinking violet. And instead of that being something that Asians should be embarrassed of, I think that’s something that we should be proud of—the types of characters who know they don’t speak perfect English, who know they have different customs, who don’t think that that’s any reason for them to not have a voice.
The difference does not elicit shame in Jessica. This is perhaps the most important lesson that Fresh Off the Boat could impart to young Asian Americans: our difference is what we are, and it should not be a source of shame. We are who we are; don't apologize.

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fresh Off the Boat, and Being Your Own Self

(source)
We are four episodes in with the historic television show, Fresh Off the Boat. Among the many reviews and essays that revolved around the show, the best read in TK's mind was this piece by Clarissa Wei:
I grew up resenting my parents for all of the above because it was far different from the childhoods I saw and devoured on television. I thought my parents were crazy; that my mom was neurotic and my dad was overly obsessed with American symbolism. And while I had a vague sense that other Asian-American families had similar experiences, I had no idea just how similar the experiences were. There were no reference points.

. . .

Yes, every Asian-American childhood is different, and Fresh Off the Boat is only based off of one Asian-American family. But I relate to it far more than any other television show I have ever seen in my life. For once I have something to identity with. 
Asian-American kids desperately need shows like Fresh Off the Boat as reference points. The small details matter. Watching Jessica eat an apple off of her knife, seeing Louis hire white actors for a commercial, seeing Eddie being taunted for eating noodles in school, and watching the Huang family encounter casually racist remarks by folks in the community — all this was like watching a montage of my own childhood.
"Fresh Off The Boat" Made Me Realize My Parents Aren’t Crazy [XO Jane]

This observation dovetails into a topic that TK has been mulling over for some time: growing up as an Asian American. This topic is interesting partly because it is an experience that TK has never fully had, because he immigrated to the U.S. as a 16 year old. Yet sooner or later, TK and TKWife will have their very own TKDaughter or TKSon, which adds urgency to this topic.

Having spent a lot of time studying and listening to stories of many different Asian Americans, one conclusion I made is: it is critical for an Asian American child to grow up feeling normal. Children may not be able to verbalize everything they sense, but they nonetheless keenly sense whether they are different from other children, and whether their family is different from other family. If everyone a child sees is different from her, she ends up defining herself through the difference rather than through who she is.

Of course, this is not always the case. Even under adverse situations, certain people with extra special mental strength manage to imbue their own agency in their identity. (One such example could be Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank. Growing up in rural Iowa where he belonged to one of  two Asian families in the town, Kim graduated his high school as the valedictorian, class president and the quarterback for the football team.) But with most children, being surrounded completely by people who are different from them is a difficult challenge in the course of identity formation. It is hard not to let the difference define you. You become the shadow, rather than the thing itself.

Although TK cannot exactly prove this empirically, he is certain that this is the ultimate cause of the subtle difference in attitude between the Asian Americans in/from the West Coast versus Asian Americans elsewhere. There is no good way to characterize a large group of people in a very fine-tuned manner, so I will state it crudely:  West Coast Asians, on the whole, exhibit significantly less angst about their Asian-ness. Having been surrounded by enough Asians throughout their lives, they never had the need to justify their Asian-ness. Not so with Asian Americans from elsewhere, like young Eddie Huang from Orlando. There is a reason why Huang so loudly proclaims his ethnic identity, while Roy Choi--a chef like Huang, but from Los Angeles--quietly, but confidently, mixes Korean and Mexican.

West Coast Asian Americans certainly live as racial minority in America. But in their day-to-day lives, they do not constantly experience that minority-ness. The minority experience is an unending, tiresome struggle to justify one's being. And there is only one way to prevent this struggle from being the essence of your identity: around a child, there needs to be a critical mass of Asian American families that serve as a reliable sample of the humanity, such that the child's family is not the only example of what being an Asian means. Without the critical mass that demonstrates Asian Americans' essential humanity, the Asian American identity will always be a kind of an add-on that is grafted onto what is "normal," i.e. white. 

As Wei's essay ably shows, it is difficult for a child not to be shamed by the difference. Some children respond to this by pretending that the add-on does not exist; some respond by feeling excess shame or excess pride on this add-on. (Thus creating the three archetypes: "twinkie," "self-loather" and "AZN Pride".) But as long as the Asian American identity is considered an add-on rather than an integrated part of normalcy, an Asian American child is never at ease.

(I cannot even begin the grasp the experience of Asian American adoptees, most of whom experience the difference within the family, as they are growing up. I have quite a distance to cover, and I am not far enough along my journey to talk about that topic just yet.)

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

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Leap Month is Bad for Business

Dear Korean,

I recently read an article that stated the S. Korean economy only expanded 0.4 percent in 4th quarter 2014. This was the slowest growth in more than two years. The article attributed this slow down to leap month and Korean superstition. What exactly is leap month? And what are the Korean superstitions surrounding it?

Kirston

Traditionally, Korea has used a luni-solar calendar. In a lunar calendar, one moon cycle equals a month. Because each moon cycle is between 29 and 30 days, one lunar year is 354 days rather than 365 days in a solar calendar. Islamic calendar, for example, uses what might be considered a "pure" lunar calendar--that is, there is no adjustment made with the lunar calendar to make it fit with the seasons. Thus, in the Islamic calendar, over time, each month does not strictly correspond with the seasons.   

(source)
Not so with Korea's traditional calendar, which is luni-solar. Traditional Korean calendar also uses the moon cycle to measure a month--but it also makes adjustments such that the calendar does not drift away from the seasons. Compared to the solar calendar, lunar calendar is short by 11 days every year. To make up for the difference, a "leap month" (called 윤달 in Korea) is inserted every so often. (There are seven leap months in every 19 years.) That is to say: in traditional Korean calendar, a year with a leap month has 13 months, not 12 months.

Because the 13th month is considered an extra, superstitions developed around it. Koreans traditionally believed that good and evil spirits were present all around the world, helping or hampering the people's affairs. In a leap month, however, Koreans believed that the spirits could not affect the real world--because it is an extra month that the spirits were not aware of. And the presence of spirits was a big deal when it comes to the big events of the family, like weddings and funerals. The superstition goes that in a leap month, it is best not to get married, because there are no good spirits in the world to look after the newlywed. On the other hand, leap year is a good time to have either a funeral, or a moving of a tomb, because the evil spirits were not around to harm the dead as s/he was passing to the netherworld.

(One might ask: couldn't it be the other way around also? Wouldn't it be good to marry in a leap month because there are no evil spirits, and bad to have a funeral because there are no good spirits? If you are thinking this, you are thinking too hard. There is a reason why this is called a superstition.)

Did the leap year superstition hurt Korea's economy in Q4 2014? Maybe a little. In 2014, the leap month fell in September in the solar calendar--a prime wedding month. There is enough data to indicate that not-insignificant number of people consciously avoided getting married in September, such that all the related industries--wedding halls, jewelry, honeymoon travel, etc.-- suffered from reduced demand.

But make no mistake: it is not as if the wedding industry is one of the major drivers of Korean economy. The leap month superstition may have played a role, but not a big one in the context of the overall economy. Korea is in fact suffering from a long-term decline of domestic consumer demand--which is a much more serious problem that deserves more attention than the silly idea that superstition caused the slowdown in economic growth.

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

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 8. Deulgukhwa

[Series Index]

8.  Deulgukhwa [들국화]

Years of Activity: 1985-present (most recent album in 2013)

Members (Current):
Jeon In-kwon [전인권]:  Vocal, guitar
Choi Seong-won [최성원]:  Vocal, bass, synthesizer

Members (Former):
Heo Seong-uk [허성욱]:  Keyboard
Jo Deok-hwan [조덕환]:  Guitar
Ju Chan-kwon [주찬권]:  Drum
Kwon In-ha [권인하]:  Vocal

Discography:
Deulgukhwa (1985)
Deulgukhwa II (1986)
Deulgukhwa 3 (1995)
Deulgukhwa (2013)

Representative Song:  Only That is My World [그것만이 내 세상] from Deulgukhwa (1985)




그것만이 내 세상
Only That is My World

세상을 너무나 모른다고
You know so little of the world
나보고 그대는 얘기하지
That's what you tell me
조금은 걱정된 눈빛으로
With eyes shrouded a bit with concern
조금은 미안한 웃음으로
With a smile shaded a bit with apologies
그래 아마 난 세상을 모르나봐
Yes, perhaps I don't know the world
혼자 이렇게 먼 길을 떠났나봐
Perhaps I started this long journey all by myself

하지만 후횐 없지
But I have no regrets
울며 웃던 모든 꿈
All the dreams through which I cried and laughed
그것만이 내 세상
Only that is my world
하지만 후횐 없어
But I have no regrets
찾아 헤맨 모든 꿈
All the dreams that I have searched for
그것만이 내 세상
Only that is my world
그것만이 내 세상
Only that is my world

세상을 너무나 모른다고
I know so little of the world
나 또한 너에게 얘기하지
That's what I tell you, too
조금은 걱정된 눈빛으로
With eyes shrouded a bit with concern
조금은 미안한 웃음으로
With a smile shaded a bit with apologies
그래 아마 난 세상을 모르나봐
Yes, perhaps I don't know the world
혼자 그렇게 그 길에 남았나봐
Perhaps I stayed on that road all by myself

하지만 후횐 없지
But I have no regrets
울며 웃던 모든 꿈
All the dreams through which I cried and laughed
그것만이 내 세상
Only that is my world
하지만 후횐 없어
But I have no regrets
가꿔왔던 모든 꿈
All the dreams that I have grown
그것만이 내 세상
Only that is my world
그것만이 내 세상
Only that is my world

Translation note:  The switch in subject between the first line of the first verse and the first line of the second verse is my own interpretation. In the actual song, the subject is not clear, because the sentence does not contain a subject--as is common with Korean language construction. 

Maybe they should have been ranked higher because...  Deulgukhwa's first album is widely considered the greatest album in K-pop history.

Maybe they should have been ranked lower because...  They can't go lower. But they probably can't go higher either. Only the best artists of the genre are above them at this point.

Why is this band important?
In the late 1970s, Korean pop music suffered through a catastrophic dark age. The Park Chung-hee dictatorship, growing ever more authoritarian, decided that pop culture was harming the national discipline. Many pop musicians found themselves in jail for trumped-up drug charges. All albums required governmental approval before they were released. Park was later assassinated, but his replacement--General Chun Doo-hwan--was hardly any better. K-pop, which was at the forefront of world pop music trend in the early 1970s, regressed for nearly a decade.

Deulgukhwa was the ray of sunlight that broke through the dark ages. The band's first album is widely considered the greatest rock album in K-pop history, and with good reason. The album is a historical breakthrough that rebooted the progress of Korean pop music. In fact, Deukgukhwa kickstarted the golden age of Korean rock. It may seem unthinkable today, but in the mid- to late 1980s, Korean TV's pop music ranking shows would be routinely topped with rock bands, with Deulgukhwa being a routine presence. Although it is once again driven underground today, Korean rock music owes a great deal of its current sophistication to Deulgukhwa and the rock band of the 80s.

Interesting trivia:  Choi Seong-won also had a successful career as a producer. His most famous product is Panic, ranked 25th in this list.

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

On Political Correctness

[What does this have to do with Korea? Nothing! As TK have said time and again: this blog is his, and he will write about whatever the hell he damn well pleases in this space.]

(Source. H/T to Rob.)

Criticism of political correctness has one valid point, which is: insistence of political correctness often degenerates into what may be called "Magic Word Racism." Because you used the Word X, you are a terrible person who must be disqualified from public interaction. In this space, I have repeatedly noted the danger of Magic Word Racism. It is simply no way to fight racism. Love, generosity and willingness to forgive are the correct foundations to combat racism, not more recrimination and bitterness.

One way to view the intra-liberal divide regarding political correctness is: whether liberalism is to be considered procedural or substantive. That is to say: one may consider liberalism to be (1) a set of procedural rules and be agnostic about the results of following such rules, or (2) a set of desired outcomes, and the procedure designed to arrive at those outcomes. These two points, of course, are archetypes that stand as poles. Our real-world attitude will usually fall somewhere in between.

I personally stand closer to (2), because I simply cannot bring myself to be agnostic about the result. Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said: "If my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It’s my job." There is some merit to this saying if it is specifically limited to the role of judges, in certain circumstances. But applied generally, I find this attitude--which is a re-statement of position (1)--to be unserious. It smacks of the juvenile desire to feel principled and smart by claiming to the world, "consequences be damned!" Such proclamation is juvenile because it comes the type of people who rarely suffer the consequences--like, say, a white male editor of an elite New York magazine. 

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

That Horizontal Mambo Before the First Dance

Dear Korean,

Is it acceptable for Korean people that a girl has sexual activities before she gets married?

Karina Z.


Short answer: yes.

(source)

In a 2012 survey with young single Koreans, 82.9 percent of men and 66.3 percent of women considered virginity before marriage unnecessary. This represents a massive sea change: in a 1982 survey, 78 percent of women college students said one must keep virginity before marrying. 

The 1982 survey, with the sample consisting of students from Seoul National, Yonsei, Korea and Ewha Universities, is a story in itself. Only 3 percent of women college students had any sexual experience. Only 20 percent of the young women ever kissed. (The same number for male students is 33 percent and 60 percent, respectively.) Only 50 percent of the men said they would marry a woman who had sex previous to marriage; only 10 percent of the women said they would marry a man who had sex previous to marriage. Only 28.9 percent of all respondents said it would be ok to have sex after being engaged to be married--which is somehow a huge jump from only a year previous. In 1981, only 7.4 percent of the respondents said it would be acceptable to have sex after having been engaged.

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Let's Play Criminals

Dear Korean,

In the movie Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, there was a scene where the main character had to reenact her crimes while cuffed and masked, with a slew of photographers around her. I was wondering if there is any real reason behind this. Is it simply for dramatic effect or does it serve a real purpose?

Curious White Girl

If you don't know what Curious White Girl is talking about, it looks like this:
Serial murder Kang Ho-soon, reenacting the disfigurement and burial of his victims. c. 2009
(source)

It is not necessarily typical, although not unusual, for Korean police to have the alleged criminal re-enact his crime at the site of the crime. Reenactment is a part of the police's field investigation, and the police can technically order any criminal defendant to participate in the reenactment. But since reenactment costs time and police budget, the police tends to save reenactments for significant cases, like murder. 

As a result, crime reenactment does resemble a media circus, with a legion of cameras trying to capture the most sensational moment. The picture above is the criminal reenactment of Kang Ho-soon, a serial killer who murdered at least 10 women between 2005 and 2008. At the time, Kang's crime caused such a sensation that many Koreans who shared the same name filed a court petition for name change. The picture above captures a chilling moment: Kang reenacting how he severed the digits of his victims before burying them, to make identification more difficult. For his crimes, Kang was sentenced to death.

Yet despite the sensationalism, crime reenactments do serve real purposes in criminal justice. The most important purpose, counter-intuitively, is the protection of the defendant who made a confession. By reenacting the crime, the police can prove to the court (through the prosecutor) that the defendant's confession is not falsely obtained, because the confession is consistent with the reenactment which gives a plausible account as to how the crime actually, physically happened. Reenactments can also reveal additional evidence, which may serve as a basis for additional crimes and/or crimes of a higher degree.

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

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Leftovers from 2014: Serial

Until very recently, I did not even know Serial was a podcast. TK is an extremely visually inclined person, and very poor auditory learner. He hates listening to disembodied spoken words. He hates radio talk shows just as much as he hates talking on the phone.

All this is to say: TK has absolutely nothing to say about Serial. Stop sending questions about it.

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

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Leftovers from 2014: The Nut Gate

Macademia advertisement poking fun at the "nut rage."
(source)

- This is probably not true, but TK will say it anyway: this may be the only news story that was driven mostly by the headline-maker's need for a pun. "Nut rage," "nut gate," "nutjob." We have seen every headline conceivable.

- In all seriousness, however, this was a really big deal in Korea, eliciting reactions that were almost disproportionate to the actual event. To be sure, what happened was definitely outrageous. But there have been more outrageous corporate misdeeds before--ones that actually caused loss of lives rather than a 20 minute flight delay. (One example here.) Yet this incident was the top-line headliner domestic news for two to three weeks straight. Why?

There may be some external factors. The prosecution has been blatantly leaking sensational investigative materials, possibly to help President Park Geun-hye's sagging approval rate. That Cho Hyeon-ah is a woman probably makes her a relatively easier figure to hate.

But TK thinks there is more: an interesting lesson about politics that is not obvious on its face. Perhaps nut gate was so resonant among Koreans because it was so easy to understand. Consider, for example, the Sewol incident. The ferry sinking had so many different angles and narratives that I had to devote four separate posts to the incident--which was still not enough to cover all the different aspects. To this day, Korean society remains divided over what lesson to be learned from the Sewol tragedy. 

In contrast, the nut gate? The entire event took less than 30 minutes with just three actors taking very simple actions. Yet the event managed hit a whole host of Korean society's sensitive spots: the chaebol oligarchy, nepotism within the chaebol, the contemptuous rich, humiliated employees, and so on and so forth. To TK, this is the real reason why the nut gate became such an issue in Korea. Never underestimate an event that gives an easy, neat narrative, no matter how trivial it is as a consequential matter.

- Although TK has a long history of complaining about American air carriers, he was never completely comfortable in Korean airlines--and this is why. The better service that Asian and Middle Eastern airline provides comes at a great psychic cost of the airlines' employees. TK is just fine with a service provider, but many airlines train their flight attendants to be servants.

- Of course, the real winners are the sellers of macadamia nuts. Koreans generally don't eat macadamia, although peanuts, walnuts and pine nuts are popular. In fact, most Koreans have never seen macadamia nuts, and have no idea how it tastes. (To this day, Koreans still refer to the incident as 땅콩 회항, i.e. "peanut return.") This scandal gave macadamia nuts publicity that no amount of money could have bought.

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

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Leftovers from 2014: The Interview Fiasco

(source)

- First things first: it is far from certain that North Korea actually hacked Sony. It appears that the FBI believes that North Korea is responsible for the Sony hack because the modus operendi of hacking resembles the hack of certain South Korean banks, which is believed to be North Korea's doing. But any hacker can simply imitate the M.O. and blame North Korea. Also, it is far from clear that North Korea is even responsible for the attack on the South Korean banks. As Dong-A Ilbo's Joo Seong-ha explained, North Korea hardly has the capability.

But then again, TK is not sure if it is necessarily a bad thing that North Korea gets blamed for this. Sure, it may not be fair, but do we really care about being fair to the North Korean regime? Any day that North Korea gets deprived of a luxury goods for the elite--say, the internet access--is a good day as far as I am concerned.

- Having said all that, it is difficult for TK to be worked up over this. This movie had all the signs of being a crappy one. Does it really matter if it gets shown in the American theaters? Some say it is the principle of things, but what is that principle exactly? That we will watch a crappy movie for spite?

- This is the best thing to read concerning this whole fiasco. Did Americans get this pissed off when millions were dying from starvation in North Korea? Did the U.S. president weigh in? But who cares about the millions of lives--if you messed with 'Muricans' god-given right to watch a crappy movie, SHIT JUST GOT REAL.

- The greatest tragedy about this fiasco is that the plans for a movie based on Guy Delisle's terrific book, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, was cancelled. Delisle, a Frenchman, had the unusual experience of directing a group of North Korean animators who were doing the grunt work for a French animation company. Steve Carell was supposed to play Delisle. 

But then again, maybe this was for the better as well. Delisle's book was great because of his introspective take on what he observed. Instead of offering grand theories about North Korea, Delisle calmly focuses on the small things that he saw. Steve Carell's movie, however, is described as a "thriller"--which means that it probably would not be calm. Which brings us to the ultimate lesson: the book is better. It always is.

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

Friday, January 02, 2015

Leftovers from 2014: The KC Superfan

Note:  To make good on TK's promise to blog more, he will give a series of short posts discussing his impressions of Korea-related news with international flavors from 2014 that he could not quite get to last year. First up is Mr. Lee Seong-woo, the KC Superfan.

Lee Seong-woo, a/k/a Kansas City Royals Superfan
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The marvelous story of Lee Seong-woo is a testament to the close relationship between Korea and the United States. Obviously, Lee's story is quite unlikely--which is why it became so viral. But Lee's story was able to overcome the unlikelihood because he was based in Korea. 

There was no superfan unless Philip Gillette, an American missionary, introduced baseball to Korea in 1907. (Recall that, on a global scale, baseball is a relatively regional sport.) There was no superfan unless Korea developed a robust baseball culture, which was clearly influenced by the American baseball culture. There was no superfan unless there was the U.S. troops stationed in Korea, as Lee watched the Major League Baseball on AFKN (now AFN,) the television network for the U.S. soldiers stationed abroad. Finally, there was no superfan unless there was a healthy amount of exchange of people, ideas and stories between the U.S. and Korea.

In Lee's story, parallels with other parts of Korean pop culture are numerous. Korean pop music, for example, moved to another level in the 1950s and 60s because Korean pop musicians had to cater to the U.S. troops who were stationed in Korea following Korean War. Later, K-pop became a global phenomenon as Korean pop musicians consistently knocked on the door of the American pop music market.

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Most Popular AAK! Posts of 2014

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Here is a quick look back at the most popular AAK! posts of 2014, by the number of page view.

Most Viewed Posts of 2014 (All-Time Posts)

Weight loss, as it turns out, was the greatest thing that TK has ever written about.

Most Viewed Posts of 2014 (Written in 2014)

The sinking of the Sewol ferry was the defining event of Korea for this year, and this blog's readership reflected that. 

TK already has one new year's resolution: blog more often. I have been quite negligent with AAK! this year--especially in the second half of the year. There were great stories about Korea that gathered international attention, such as the Nut Gate, KC Royals Super Fan, etc., that TK could hardly catch up to. In 2015, TK will reduce other commitments and redouble his effort on AAK!

The Korean wishes everyone a warm and happy end of the year. As always, thank you for reading this humble blog. See you next year.

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