Extra! Korea

May 12, 2011

Restaurants, companies pay for positive reviews & repress negative ones

I’ve explained the concept of “reviews” to my students. I would always add that in foreign countries, reviews are useful because people write both good and bad reviews. In Korea, however, they are not, because every restaurant that is reviewed on TV gets a thumbs up and an enthusiastic “Wahhh! Mashisseoyo!” (“Wow! It’s delicious!”).

I’ve always figured that it was either because the TV station didn’t want to make anyone lose face, or because of Korea’s ridiculous libel laws. (In Korea, you can sue someone for libel even if they tell the verifiable truth. For example, let’s say that Mr. X is a thief who robbed you blind, and you write in your blog, “Watch out for Mr. X. He’s a thief.” Mr. X can successfully sue you for libel, even if you present documents showing that he was convicted for theft and served prison time.)

It turns out that restaurants pay TV companies for positive reviews.

In order to make the documentary [“The True-Taste Show”], Kim [Jae-hwan, a former MBC producer] opened a small restaurant of his own in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, and recorded his attempt to get featured on television shows.

Kim’s restaurant was featured on ‘‘Live Show Today” on SBS earlier this year. In return for that, he had to give 10 million won ($9,090) to a broker and the broadcasting station. It took 9 million won for the restaurant to be featured on another show “Find! Delicious TV” on MBC, and all true-life incidents are described in the film. Kim shut down his restaurant after it was introduced by a couple of shows.

According to the documentary, food shows are no more real than television dramas or comedies. People are hired to sit down and show two thumbs up when asked how the food is.

Remember those ridiculous libel laws that I described above?

Broadcasting stations are considering suing Kim.

Fortunately, Kim is not backing down.

“I’m ready to be sued because I think it’s better to bring this issue to court,” Kim said.

“The True-Taste Show” will be released sometime this month.

Now that is a documentary that I would love to see.


What do you get when you cross a multinational conglomerate with the mafia? Samsung. Just ask Michael Breen if you don’t believe me.

A Mr. Ham bought a Samsung Galaxy 2 smartphone with his own money and, after using it for two weeks, he posted a negative review, “Nine Nasty Flaws of the Galaxy 2,” on his blog, which is hosted by Naver (which itself seems to be a bit of a bully). Samsung demanded that Naver remove the blog post, along with the over 1,400 comments it had received, which it did.

The same fate befell another blogger, Mr. Kim, after he wrote a post entitled “Three reasons why the Motorola Atrix is better than the Galaxy 2.” Ironically, Mr. Kim had been planning to write another post called “Three reasons why the Galaxy 2 is better than the Motorola Atrix.” According to Samsung, looking at two sides of an issue or having balance is unacceptable.

How dare they write negative reviews of Samsung products! Don’t they know that Samsung is Korea’s royal family? Bloody peasants!

An official from one portal site said, “Of the thousands of temporary deletion requests we receive per month claiming defamation, many are from corporations and politicians.”

This indicates a system adopted on the justification of blocking invasions of personal privacy are also used more insidiously as a means for powerful groups to control online opinion.

So what does Samsung have to say for itself?

Regarding this, Samsung Electronics’ public relations office said, “The matter was in many ways a communication failure that arose due to insufficient understanding of the particularities of the Internet at the Galaxy 2’s marketing sector.”

“It’s a misunderstanding. You must understand our special situation.”

There is also debate about the fairness of review marketing. Most review marketing takes place with compensation exchanging hands. The problem is that this is rarely revealed, so the objectiveness of the review is easily lost. Some firms even filter out critical posts from the very beginning by getting prior confirmations. Recently, one mobile phone community was conducting a user review event for the Galaxy 2, with the phone being provided for free or at a discount based on the favorableness of the review.

[ … ]

The Federal Trade Commission of the United States has since December 2009 required bloggers to reveal if they received corporate support or payment when they write product reviews.

May 10, 2011

(Updated) Short schoolgirl skirts to cost 820 million won of new desks

Filed under: education, rapid cultural change, youth — extrakorea @ 2:34 pm

While students at Korean middle schools and high schools are still required to wear uniforms, dress codes have been relaxed in recent years. Students are now allowed to wear running shoes, and regulations regarding hairstyles are not as strict as before.

Another effect has been that schoolgirls have been shortening their skirts, a subject that I and other bloggers have written about before.

The Gangwon Province Office of Education has cooked up a brilliant scheme to deal with this problem. They will spend 820 million won on new desks that will be specially-constructed so as to hide the schoolgirls’ legs.


First of all, this ignores the fact that if these schoolgirls are going to dress like this in class, then they are going to dress at least this provocatively off school grounds. Hasn’t anyone thought about what potential problems this might cause?

Secondly, the teachers are ignoring the fact that these schoolgirls seem to think that dressing in revealing clothes is “cool,” “empowering,” “stylish,” or something else that’s equally wrongheaded.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who’s thinking, “We are authority figures, and for the sake of our students, we should act like it.”

But the Korean Federation of Teachers Association (KFTA) denounced the move, arguing it is a waste of money and a proper guideline is rather required to promote longer skirt lengths.

“What we need is to promote longer skirt lengths by adopting stricter dress codes,” said Kim Dong-seok, a spokesman for the KFTA. “The education office is now neglecting its duty to properly educate students.”


The BBC has picked up the story (Hat Tip to Gusts of Popular Feeling).

I think that the BBC might have been slightly mistaken when they ran the caption with the photo below.

The trend for short school skirts is well established in Japan

As far as I know, when Japanese schoolgirls are in class, they have to wear their skirts long. However, once they leave school grounds, they hike them up. They’ve honed it to a science, with folding techniques and even velcro.

Regarding the situation in Korea, Chris in South Korea correctly pointed out that 820 million won (about $700,000 or £427,000) could be put to many good educational uses.

Seven bar “hostesses” have committed suicide since July

Filed under: celebrities, drinking, gender equality, music, prostitution, suicide — extrakorea @ 12:56 pm

On March 24th, a young woman committed suicide, the seventh bar “hostess” (known as “jeopdaebu,”) to do so since last July.

In a suicide note, the 27-year-old said she was forced to have sex against her will and was no longer able to stand the abuse from customers and the bar owner.

Apparently, she was not able to quit because of a “slave contract.” In such bars, the owners are, or are connected to, loan sharks who lend out money at excessively high interest rates.

In the article, it is subtly hinted that the recent crackdowns on prostitution may have actually exacerbated the situation by forcing prostitution underground, leading to the exploitation of women who, unlike those in red-light districts such as Chongyangni and the now-defunct Yongsan, never had any intention of becoming prostitutes.

As shown in the crackdown by the Pohang Police, the sex industry has developed into a well-organized business run by bar owners, gangsters and loan sharks who exploit the women, they say.

Many of them first start working at a bar or club to earn “easy money” without knowing it will put them in a trap from which they can’t get out, they say.

“Most of these hostesses regret starting the job,” Lee Jung-mi, the head of the Korean Shelter for Women, said. “They first thought they would make a lot of money by simply talking to male customers at bars or karaoke, serving drinks and singing for them. But the reality is they are forced to sell sex and they can’t say no due to money they have been loaned in advance.”

Here is a statistic that, if true, is interesting:

According to Statistics Korea, one out of 60 economically-active women work in bars, clubs and karaoke rooms, or in red light districts.

Also, in case you were wondering, the Korean music industry, despite all the rhetoric since the suicide of Jang Ja-yeon, still harbors sexual exploitation. Here is a report from this past February, in which journalists went under cover to find out what happens to young trainees.

The trainee was also asked to call the director of her agency without alerting him that he was being recorded. When asked about the contract fee she was forced to pay, he replied, “There are no agencies these days that support you financially 100%. Since we do support you 100%, don’t leave us. Even if you say that we forced you to provide sexual favors, you really have nothing to say in the end.”

Upon hearing his shocking statement, reporters visited the agency themselves while hiding their cameras. They found that the agency, on the outside, looked no different from any other agencies, and when asked to name the celebrities they housed, they had no trouble listing the names.

[ … ]

Another trainee hoping to become an actress later gave her own account, revealing, “The agency said they were looking for a small role and wanted to meet me in person. They instead dragged me to their home and force fed me various drinks, claiming that they needed to check my limit. After a while, they taped my mouth shut so that I couldn’t scream, and further claimed that in order to become a celebrity, I needed to have sex with him.”

What was even more shocking for viewers was that this all happened before she entered her third year of junior high school.

May 8, 2011

Daum must feel threatened by Kakao Talk

Filed under: advertising, celebrities — extrakorea @ 12:35 pm

Kakao Talk is a popular app (computer program) that can be used on iPhones and smart phones that use the android operating system. (You can read a description here.) It’s very popular in Korea.

Daum is a big South Korean Internet company. It’s released an app called My People. (You can read a description here and watch a semi-informative video below.)

Daum must feel threatened by Kakao Talk since it has singled them out by name for abuse in their commercials. They’ve also brought out the big guns by hiring the the most popular girl group in Korea, Girls’ Generation, to administer the beat down. Notice how the girls have departed from their usual aegyo (cutesy-wootsy way of talking) when heaping scorn on the poor cocoa bean.

This is par for the course for South Korea, where big companies crush and/or take over smaller companies. Interestingly, Kakao Talk is available to everybody, while My People is useful only to people who know the Korean language. I wonder if popularity abroad could help Kakao survive.

(Hat Tip to the Marmot’s Hole)

Wouldn’t breath mints be easier?

Filed under: food — extrakorea @ 11:49 am

Are young South Koreans worried about bad breath ruining a kiss? Apparently so, and South Korea’s Rural Development Administration feels that the need for fresh breath merits the development of a “ping-pong ball-sized apple” for young wooers to eat just before some ooh-la-la.

Wouldn’t breath mints be easier? They’re smaller, they don’t spoil, and you can eat them more quickly. Also, if a good Korean girl sees her boyfriend eating one of these specialty apples, she knows that he’s got intentions.

November 4, 2010

Netizens apoplectic with fury at suggestion that Girls’ Generation may have done sexual favors

Filed under: celebrities, music, prostitution, youth — extrakorea @ 10:27 am

A Taiwanese television show had an program in which they discussed the notion that some female celebrities in South Korea do sexual favors as a way to get ahead, or have it virtually forced on them. Taiwanese singer Estrella Lin, who has previously spoken about her experiences in Korea, was a guest speaker. Unfortunately for them, they used an image of Girls’ Generation, and Korean Internet surfers, “netizens,” are furious. I mean, they’re absolutely apoplectic with fury. The AllKpop post on the topic has over a thousand comments, with new ones arriving literally every thirty seconds, and the YouTube video of the program (below) rising by the hundreds every hour.

It seems that there may have been two problems:
1. While AllKpop may have done a decent job of translating Sports Chosun’s piece, Chosun may have mistranslated the original Chinese.
2. The TV program may have gotten its image of Girls’ Generation from a Taiwanese newspaper. If so, then it might be the newspaper who ought to shoulder the blame.

I’m wondering this: Where was this fury when Jang Ja-yeon committed suicide? Where was the fury when it became known that her ex-manager faces a maximum of one year in prison? How about when it became known that an SM Entertainment manager could have literally killed a member of boy band Super Junior? How about when another entertainment agency seemed to admit to forcing an underage trainee into virtual prostitution? How about any of the other examples of trainees’ mistreatment? Or how about the recent survey that suggests that over 60% of female entertainers are pressured into giving sexual favors? But slander some pretty girls, and the rage is like an inferno. I’m glad to see that some people have their priorities straight.

While I’m at it, I might as well express my incomprehension as to why K-pop fans are cheerleaders for entertainment agencies.  Can you imagine the following conversation between three teenagers in America?

A: I like Interscope Records.

B: No way!  Sony Music is the best!

C: You both have your heads up your arses!  Warner Brothers all the way!

Ridiculous, huh?  When I was a teenager, we talked about which artists we liked.  However, K-pop fans will get into heated debates over whether they like YG Entertainment or SM Entertainment better.

November 2, 2010

Korean Christians intruded into Buddhist temples in Myanmar too

Filed under: Buddhism, idiots, multicultural society, rapid cultural change — extrakorea @ 10:11 am

You might remember this story, which described how Korean Christians had entered Buddhist temples in Seoul and Daegu and behaved disrespectfully.

It turns out that Korean Christians had intruded into Buddhist temples in Myanmar as well.

Korean Internet users quickly revealed another online video clip in which some Christian groups sing hymns inside a temple in Myanmar while Buddhist monks are present.

October 30, 2010

“We met on the bus on Saturday. I love you. Contact me.”

Filed under: hard to categorize — extrakorea @ 5:05 am

A young woman took the bus. The man next to her opened the window for her when she asked, and let her rest her head on his shoulder. Later, she wanted to meet him again, so she hand-wrote a note and posted it at the bus stop.

In the note, she wrote, “I am looking for ’busnam. (nam mans [sic; means] man) He sat in the second window seat from the back on the No. 2000 bus on Oct. 16, 2010, Saturday at Seoul Station, wearing a blue hooded shirt. He opened the window for me and even lent me his shoulder. I cannot sleep because of you!”

She also left her email address and asked the person to email her.

The note was photographed and has now been seen widely through distribution on Twitter.

Something somewhat similar happened two years ago.

A man wrote about a woman he met and fell in love with while bike riding and a woman also posted on an online community about her search for the man who helped her inflate her tire.

People who saw the two postings helped the two connect and they announced their marriage last week.

A lot of Koreans I know have married people they do not love. They were getting on in age, feeling the pressure to marry, and said, “I do” to a guy who wasn’t Mr. Right but Mr. Good Enough. So, I hope things turn out well for this couple, as it did for the one from two years ago.

Hello. I love you. Won’t you tell me your name?

October 29, 2010

Hilarious Mistake

Filed under: hilarious mistake, humor — extrakorea @ 12:28 pm

First of all, I want to say that I was not laughing at my students. Making mistakes is a normal part of learning, especially a language. Even children who will later become native speakers make mistakes (albeit logical ones, e.g. “Mommy, yesterday I goed to Disneyland.”). Also, learning English is very difficult for Korean speakers, as Korean is for English speakers.

My students were talking about Superstar K, which is similar to the American TV program American Idol. They were comparing and contrasting the winner, Huh Gak, with the runner-up, John Park.

Huh Gak can sing many kind of music, because his voice has wide range. On the other hand, John Park is suitable for Negro music like jazz and R&B because he is good at sing to the rhythm.

After laughing out loud (I couldn’t help it!), I apologized and told them that they shouldn’t say “Negro.”

Them: Why not?

Me: “Negro” is an old-fashioned word. Also, some people don’t like it.

Them: What should we say? “Black people’s music”?

Me: Umm … How about “music invented by African-Americans”?

Them: OK.

Putin’s daughter and Korean fiancee: How old are they & when did they meet?

Filed under: hard to categorize — extrakorea @ 11:25 am

The youngest daughter of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yekaterina Putina, is engaged to marry a Korean guy. He works for Samsung Electronics and is the son of a former admiral. She plans to emigrate to South Korea and find a job there. Good luck to the young couple.
The news is being carried by the Korea Herald, Korea Times, and the Joongang Daily, and I noticed some discrepancies.
* How old are the young man and woman? Joongang and the Herald say that they are 25 and 23, respectively, while the Times say that they are 26 and 24. Wikipedia (I know …) says that she was born in 1986, and gives as its reference a 2002 St. Petersburg Times article that described her as being 16 years old.
* When did they meet? Joongang and the Herald say in 1997, but the Times says 1999.
It looks like they were both pre-teens when they met, and that puppy love came into full blossom.
In any case, this is good for South Korea. Why? If North Korea ever again threatens to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire,” whoever is in charge at that time can expect to lose one of his nuts. From Russia with love.

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