Extra! Korea

April 11, 2010

I’m sure the rape at the MT (“Membership Training”) is just the tip of the iceberg

Filed under: crime, culture, drinking, gender equality, safety, suicide, youth — extrakorea @ 9:59 am

Not too long ago, Brian (formerly) in Jeollanam-do reported on the university student who committed suicide after being raped on an MT. MT is short for “membership training” and they have nothing to do with any sort of training. Groups of students who are associated in some way (e.g. are members of the same club or have the same major) go somewhere, stay the night, and then return the next day. Participation is supposedly optional, but declining could get you ostracized, which is a big deal in Korea, particularly among university students. What do they do there? Drinking alcohol. Lots of it. Again, you’re pressured to conform and participate. If you don’t drink, or only a little, you will be angrily accused of “spoiling the mood” by your superiors (“seon-bae”). In Korea, subordinates (“hoo-bae”) basically have to do everything that their seonbaes demand, or risk the aforementioned excommunication. It’s common for male seon-baes to try to get female hoo-baes drunk so as to make sexually harassing them easier.

You say, “Wait a minute, they stay overnight? I thought that Korea was a conservative society. I thought that Korean parents are worry-warts with regards to their children. What do they think about that?” Good question. I think it’s a combination of: a) naivety (“Just because a big mixed-gender group stays somewhere overnight doesn’t mean that they’re having sex.”), b) denial (similar to a)). Korean parents don’t want to think about the fact that their kids might be humping like rabbits.), and c) people know, and it’s kind of a dirty little secret. Have you ever seen the movie “Memories of Murder“? (If you haven’t, be sure to.) In one scene, two police officers speculate on what might be happening on these MTs.

I’m sure that it’s well-known among Koreans that sexual harassment is widespread at MTs. You might remember the Japanese student who shocked the nation by publicly describing when her Korean teacher offered her a sex-for-grades exchange. You might not remember that another girl on the show, a Chinese student, Shang Fang (“상팡”), said that she was sexually harassed by the same teacher while on an MT (“상팡 “문제의 교수에게 MT서 성희롱 당했다””). People here don’t want to talk about it in much the same way that they don’t want to talk about the special barber shops (which don’t offer haircuts), “anmas” (a kind of massage parlor), “room salons” (an expensive bar-brothel mash-up), etc. It’s embarrassing to talk about it, so the problem is not addressed.

Kushibo has written that the problem isn’t as bad as it used to be. Let’s say that he’s right. “Not as bad as it used to be” can still describe a serious problem. Near the school that I teach at, I still see students at the big supermarket loading up for the weekend MTs with snacks like chips and booze. Lots of cheap, strong booze. Kushibo certainly knows the seriousness of the problem, from this story that he reprinted:

Well, one other woman began to pass out while they were all at a noraebang in L.A. Koreatown. My friend noticed what seemed like shallow breathing, but she wasn’t sure. She asked some of her sŏnbae (‘senior’) if the passed-out hubae (‘junior’) seemed all right. She actually got barked at that she was ruining the punwigi (mood/atmosphere) of the party. After a couple minutes, still nagged by concern for the passed-out friend, she decided to call 911.

According to my accountant friend, the call saved the woman’s life. She was rushed to a nearby hospital and her stomach was pumped. The E/R doctor told them that if they had waited another twenty minutes, the friend might have died of alcohol poisoning. Her blood alcohol level was stratospheric, having downed all these “one-shot” drinks, egged on (without any real choice without being ostracized) by her supposed friends.

Also, I’m sure that someone as knowledgeable about Korea as Kushibo is knows that there’s optional, and then there’s “optional,” with big, fat quotation marks around it, which basically means, “It’s your choice not to, but if you don’t, we’re going to make your life f-ing miserable.”

Now, due to this unfortunate tragedy, perhaps the problem will be addressed like it should have been long ago.

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August 18, 2009

Weddings cost about 55 million won

Filed under: culture, economics — extrakorea @ 1:38 pm

Are you thinking about getting married in Korea? Then, you might kiss your savings goodbye, because apparently, weddings cost about 55 million won.
Compare that to the fact that, in Korea, six million won is considered to be a “huge” student debt.

June 2, 2009

Vietnam and Korea want to send “waves” to each other

Filed under: culture — extrakorea @ 4:45 am

Vietnam plans to open its first cultural center in Korea, and hopes, from there, to send a “Vietnamese wave” to Korea.
Meanwhile, there was a forum on how to continue “hallyu,” or the “Korean Wave” which has so far only affected parts of Asia, including Vietnam.
I wish the Vietnamese luck, as in Korean dictionaries, “free trade” means “you lower your tariffs, but we don’t lower ours.” It’s the entry next to: “to get LoneStarred.”

May 10, 2009

Korean children and teenagers are the unhappiest in the OECD

Filed under: culture, education, suicide, youth — extrakorea @ 1:42 am

Considering that Korea has had the highest suicide rate in the OECD for people in their 20s for five consecutive years, it’s not surprising to find that Korean children and teenagers are the unhappiest.

On subjective happiness, Korean students got 71.7 out of 100 points, the lowest among 20 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The figure was more than 40 points lower than that of leader Greece (114). The share of students who consider themselves “happy” was 55.4 percent, much lower than the OECD average of 84.8 percent.

Going to the subjective life satisfaction index with one being the lowest and five the highest, elementary school students got four points; middle school students 3.4, and high schoolers 3.1.

So the older the kids get, the unhappier they become. I’m not in the least surprised.

May 6, 2009

Jon Huer comments published in Los Angeles Times article?!

Filed under: culture — extrakorea @ 2:26 pm

The Los Angeles Times has published an article about Korea’s obsession with improving its “national brand.” (One of these days, I’m going to write an entry describing why I think Simon Anholt is a snake oil salesman.)
In case you don’t know who Jon Huer is, he’s a professor with the University of Maryland, and lives and works on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul. In other words, he lives on a transplanted, preserved, and protected piece of America that just happens to be within the Republic of Korea’s borders. In other words, he lives the life of an American in America, as opposed to an American expatriate in Korea. To be fair, his comments were sensible.

“It’s just mind-boggling. A country isn’t like some product you can just promote overnight,” said Jon Huer, a sociologist and Seoul newspaper columnist. “Korea’s image has always been a bit harsh. It’s not a Nepal or a Thailand — both tourist-friendly places. It takes time and patience to get to know the place and its people.”

However, in his writing, Huer typically writes from educated guesses that he makes from his ivory tower, since he doesn’t live in the same Korea that Koreans, or even expatriates, live in. Here is an example, to which an expat teacher wrote a scathing rebuttal:

Once again Jon Huer has approached an issue of interest ―“Why Is English So Difficult for Koreans to Master?” (April 25) ― but, rather than grounding his thesis in real-world research (i.e. talking to students or teachers of English), he has wandered off into thickets of abstruse philosophizing leading to risible and unsupportable conclusions.

For example, Huer makes much of the social stratification embedded in Korean versus English egalitarianism. I have yet to meet a Korean, however young, who took longer than 30 seconds to grasp that English has only one second-person pronoun, you, which is used to address everyone from the president to a janitor.

Similarly, Huer contrasts “efficient, calm and factual” English with the han-ridden emotionalism of Koreans. One wonders if Huer has read Shakespeare, Faulkner or Albee (to name a few), who have plumbed the depths of pathos and psychic torment in English.

One can see why Huer’s biggest fans are fake nine-year-olds. I wonder why the LA Times writer couldn’t have looked around for someone with more credibility. Michael Breen, Robert J. Fouser, Gary Rector, and Andrei Lankov were unavailable? Even Scott Burgeson would have been preferable. Speaking of whom, his nemesis, Michael Hurt, took time out from his fetish site to give some comments of his own.

“Korea is stuck in this way of thinking that it has to outdance, outspend and out-palace other countries,” said Michael Hurt, a local blogger, photographer and branding committee member.

“It’s never been about that. Korea is a quirky taste.”

Incidentally, I recommend reading the article in its entirety. Some highlights:

Citizens flinch on hearing their country ridiculed as a place where politicians throw punches.

Maybe they’re referring to this.

“Korea’s problem is that it doesn’t have an Eiffel Tower. Paris doesn’t need a slogan — it’s Paris,” said public relations executive Phillip Raskin, a branding committee advisor.

“Paris would be attractive even if its slogan was ‘Go to hell.’ In fact, it might actually be that.”

Really? You don’t say.

The centerpiece of [Lee Myung-bak’s] agenda is food. The government has announced a plan to globalize Korean cuisine, vowing to put it among the world’s top five by 2017.

Like their plan to make ddeokbokki (떡볶기) much more appealing by changing its name to topoki (토포키). Good luck with that.

Edit/Update:

Thanks to commenter Kushibo, I now have ddeokbokki spelled correctly.

April 12, 2009

Celibate monk offers dating advice

Filed under: Buddhism, culture, humor — extrakorea @ 12:47 am

A celibate monk has been offering dating advice for seventeen years. Here’s how he explains this seeming paradox:

“Whether it’s dating or serious love, all essentially is based on human relationship. And human relationship is based on karma,” he said in an interview with JoongAng Ilbo, published Saturday.

As a monk, he is also aware that he is doing something unusual and has a good way of defending it. “Buddhism attaches a great importance to karma, arising from human relationship. So, it’s not something very strange for a monk to do dating counseling,” he said.

But he admitted that it was not easy for him to be understood. “Even other monks regarded me as an odd ball a few years back. They thought even though I did it to help other people, but then the very job of talking about dating and very private affairs itself could become a stumbling block for a monk to gain enlightenment.”

He runs the “Happiness-healing center” in the Samcheong-dong neighborhood of Seoul, and began when, seventeen years ago, he was a chaplain in the military and counseled a heartbroken young soldier.
(source)

March 26, 2009

Learn about temple stays

Filed under: Buddhism, culture, expatriates, travel — extrakorea @ 1:43 pm

Here’s an article about temple stays in Korea.

March 13, 2009

Ondol: Korea’s traditional home-heating system

Filed under: culture — extrakorea @ 2:58 pm

To find out about ondol, the home heating system that’s commonly used in Korea, you can read this article from the Korea Times.

The traditional Korean fireplace, however, is “invisible” because it is an under-the-floor structure, hidden from the surface. Traditionally, Koreans used this underfloor-heating device, called “ondol,” to get through the long and cold winter.

The history of ondol goes back to the Neolithic Age, according to Kim June-bong, a professor of architecture at the Beijing University of Technology.

In the Goguryeo period (37 BC_ 668), an “L”-shaped ondol was common that provided partial heating to the room floor. Then, it evolved into a full-room ondol (tong ondol) in the Goryeo period (918 – 1392). By the end of Goryeo, the ondol structure spread to the entire Korean peninsula.

Meanwhile, ondol has been undergoing its own metamorphosis to fit the new demands of time. Ondol was originally fired by wood, but modern homes and apartments are built with heating pipes embedded in the floors. Heated water circulating through the pipes, warmed by a gas or an oiler, has replaced heated air.

Professor Kim claims not to be nationalistic and yet:

And the first step in that direction [promoting ondol internationally] is for the government to preserve and promote the ondol culture, while it should also engage in an effort to correct some misinformation about ondol ― for example, as something related to the Roman hypocaust, which is an ancient system of central heating.

While ondol and the Roman’s hypocaust are not related, in the sense that they were invented independently, it is misleading to claim that they are completely different.

And here is an article about the oldest ondol system discovered so far:

What are believed to be the world’s oldest underfloor stone-lined-channel heating systems have been discovered in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in the U.S. The heating systems are remarkably similar to ondol, the traditional Korean indoor heating system.

Richard Knecht, from the University of Alaska, and Song Ki-ho, of the department of Korean history at Seoul National University, reached some interesting conclusions:

As the ondol of North Okjeo and Amaknak are more than 5,000 kilometers apart, Knecht and Song agree that the two systems seem to have been developed independently.

This theory is backed up by the fact ondol have not been found in areas between the two locations, such as Ostrov, Sakhalin or the Kamchatka Peninsula, and because the Amanak ondol are significantly older than those of the Russian Maritime Province.

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