Extra! Korea

May 17, 2010

Timely columns about General Park Chung-hee by Michael Breen and Gusts of Popular Feeling

Filed under: history — extrakorea @ 7:22 am

You should read this timely article about General Park Chung-hee by Michael “Trod Underfoot by Samsung” Breen.

Edit/Update:

Gusts of Popular Feeling also has a great post on the same topic.

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Kim Jong-il cut trip short after China’s rebuke

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 7:18 am

Kim Jong-il’s visit to China was scheduled to last from last May 2nd to the 7th, but Kim cut it short and returned home one day early. Why?

According to the Chosun Ilbo:

“Maybe Kim was upset that China mentioned the succession and reform and opening of its economy,” the paper [the Asahi Shimbun] quoted the source as speculating.

However, according to the Joongang Daily:

“At the luncheon between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Kim on May 6, the Chinese government informed the North that China will not provide aid outside the framework of the United Nations Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang,” the source said.

[ snip ]

At the end of the day, he [Zhu Feng, professor at the Peking University’s School of International Studies and deputy director of Center for International and Strategic Studies at the university] said, China didn’t defer to North Korea for the sake of it returning to six-party talks on the shutting of its nuclear weapons program. “Unfortunately, the standoff will continue,” he said.

May 16, 2010

America now has its own Wonder Babies

Filed under: gender equality, rapid cultural change, youth — extrakorea @ 8:11 am

Remember Wonder Baby?

Well, it seems that, in at least one way, Korea truly is leading the world.

A video showing a group of 8- and 9-year-old dancers performing to Beyonce‘s “Single Ladies” has been creating controversy in the U.S. As it should.

I think the best quote came from the child psychologist, Dr. Michael Bradley, who said that “the parents were asleep at the switch, that they don’t even see what’s going on there.”

Here is the video in question. I include it only so that people can see, first-hand, for themselves, what the fuss is all about. Personally, I couldn’t watch more than ten seconds of it.

Here is the underage Miley Cyrus. As the child psychologist put it, society is giving the message that the way to be a successful female is to be a sexual creature.

Even the Joongang Daily needs proofreaders

Filed under: health, media irresponsibility — extrakorea @ 3:04 am

Everyone knows that the Korea Times has descended into a parody of a serious newspaper, with articles about man-boobs and alien graveyards. (Why Michael Breen continues to write for them is perplexing.) Unfortunately, it looks like the Joongang Daily is also in need of proofreaders, as evidenced by this article, “A little too much iron in Special K, Corn Frosts.”

“Corn Frosts”? Don’t they mean “Frosted Flakes“? A major newspaper shouldn’t be reprinting Konglish in their headlines, even if said Konglish is commonplace.

Still, speaking of food safety, the Korea Food and Drug Administration plans to label food as either “red,” “yellow,” or “green.” Based upon the colours of traffic lights, this is intended to tell children which foods are good for their health (green) and which are not (red).

“By clearly showing to the children what nutrients the foods they eat contain, the system will help them better manage their eating patterns. It will be used for nutrition education,” Park Hye-kyung, director of the nutrition policy division at the KFDA, told The Korea Herald.

[ snip ]

According to the plan, a red traffic light label is to be attached to a snack if one serving contains more than 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat or 17 grams of sugar.

If a meal contains more than 12 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat or 600 miligrams of sodium per serving, it will also get a red label.

The KFDA found based on its simulation tests that at least 74 percent of chocolate products, 58 percent of ice cream products and 42 percent of bread would be labeled with a red traffic light under the new plan.

It also found that some 76 percent of hamburgers and sandwiches would receive red light labels.

May 15, 2010

Nine suicides in two days, eight done in groups

Filed under: suicide — extrakorea @ 11:54 am

In South Korea, nine people have killed themselves in the last two days, and all save one involved group suicides. On Wednesday, four men and one woman in their 20s and 30s committed suicide by inhaling toxic fumes in a car. Two of them left notes saying things like, “I have no more hope and no more dreams” and “please find my identification card in my back pocket.” That same day, eight men in their 20s also committed group suicide by inhaling poisonous gases, but this time in an apartment. The next day, a 72-year-old man hanged himself.

Police believe that the two group suicides had their beginnings online. Such news is not rare in a country that has the highest suicide rate among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the third-highest in the world, and the leading cause of death among young people.

“There’s a huge gap in this country because the speed of materialism spreading is much faster than the speed of cultural maturity that must grow together. It all comes from stress of rapid modernization,” said Jeung Taek-Hee, an expert and consultant at Lifeline Korea.

[ snip ]

“Naturally, these busy parents end up spoiling the child who ends up self-centered and incapable of dealing with competition,” Jeung said. “But the reality is that this society is very, very competitive.”

Along with the miraculous rate of economic growth in the past decades, many South Koreans have become driven by materialism that has been passed on to their kids, Jeung said.

He noted that most of the people who commit suicide, especially the young teenagers, find themselves dangerously distressed by not being able to keep up with others materialistically and eventually become anti-social.

May 13, 2010

JYP Entertainment admits that Wonder Girls’ health insurance expired

Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 8:05 am

In yesterday’s post, we heard allegations that the Wonder Girls did not have health insurance when they were in the United States, which were met with denial.

JYP Entertainment now admits that the Wonder Girls’ health insurance expired in January.

Frankly, I find the details to be a little difficult to understand but here’s how I understand it. The Girls entered the United States last April under F-1 (student) visas, as they were registered at a language institute. Being on student visas allowed them to apply for health insurance, which they had until January. They “immediately” switched to O-1 (scientist/artist/educator/businessperson/athlete) visas. Despite not being on student visas anymore, they continued to attend the language institute until their hectic schedules of flying in and out of the U.S. forced them to drop out of the institute, at which point, they lost their health insurance.

Jung [Wook, head of JYP Entertainment] said JYPE was under no obligation to provide the members of the group with health insurance because the company ”did not maintain an employer and employee relationship.“

Huh? What? They’re don’t have an “employer and employee relationship”? Then what kind of relationship do they have?

“You do realize over 50 million Americans don’t carry health insurance and most Korean nationals there don’t as well, right?” he asked.

Yeah? And … ? So what? Nice attempt at deflection. Unfortunately (for him), most people don’t have that severe a case of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Regarding the fine that JYP Entertainment paid …

According to the citation administered by the New York City Department of Buildings, it has placed the unresolved case into default status after representatives of JYPE failed to make a court appearance on April 29, 2010.

Why didn’t they show up?

“We didn’t show up to our court hearing because the contractors who had originally commissioned the construction of it had said they would appear on behalf of us after we filed a complaint to them,” Jung explained.

They do agree about one thing –that the tutor, Daniel Gauss, quit and was not fired.

“… He is just a disgruntled ex-employee who quit because he thought we weren’t treating him well.”

I was never fired, I quit because they treated me like garbage,”

Why does he feel that he was treated like “garbage”?

“I was being paid $20 an hour to teach the group.”

By the way, I’ve noticed that it isn’t just the commenters at the Kpop-loving blogs who seem to have their critical thinking skills hampered by hero worship, but the bloggers themselves, too. One suggested that Daniel Gauss was seeking his fifteen minutes of fame. Speaking up on the Girls’ behalf isn’t going to make him famous because the Girls themselves aren’t famous. In yesterday’s article, they admitted that they had to sell their CDs for virtually no profit just to try to crack the Billboard Top 100, and the Jonas Brothers’ fans didn’t seem too impressed with them, either. Since he lives in New York city, he’s far more likely to become famous by stalking Madonna or Lady Gaga. As he put it:

“I cannot profit in any manner by revealing this information,” he wrote. “I believe my motives are genuine. I did not ask for any compensation for any of this information and I do not want any. I saw and heard about some nasty things at JYPE and I think people have a right to know the truth, especially since the girls are under contract for the next three-plus years and might not be able to speak freely about negative aspects of their experience.”

But some people really can’t understand that JYP Entertainment is not a “family”; it’s business, and they will say whatever they have to in order to, to paraphrase the wise saying, separate the fools from their money.

And do they really think that they’ll allow the Girls to say anything bad about their company (even if they don’t have an “employer and employee relationship”)? Remember this video? Look at how Park Jin-young barges in to keep a close eye on the Girls and make sure that the interview goes exactly according to his plans.

It reminds me of this story, which was translated by Korea Beat:

An unnamed member of a pop group was sentenced to attend “john school” to learn about why it’s bad to pay teens to have sex with him, which he apparently did.

Why have none of the K-pop blogs mentioned this? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Such blogs are good for basic information, but absolutely lousy for commentary or insight. Not one is like, for example, Gusts of Popular Feeling.

May 12, 2010

The Wonder Girls, JYP Entertainment, accusations of mistreatment, and more legal action nonsense

Filed under: legal issues, music — extrakorea @ 12:10 pm

The Korea Herald has published an article in which the former English tutor of the Wonder Girls (while they were in New York), Daniel Gauss, claims that the Girls were poorly treated by JYP Entertainment. Here are some of his allegations, and responses to them.

“I was shocked when one of the girls told me that the girls are not covered by health insurance in America,” he wrote. “I once saw one girl in extreme pain — due to a pre-existing problem stemming from a previous operation — who received no professional medical treatment for the pain and I saw others with minor ailments go untreated.”

Ye-eun (“Yenny”) responded:

One day, while recording, I said that I felt a cold coming on and he gave me a bottle of vitamins and told me to always take one vitamin everyday. Then, on another day, he bought five jars of organic honey and told me to always eat one spoonful every morning. Because it was good for my throat.

The fact that Park Jin-young gave her some multivitamins and honey is no refutation to the accusation that health insurance was not provided.

What Sun-ye later wrote on her website more directly contracted Gauss:

When Sunmi was still not well after receiving a surgery in Korea and flying to New York, although she was against it,
because of our opinion and the company’s opinion she visited hospital frequently until she was fully cured.
We had no trouble with going to hospital over even little things like problems with our skin.

So did Sun-mi receive medical treatment or not? Sun-ye says yes, Gauss says no. Remember, Sun-mi was the member who recently left the group. Also keep in mind that JYP Entertainment only did away with “slave contracts” six months ago.

Gauss further wrote that after the group acquired a sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson, JYPE had Sun-ye perform in Sanya, China, for Sony Ericsson executives, shortly after her father was rushed to hospital in a coma.

He wrote that Sun-ye had told him “her father had stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the hospital. In the ambulance, (Sun-ye) and her family had to decide whether the father should be given treatment to be kept alive since he had lapsed into a coma. The family chose to keep him alive and I was told by the girl that he was never going to come out of the coma.”

“Very shortly after that trauma, she was performing for Sony Ericsson executives in Sanya,” Gauss wrote. “I did not have the heart to ask her whether it was her idea or JYPE’s idea for her to perform.”

Sun-ye later wrote:

My father was suffering from a long-term illness and few months ago, he was rushed to the hospital when it suddenly worsened.
Upon hearing the news, I immediately flew from New York to Korea to visit my father,
and it so happened that other members were to return to Korea after a week in order to attend an event set up in Korea.
I watched after my father for a week and thankfully he got better, so after consulting his doctor I was able to attend the scheduled event.
He had the illness for almost 20 years, and it wasn’t something that could be dealt with immediately,
so after seeing that he got better, I could settle my mind and return to performing.

Maybe Sun-ye’s father got better, and then Sun-ye performed, but Gauss never heard about the recovery? The two stories don’t necessarily contradict each other especially considering that Gauss, by his own admission, “did not have the heart to ask her” about the matter further.

He also claimed JYPE illegally housed the members at the company’s Manhattan office — for which he said the city of New York slapped the company with a $2,500 fine.

An online link to the New York City Department of Buildings provided by Gauss confirms that the company had not only been issued a class-2 citation (violation No. 34765862, infraction code 208, section of law 28-118.3) on May 28, 2009 and fined for altering and changing an occupied building for residential use without a valid permit, but also defaulted on the violation.

The company was scheduled to appear in court for a hearing last month, but failed to do so, which has resulted in the case being given a default status.

JYP Entertainment responded:

“The JYP Center in Manhattan is the same structurally as the one in Korea.

So what? We’re talking about American regulations.

We proposed to the Wonder Girls that they stay in a New Jersey house, but the girls told us that they preferred to stay in Manhattan so we let them. A two story housing structure is built there.”

It doesn’t matter if the Girls were OK with it. American law said that it was illegal, as evidence by the fact that they paid a fine.

Based on his own eye witness accounts and conversations with the members of the band, Gauss also stated that the members were not allowed to leave the JYPE building without permission.

Sun-ye:

JYPE does not set limit on us entering and exiting the building …

He said, she said.

He said that JYPE had sold the band’s CD at a bargain basement price of $1 at retail clothing chains around the United States, which significantly boosted both its sales and its performance in the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

On Oct. 23, 2009 the group’s single “Nobody” entered the top 100 at No. 76, something widely publicized by the local media.

This was confirmed by Wonder Girls’ former manager and current JYPE marketing department employee David Hyun.

“That was part of our distribution deal and that is definitely one of the reasons why they cracked the top 100,” Hyun said.

Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Sorry. That was petty and small of me.

Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Sorry, I just can’t help myself!

And the icing on the cake:

The representative also stated that the company plans to pursue legal action against the person who raised these allegations.

Oh, more legal nonsense, along the lines of L’affaire Breen. JYP Entertainment had better keep in mind that in America, the truth is a defense. To paraphrase Brendon Carr, America is a free speech society, not a “sit down and shut up” society.

They have to prove that they didn’t house the Girls illegally (highly unlikely, as they have already paid a fine) and that they did provide medical insurance. They have to prove that Gauss had lied, not that he had embarrassed them or hurt their little feelings.

Incidentally, the teenage commenters over at that K-Pop-loving blog are just lapping up everything that JYP Entertainment is ladling out. Gosh, was I that lacking in critical thinking skills when I was a teenager? Don’t they realize that JYP Entertainment is a business, so of course they’re going to use PR to exercise damage control? And don’t they realize that the Girls work for that business? And that company loyalty and superior/subordinate relations are stressed hard in Korea?

By the way, the Korea Times has articles that summarize both the accusations and the denials.

May 10, 2010

Samsung sues journalist Michael Breen over satirical column

Filed under: censorship, legal issues — extrakorea @ 9:14 am

Two entities have cemented their bad reputations: South Korea as “an enemy of the Internet,” and Samsung as a cesspool of corruption.

Why?

Samsung is suing journalist Michael Breen over a satirical column that he wrote for the Korea Times. In it, he joked that Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee would receive a pardon as a Christmas gift from President Lee Myung-bak. Unfortunately for the author of “The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies,” his joke turned out to be prophecy, and on the very day that Lee received his pardon, Samsung sued Breen, the Korea Times, and its top editor “for $1 million, claiming damage to its reputation and potential earnings.” It’s hard to imagine how a column read by relatively few people could possibly cause a Goliath like Samsung so much financial damage. But that’s not the point of the lawsuit.

“The reason I’m being sued is that the beast roared,” said Breen, 57, a British native and longtime social commentator and South Korean resident who wrote a 1998 book on South Korea’s modern history.

In its suit, Samsung said the column used a “mocking tone” to add “baseless, malicious and offensive false information to criticize” the firm.

[ snip ]

But Samsung continues to pursue Breen personally for libel, both civilly and on criminal charges that he intentionally libeled the company. If convicted, he faces a hefty fine and even jail time.

[ snip ]

In a nation where reporters are often discouraged from highlighting chaebol transgressions, some say Samsung’s pursuit of Breen is intended as a warning.

The message: Even when joking, don’t mess with the chaebols.

“In South Korea, it’s considered taboo to criticize the chaebols,” said Kim Ky-won, professor of economics at Korea National Open University. “They hold very close to absolute power.”

May 1, 2010

Andrei Lankov: “[North Korea’s collapse is] a very likely probability.”

Filed under: North Korea — extrakorea @ 4:52 am

People have been predicting the downfall of the North Korean regime for years and years, and yet it has always managed to survive. In the aftermath of the failed currency reform, these same predictions are being made again. However, this time, there may finally be some credence to them. How do we know? For one thing, North Korean expert Andrei Lankov is among those who believe that we may finally be seeing the end game of the current ruling regime.

“[A North Korean collapse is] a very likely probability,” said Lankov. “And personally, if you ask me, I don’t believe there is going to be a peaceful, gradual end of the North Korean regime. It will be dramatic, and probably violent.”

Be sure to read the article in its entirety.

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