Extra! Korea

April 8, 2009

Singer Shin Hae-chul praises North Korea’s launch

Filed under: celebrities, douche of the week, North Korea, politics — extrakorea @ 1:20 pm

If I were to have a category called “Douche of the Week,” this guy might be the first candidate.

Shin congratulated the North, saying, “As a member of the same ethnic group, I congratulate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on its successful launch of a rocket (I wouldn’t call it an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile)) in line with its sovereignty and appropriate international laws.” He posted the statement on his official Web site (www.shinhaechul.com) Wednesday.

“I also hope the Republic of Korea will have nuclear and long distance missiles, as nuclear weapons are the most effective and only way to resist foreign powers,” he added.


What an idiot. Nuclear arms on the Korean peninsula might jolt Japan out of its over-60-year-old pacifist slumber. Japan has the best technology in the world, and could have nuclear missiles tomorrow if it wanted. It doesn’t because it feels safe.

I bet this guy is one of the 57% who don’t know when the Korean War broke out as well as one of the 51% who don’t know who started it. Like these students, he probably would have failed a test of his country’s own history. For example, does he know how many Korean soldiers and civilians were killed during the Korean War? The answer, which he surely doesn’t know (nor care about) is approximately 273,000 and two million, respectively. Being “of the same ethnic group” didn’t stop the North Koreans from killing scores of South Koreans with bombs, bullets, and bayonets.


I’ve decided to go ahead and make this ignoramus my inaugural Douche of the Week. Shin Hae-chul, do all of us a favor and go and live in North Korea, you washed-up old has-been/never-was. I’m sure that Kim Jong-il would love to have you, you ricetard.

April 7, 2009

Dave Franklin interviewed by newspaper; Brian in Jeollanam-do rejoices

Filed under: education, expatriates — extrakorea @ 11:43 pm

A guy named Dave Franklin was interviewed by the Korea Herald. If you’ve never heard of him before, maybe you should read this blog entry by Brian in Jeollanam-do; I’m sure he’s rejoicing.


When a Korea Herald article becomes about a week old, you can no longer view it, so I’m reprinting the article below in its entirety.

English teaching in caricature

Dave Franklin isn’t the first person to think the life of an expat in Korea would make for good source material, but he is among the first to write a novel about it.

Korea’s quirks, occasional expat weirdo and novel use of English are so easy to find humor in that they have become cliches. References to bad plumbing and dancing “event girls” are hardly original thinking, but Franklin writes with enough panache to pull it off.

Paul, an Australian looking to escape a failed relationship, comes to Korea to teach English. He finds himself teaching at English Toss hagwon – a name that is the butt of expat jokes on “Planet Andong” and not too far removed from a real hagwon that uses the same unfortunate word.

Dave Franklin, author of “English Toss on Planet Andong”

Paul’s boss is incapable of speaking English or providing him with proper support, and has him working six days a week. Cut off from the locals by language and cultural barriers, he sees little to like in the people around him and little reason to find out more about them. The only outlet he has for his misanthropy is sarcastic responses in language too difficult for most Koreans to understand.

It’s a habit he likely picked up from pretentious British flatmate Billy, whose warped behavior constantly drives Paul to despair.

“Argumentative?” gasps Paul when Billy tells him why he hit 16 kids in one lesson. “They only know how to say things such as ‘It’s sunny’ and ‘I like pizza.’ They couldn’t be argumentative if their lives depended on it.”

Paul’s attempts at participation in expat events are disastrous. Billy’s are nonexistent, and Paul’s few successful attempts in luring Billy out of the house inevitably end in disaster, leaving Billy all the more warped.

Only a mutual desire to get as far as possible from the world they left behind and a shared sense of hatred of everyone else around them seems to keep them together. The feel is of a Korean “Withnail and I,” with Billy as Withnail gone horribly bad.

For a humorous character Billy’s dark side goes beyond what is necessary, and perhaps the bounds of taste. There is one passage of implied child abuse that the book could definitely have done without.

This is where the book will no doubt find its opponents. The main characters are both deeply flawed and could be taken by both EFL teachers and their critics as supporting bad stereotypes of foreigners. The main characters’ misanthropy extends to a dislike for Korea and Koreans in general – Paul refers to them as “Dollies” after the cloned sheep – and the author does too little to distance himself from that standpoint.

It’s clear that Franklin has taught here. The idiosyncrasies, the isolation and the sense of powerlessness will be instantly recognizable to people who have taught English in Korea.

The plot meanders at first, pouring on EFL-in-Korea cliches to set the scene. Once it gets moving, however, it is both varied and deceptively simple. The subtlety used has its collateral damage – there are a lot of unresolved issues at the end of the book – but that seems fitting for a story about a teacher like Paul, who leaves abruptly having achieved far less than he intended.

The book explores the familiar comic territory of whether it is better to be a miserable wise man or a contented fool. But the book dwells too much on the wise man, who both overrates and overestimates his knowledge. The optimists are made to look stupid, but their characters are not really dwelt on.

There are references to British sit-coms, although knowledge of them isn’t essential to understand the book, and some of the characters would not be out of place in one. In the same way that the writers of “Father Ted” were not looking to represent Irish Catholics, Franklin does not seem to want us to view these people as particularly real or representative.

This is perhaps a ploy to make observations without aggravation, and might also be the reason for the extent of Billy’s evil. If it was, it was overdone.

Negatives aside, the writing has pace, and is hilarious in places – particularly the disastrous book-readings at expat haunt Popcorn.

An expose on Korean culture and EFL teaching this book is not. But as a simple black comedy, “English Toss” is worth reading.

By Paul Kerry




Korea has highest female suicide rate in OECD

Filed under: celebrities, gender equality, prostitution, suicide — extrakorea @ 10:20 am

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised, having seen statistics on Korea’s suicide rate for the last few years.

Korea tops OECD in female suicides

Amid a series of unanswered questions about an actress who committed suicide last month, recent international statistics further aroused public anxiety over the reality of suicide in Korean society.

In the OECD’s annual statistics released Monday, Korea ranked first in the rate of female suicides among the 30 member states, with 11.1 per 100,000, more than double the OECD average of 5.4 per 100,000.

Korea was third in the general suicide rate after Hungary and Japan with 18.7 per 100,000, compared to the OECD average of 11.9 per 100,000.

“The number of total suicide calls during the first quarter increased by more than 30 percent compared to last year,” said an employee of the Seoul Suicide Prevention Center.

“Though we are not sure of the exact numbers, the number of female S.O.S. calls has also been increasing steadily since we launched our phone service in 2005.”

The celebrity suicides over the last few years have also elevated public awareness of the issue.

Most recently, actress Jang Ja-yeon killed herself in her house on March 7. Though the police investigation is at a stalemate, it is alleged that her reason was fear and despair caused by unfair treatment and sexual relationships forced by her former agency.

Actress Choi Jin-sil hanged herself in October, saying before her death that she was deeply troubled by online rumors about her, mostly regarding her alleged involvement in the death of actor Ahn Jae-hwan, who killed himself the month before.

Actresses Lee Eun-joo, who committed suicide in 2005 and Jeong Da-bin, who did so in 2007 were also known to have suffered from depression. Singer Uni, who killed herself in 2007, confessed before her death that she could not bear malicious online rumors.

Observers point out that in most of these cases, online rumors played a large role in pushing them to end their lives.

“These stars are open to all sorts of toxic rumors, most of them false and absurd, but have few ways to defend themselves from the online community,” said Lee Ji-yeon, 27, who runs an online community. “Especially those women who have been involved in sexual scandals are forever harassed by hateful comments.”

Experts, too, showed worries about the increasing depression rate, especially for public figures.

“Those in the entertainment business, especially actresses and female singers, tend to reject professional medical help for their depression, in fear of the public eye,” said Park Yong-cheon, professor of neuropsychiatry. “For this reason, many of them miss the chance of being cured, and turn to extreme ways out such as suicides.”

The Korean Association of Neuropsychiatric Practitioners last year suggested that the name “neuropsychiatric” be changed to make patients more comfortable about using their services.

“The problem is that many still tend to regard suicide as a personal matter,” said an employee of the suicide prevention center. “Active social assistance is needed to guide suicidal individuals, especially women, to hospitals and consultation centers.”

By Bae Hyun-jung




Personally, I think that changing the name of the therapists’ association would not do anything to help people one way or the other. What should be a priority is to change the very negative and shameful stigma attached to mental illness in Korea.


When a Korea Herald article becomes about a week old, you can no longer view it, so I’ve reprinted it in its entirety.

Foreign companies less strict about English ability than Korean companies

Filed under: economics, education — extrakorea @ 10:08 am

At first this seemed ironic, until I read the sentence that I quoted last.

Kim, a 20-something staff member at LG Electronics, likes her employer for the most part, but says one thing bugs her ― random e-mail scans to check if they’re written in English.

“It’s pretty crazy if you think about it,” she said, “but we’re obliged to sharpen our English skills, just like we’re obliged to report to work on time and meet project deadlines.”

At the leading home appliance and consumer electronics’ firm, employees have to be prepared to make reports to top management and write any documents of significance in English, she said.

“Knowing the language is an absolute must in working here,” said Kim, a U.S. college graduate who speaks English fluently. “If not, workers ― no matter how smart they are ― have trouble doing everyday work.”

While the language is a necessity at the Korean firm, Chang, a 30-something professional who works for a U.S.-based consulting firm in Seoul, oddly lacks pressure to speak or write English.

“No one has actually posted a rule saying English only,” she said, adding that English proficiency helps in fast promotions, but isn’t mandatory. “Talent comes first.”

This “talent first” recruitment policy may be why foreign firms are reportedly less strict about English than Korean firms.

[ snip ]

He said non-Korean firms are less obsessive about it because they believe that as long as the employee understands the basics, they’ll follow along and pick up the language naturally.


April 6, 2009

Koreans work longest hours, are least happy, in OECD

Filed under: economics, education — extrakorea @ 11:52 pm

According to the “OECD Factbook 2009,” people in Korea worked the longest hours, and were the least happy, out of all 30 member countries. Add to that the fact that wages increases have dropped to the lowest levels since the 1997 Asian financial crisis (the so-called “IMF crisis”). However, Korea did rank third in the OECD in terms of per-capita spending on education.

Greenhouse gas emissions have more than doubled since 1990, despite high oil prices

Filed under: rapid cultural change — extrakorea @ 1:14 pm

Transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions have more than doubled since 1990, despite the fact that gas prices in Korea are the fourth highest in the OECD. Just a few decades ago, Koreans commonly rode bicycles, as opposed to driving oversized, gas-guzzling, and completely unnecessary SUVs.

April 5, 2009

Doesn’t matter if it was a satellite or not

Filed under: North Korea — extrakorea @ 1:54 pm

As you probably know by now, North Korea went ahead with its launch. It’s still unclear whether or not it was successful, and whether or not it was a satellite. The latter is largely irrelevant because:

Surrounding the debate on whether what North Korea plans to launch is a missile or satellite (as North Korea claims), Hahm [Chai-bong of Rand Corporation] said things will get worse anyway because, after all, the underlying technology for both is the same and North Korea will want to show off its military achievement with the thinking of selling the weapons to other countries.

“The biggest reason the rocket is a serious matter is because the launch technology used for either a satellite or a missile are the same. The only difference between peaceful and non-peaceful use is what you attach on the top of the rocket,” said Kim Tae-woo, vice president of the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses.

(sources one and two)

April 4, 2009

Did Lee Hyori copy her dance moves from Homer Simpson?

Filed under: celebrities, humor, music — extrakorea @ 11:16 am

See the video here.

(Hat Tip to AllKPop)

A lot of the animators who work on the Simpsons are Korean, so it looks like they decided to poke a little fun at her with an inside joke.

Visitors to Korea will be required to give fingerprints

Filed under: travel — extrakorea @ 11:01 am

Possibly as early as this summer, all visitors to Korea will have to submit their fingerprints.

Foreigners who enter Korea will have their fingerprints registered from July at the earliest, the Justice Ministry said yesterday.

At a meeting of the heads of organizations on entry to and from the country, the ministry said, “At a time when the number of foreign residents and visitors has exceeded 1.16 million, the establishment of a system to prevent foreign crimes is needed.”

“It’s assumed that about 2,000 foreigners enter Korea every year with forged passports.”


Hmmm … I wonder who those people with forged passports could be?

Some Korean food has too much salt

Filed under: food, health — extrakorea @ 10:00 am

Contrary to popular belief, Koreans will sometimes admit that their cuisine isn’t perfect health food.

Koreans ‘Eating too Much Salt’

A test of ordinary Korean menus at restaurants suggests that Koreans’ intake of sodium is reaching dangerous levels.

The fact is nothing new, as a survey for 2005 released by the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs showed an average Korean adult ate as much as 5,200 mg of sodium a day, almost three times the World Health Organization’s recommended level of 2,000 mg. But still it sounds a warning bell as most people today eat in restaurants since they spend much of their time at work or at school.

Sodium is an essential nutritional ingredient, but excessive intake can cause diseases such as high blood pressure and edema. Prof. Kim Soon-bae at Seoul Asan Medical Center said, “When you have heart disease, kidney trouble, or liver disease, you could get worse if you take too much sodium, including experiencing higher blood pressure, abdominal dropsy, or renal failure.”


So which Korean foods have a lot of salt? High on the list are ramyeon noodles and kimchi. It’s also been known, though not commonly acknowledged, that kimchi partially accounts for Korea’s high rate of stomach cancer.
(sources one, two, three, four, five, and six)

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