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February 27 2014

NASA's New Photo of North Korea

Any international readers interested in North Korea would probably come across at least once this famous photo of Korean peninsula from NASA demonstrating a stark difference in the light emission of two Koreas at nighttime. NASA finally updated a new satellite image and it is ‘even more dramatic than the monochrome NASA satellite image of old', writes North Korea Tech blog. The blog also introduces a video version of the image which shows North Korea in context with the rest of East Asia. 

February 26 2014

PHOTO: South Korean Labor and Civic Groups Stage Strike

Timed with the start of President Park Geun-hye's second year in office, about 40 thousand South Koreans (police estimate 15 thousand) held protests across the country. The demonstration, spearheaded by Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, calls halt to a clampdown on labor groups, the government's move towards privatization of public sector and cover-up of the presidential election manipulation scandal. Prominent citizen journalist Media Mongu tweeted a photo of the protest (embedded below). More photos can be found in the union's Facebook page [ko].

General strike, at the Seoul City Hall Plaza. It is fully packed.

February 23 2014

Not All Bad, Talking Korean Plastic Surgery from Biz Perspective

There have been mounting criticisms on both local and international media's coverage of rampant plastic surgeries in South Korea; many reports are highly sensational, describing how reckless and ignorant plastic surgery patients are (focused on females ones rather than male) and have successfully generated numerous crass jokes and harsh comments not only about patients, but also about the country as a whole. Wangkon936′s post in Marmot's Hole blog leads readers to drop the narrow ‘good’ and ‘bad’ value position and approach the issue from a purely business perspective. Some of the highlights are: 

When it comes to South Korea, much of the press is negative and borders on reporting mostly on the strange and/or weird such as the so-called “tower of jaw bones”[...] However, is it all bad? If we are to take perhaps subjective values out of the equation and just look at economic impact, then is this all “bad,” per se? From an economic and business perspective, Korea’s highly demanding aesthetics culture is creating an expertise, technology and infrastructure base [...]

February 22 2014

South Korean Figure Skater Yuna Kim's ‘Robbed’ Sochi Gold Becomes Photoshop Meme

From elaborate posts, incredulous reactions and downright curses, net users, not limited to South Koreans, erupted in anger when Russian figure skater Adelina Sotnikova won gold over South Korean figure-skating legend Yuna Kim at the women's free skating event at Sochi.

Immediately after the results were announced, many questioned the crowning of Sotnikova, and even an insider alleged that the competition was rigged. News reports began to appear on the judges’ panel for the women’s free skate, which was comprised of four judges from Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, and Slovakia). The Russian judge is famously married to the general director and past president of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, and the Ukrainian judge has a shameful past record of receiving a year-long suspension for a vote-trading deal.

For many online, it appeared to be a case of stolen gold for South Korea's beloved figure skating queen. Some net users took a proactive approach: an online petition demanding an investigation into the scoring decisions and a do-over judgment received 1.9 million signatures in less than two days. Others vented their anger with humor, giving way to images mocking the Russian player's stumble [ko] by photoshopping her into different scenes.  

I think I've seen her at a B-boy dance competition.

[Fake correction request] I heard that woman is a cover dancer for Exo [K-pop boy group], please remove your wrong post.

Many jokes were made about possible revenge at the 2018 Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korean city of Pyeongchang:

There were so many hilarious tweets about this result. One says, “Wait till we host the Olympics at Pyeongchang. We will make you watch [famous speed skater of South Korea] Lee Sang-hwa winning a gold medal at figure skating”. One tweeted, “The rigging? We have a few tricks up our sleeve for that. It would be none other than our National Intelligence Service and prosecutors who will be judging the Pyeongchang Olympic games” [a reference to the spy agency's election meddling scandal].

They say this is a preview of the Pyeongchang Olympics. [The photoshopped image shows a traditional drum performer figure-skating] lol.lol.

The real champion of women’s figure skating at the Olympics is … him.

February 20 2014

Ethnic North Korean Schools in Japan Face Ever-Hostile Situation

Koreans living in Japan‘ is a vague word glueing very different groups together under the same umbrella term. Based on their affiliation to North/South Korea and the timing of diaspora (whether it happened before/after the Japanese imperial rule during the World War 2 ear), each sub-group goes by a different name, sharing little similarities. Stark division between them is once again solidified by education system; North Koreans in Japan attend a special ethnic school that resembles ones that are in North Korea. Markus Bell, after visiting one North Korean school in Japan, wrote an extensive report on multiple threats those schools face, with some background information about the concerned ethnic group, as the financial help from their home country has been significantly reduced and also funding from the Japanese government was recently cut off. 

Searching for Blame in Deadly South Korean Building Collapse

Ten college students were killed and 105 injured in a building collapse in South Korea on February 17, 2014. In a country where the dreadful memories of the Sampoong disaster, which claimed over 500 lives, and other deadly collapses are still fresh among adults, online venues have been flooded with concerns over the repeated safety lapses and discussions on who or what to blame for incidents such as these.

The accident occurred as heavy snow caved in the roof of a building where 500 freshmen from the Pusan University of Foreign Studies were staying for two days of orientation events before embarking on their very first semester there.

Some initial media reports pointed to fingers at the student council for organizing the event [ko] without the university's supervision and specifically, for choosing that location, or at the Mother Nature. Unusually heavy snow [ko] far exceeding the region's average precipitation hit the city of Gyeongju for several consecutive days, and the sheer weight of the snow is reported to have put so much pressure on the facility's steel panels that they snapped.

However, as investigation progressed, many seemed to reach the conclusion that this may have been a preventable manmade disaster after all. The collapsed building Manua Ocean Resort was built rather hastily in only two and a half months [ko], and since construction finished in 2009, it had never had a single regular safety check-up [ko].

It is not like the building was shelled; it collapsed only because of the heaping piles of snow. The first ones to blame are the ones who built that building and who are in charge of the building's maintenance. Why do some people keep talking about how the college had a shortage of funds so the student council had to choose a cheaper location for the orientation?

How do such things keep happening, despite all the money spent [to enhance] the construction sector, and even after we had a department store and a bridge collapse? 

Collapse of the Sampoong Department StoreHwaseong Sealand disasterIncheon Bar fire [ko], Taean Seaside bootcamp disaster… All those manmade disasters, have we learnt nothing from them? This Gyeongju Mauna resort disaster – as a person who has children, I feel so miserable and also furious.

There is a similar pattern between the Gyeongju resort facility collapse and the recent mass credit card data breach: our society's “risk-taking” culture. They are all focused on starting new things, but don't pay as much attention to possible risks ahead nor give extra care to maintenance.

This is a photo from the Gyeongju Mauna Report collapse scene, shared by a net user of online community site ‘I Love Soccer'.

February 17 2014

Correction to Chosun Newspaper in South Korea

Screen shot of Chosun newspaper

Screen shot of Chosun newspaper website (4 Feb, 2014)

In an article that lists Global Voices as one of several “non-legitimate”, “foreign media websites” who “spread rumors about South Korea” abroad, South Korean pro-government newspaper Chosun falsely describes our Korean editor Yoo Eun Lee as, “a dark-haired Korean-American blogger, who goes by a last name starting with L”.

Lee's identity is not in the least secret – she's a Korean media professional currently living in the United States (and actually she currently has light brown hair). We stand by her coverage of an election manipulation scandal in South Korea, clampdowns on labor groups, and an increasingly hostile environment for Korean journalists.

Chosun further tries to demonstrate our untrustworthiness by saying that Global Voices misrepresents itself as having an affiliation to Harvard Law School, but that their “own investigation” shows we are “just a blog site”.

Apparently there is an outdated description of Global Voices on a major Korean website (with no connection to us) that describes us as a Harvard Law School project. The truth is that Global Voices was founded in 2005 at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, which is indeed housed at Harvard Law School. But today, Global Voices is an independent independent non-profit organization incorporated in The Netherlands.

February 16 2014

South Korea: Being Native English Teacher and Reverse Racism

Geoffrey Fattig of Jeollamite blog shares his brutally honest opinion on reverse and latent racism in South Korea, urging fellow native English teachers who under-appreciate a fairly good working condition to stop whining. Some of the highlights of his post are: 

On the whole, though, Korea is a pretty easy place to teach English, and playing that foreign card has brought far more advantages than not over the seven years I’ve been in the country. I would add though, that being a tall white guy probably has a lot to do with it.

South Korea Lost Genius Skater Viktor Ahn, Who Won Two Medals for Russia

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Image by Flickr User @CanadianPhotographer (CC BY SA 2.0)

Short-track speed-skating star Viktor Ahn, formerly known as Ahn Hyun-soo, has brought his adopted home Russia two medals, one gold and one bronze in Sochi Olympics. With his winning streak likely to continue, discussions sparked in South Korean online forums about what has driven this skating genius from his birth-country and criticisms mounted on the deep-rooted clique culture that perpetuates not only in the Korean skating world, but in Korean society in general and the media's sudden focus on Ahn ‘being a Korean'. 

Mr. Ahn made headlines on international level as early as back in 2002 Olympics with his unfortunate crash with eight-time medalist skater Ohno during the race. Four years later, Ahn surged back as Ohno's formidable rival by grabbing three gold medals and a bronze. However, Ahn failed to compete in the following Olympics in 2010. The official reason given was that it was due to his knee injury, but it was an open secret to net users that Ahn had a fallout with the Korea Skating Union and severely been bullied [ko] well before the 2006 Olympics and by the time around 2010 that Ahn was de-facto abandoned and cast out by the union. He left his country and became a naturalized Russian in 2011. For playing for Russian team, Ahn has reportedly been rewarded [ko] with much higher salary, benefits (private tutor and coaching staff) and even promised a stable job after his retirement.  

Too late too little

As Ahn won a bronze medal earlier this week, every media outlet has seemed to gain sudden interest to the unfair treatment he suffered– which happened several years earlier. Even the President made a comment about Ahn that ‘we have to look back on whether it (referring to Ahn switching his nationality) is because of irregularities lying in the sports world, such as factionalism, favoritism and judging corruption'. Politicians have chimed in and the ruling Saenuri party posted in their Facebook page a emotional photo with text [ko] that read ‘Sorry, But we will always be supporting you', although net users seem not that impressed with this belated response. Many Koreans seem rather happy for this under-appreciated star's newly-found happiness and seem unmoved, even offended by the Korean media suddenly emphasizing his nationality. Here are several tweets about Ahn. 

If only he'd been given full support and nourishment from the state, then one can trash-talk Ahn Hyun-soo and claim that he betrayed his country and left us for Russia. But no, that is not the case. There was no good support, but continued fights between cliques, and brutal beating he got (for not obeying the union's order) and no good environment for practice. There is no justification for trash-talking Ahn.

It was told that Ahn said that he loves skating, and he is not sure whether he loves it more than he loves his country. One thing for sure is that he wants to continue skating and that he will live in Russia forever. This shows that how country has driven geniuses out instead of embracing their talents. Viktor Ahn, you take that gold medal. We don't deserve you/the medal.

(1st tweet embedded) He became a Russian citizen and even changed his name. But those media keep insist calling him Ahn Hyun-soo. (2nd tweet) This player, after cannot take any more of the clique culture and power-wielding, changed his nationality. But when he wins gold medals, some media would pull those ridiculous cliche clauses, such as ‘His nationality may be Russia(n), but his heart beats for Korea'. LOL.

After hearing that there are groups of people who try hard to portray Viktor Ahn as ‘Ahn Hyun-soo who so loves his country, South Korea', I wasn't that surprised. When someone achieves success, they do so desperately try to link that success to the nationality. When it seems like a failure, they try to distance from them. (i.e. against some Korean-Chinese)

February 13 2014

Activists Ask China to Ban Bear Bile Farming

Using social media and other tools, animal rights activists around the world are urging China to prohibit farmers from keeping bears in captivity and harvesting their bile, a digestive juice stored in the gall bladder that is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The nonprofit group Animals Asia has collected more than 83,000 signatures so far on a petition asking Chinese officials to end the “barbaric practice” of bear bile farming. The foundation said more than 10,000 bears in China are kept in cages – sometimes so cramped that the animals can't turn around or stand – for their entire lives, and that the bile is extracted through painful methods.

The conditions on the farms are documented in YouTube videos.

“This is torture,” a YouTube user named “mogtrader8″ posted after watching that video. “There's no doubt about it.”

The cause has resonated on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms with both individuals, including artists and athletes, and groups like Moon Bear Rescue. (The bears typically used in bile farming are Asiatic black bears, commonly known as moon bears because of the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chest.)

An animal rights activist in Australia tweeted:

An American environmentalist known as Sprat24 called bear bile farming “despicable” and asked, “Have you seen how these bears live? How could you not help?”

Rescuing moon bears from mistreatment 

Animals Asia has been helping moon bears since it was founded in 1998. The foundation has rescued more than 400 animals from bile farms, established bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, and urged government officials to outlaw the practice.

There are no accurate estimates on the global population of Asiatic black bears; they may number in the tens of thousands. Experts believe the moon bear population is declining. They are not considered endangered, but the species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In China, bear bile farming is legal, but only on licensed farms that have at least 50 bears and meet certain standards.

In January 2013, in what became known on Twitter as the #newyearrescue, Animals Asia and China's State Forestry agency rescued six moon bears from an illegal bear bile farm in Sichuan province. The bears, which had injuries and other evidence of mistreatment, were resettled at the foundation's shelter outside Chengdu.

Hong Kong photographer Peter Yuen recently documented the progress that the rescued bears have made:

Peter Yuen documented Animal Asia's moon bear rescue effort. Photo via Animal Asia's campaign page in Facebook.

Peter Yuen documented Animal Asia's moon bear rescue effort. Photo via Animal Asia's campaign page in Facebook.

What a difference a year makes…

One year on from her rescue, Manuka forages in her habitat without a care in the world.

But rescuing bears one at a time isn't enough, Animals Asia says.;

Petitioning China's US ambassador

In its latest campaign against bear bile farming, the group hopes to garner at least 100,000 signatures on a petition asking China to end the practice entirely. Animals Asia plans to present the petition to Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the United States. The petition reads:

On January 9th 2013, six lucky moon bears arrived at Animals Asia's Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu — the only sanctuary in China built to care for bears rescued from the barbaric practice of bile farming. Battered and broken from their time on an illegal bear farm, these bears are already starting to mend under the expert care of Animals Asia's dedicated vet team.

And while the nightmare is over for these six bears, across China more than 10,000 moon bears remain in tiny cages never feeling the sun on their backs or grass under their feet. They can be kept like this for up to 30 years. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of many effective and affordable alternatives.

Animals Asia applauds the Chinese Government for rescuing these six bears and closing the illegal farm, but the suffering of 10,000 must be made a priority and a firm date set when bear farming will end!

Many of the people who signed the petition added comments. “Cruel and disgusting,” wrote a woman from California (signer No. 82,965).

A women from the Netherlands (signer No. 82,526) posted: “Never believe that animals suffer less than humans do. Pain is the same for them that it is for us.”

“Not all traditions are worth continuing!” stated a resident of British Columbia (signer No. 83,014). “This is an archaic practice that needs to stop.”

The use of bear bile is a centuries-old tradition in Southeast Asia. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use bear bile to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, fever and other ailments; some men tout it as aphrodisiac or hangover cure.

Bear bile is used in more than 120 Chinese medicine products, from heart medication to eye drops. Because of the demand, the bile can sell for astronomical prices – up to 24,000 US dollars a kilogram, about half the price of gold.

To obtain the bile, farmers insert a metal tube permanently into the belly of each bear; the animal wears an iron vest to hold it in place. The bile then is extracted two to four times a day.

The active ingredient in bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid. Scientists disagree on whether it has significant health benefits.

Ursodeoxycholic acid can be obtained from many other sources, such as herbs and synthetic processes. Groups such as Animals Asia, the World League for Protection of Animals and Wildlife Worldwide have been urging practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to shift from bear bile to alternative sources.

Celebrities support for moon bears 

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, pop singer Han Hong, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and others.

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and etc. Animal Asia Poster.

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and others. Animals Asia Poster.

Many Chinese celebrities stepped forward to protest bear bile farming in 2011 and 2012 when the pharmaceutical firm Gui Zhentang, which extracts and sells bile, was applying to be listed as a publicly traded company on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

In the face of the public backlash, Gui Zhentang last year withdrew its application to issue an initial public offering. 

Then, last August, animal rights activists scored another victory: As part of Animals Asia's “Healing without Harm” campaign, about 150 Chinese drugstores announced that they would no longer sell bear bile products. 

That prompted an outpouring of support for the pharmacies on social media:

On petition website ForceChange, user Judy Thorpe commented:

Bears have suffered for so many years and I cannot express enough praise in your decision for refusing to stock bear bile on your store's shelves. We are now in the modern era and animal abuse will not be tolerated. You have set a positive example by taking stand against bear bile products. Thank-you so very much.

Besides China, South Korea also allows bear bile farming; nearly 1,600 bears are being raised in that country. Vietnam banned the practice in 2005, but Animals Asia says about 2,400 bears still are being illegally raised on bile farms there.

Animals Asia isn't the first group to start a petition against bear bile farming. In 2011, Wildlife World obtained 15,000 signatures on a petition calling on Hu Jintao, then president of China, to close the country's bear bile farms.

If Animals Asia's petition proves unpersuasive, the group has another tactic to get its story across: an interactive storybook for children.

The foundation teamed up with Microsoft and on January 29 launched a website in both English and Chinese to tell the story of the rescued bear Jasper and his buddies.

February 11 2014

South Korean Film About Samsung Worker's Death Slowly Winning Over Moviegoers

A film about the tragic death of a Samsung worker is slowly gaining traction in South Korea, the birthplace of electronics giant Samsung and a country notoriously nicknamed “The Republic of Samsung“ for the corporation's enormous power and influence there. 

“Another Promise” faced many hurdles from the very beginning. According to an extensive interview with local media [ko], the director recalls getting countless rejections from investors and production houses, adding that without the help of many generous citizens, the movie would not have been possible.

Poster Image of movie Another Promise, Fair Use Image

Poster for the film “Another Promise.” Fair use.

The film, which depends entirely on crowdfunding and small, private donations, tell the story of a Samsung worker who died from acute leukemia and her father's draining legal battle with the corporation as he struggled to prove that disease was linked with the company's harsh and unsafe working conditions. A series of legal fights continue between Samsung and labor groups who allege that employees suffering from leukemia and other rare diseases contracted them because of working at the company's factories.

Amid rising suspicions [ko] that some multiplex theaters are too afraid to expand the number of screens showing the movie even without pressure from Samsung, the movie seems to have deeply touched and inspired moviegoers, many of whom took their reviews to Twitter and popular South Korean online venues, encouraging other users [ko] to see the movie. 

After his daughter died in the back seat of his own taxi, the father calls the labor attorney and says, “Yumi has just passed away. There is no one around I can tell this.” No one to complain to, no one willing to take their side. There are over 58 cases of similar deaths. Watching this movie is listening to those voices.

It's my second time watching the movie. Since it is so realistic, it almost felt like watching a documentary, especially since I witnessed that particular scene with my very own eyes – where people blocked with the bus. But back then, I merely found that people's cries coming from inside were just bit too noisy. Why did I not take interest in what was going on in this society back then?

After watching a romantic film, people wish it would happen in their real life. However, after watching movies depicting ugly facts of reality, they wish to keep them where they were, as something that exists only on the screen. But actually, when these responses are reversed, people can bring positive changes to the real world. “Another Promise” is a reality which needs to be changed outside a movie theater.

Many of the comments were about the seemingly unfair treatment that the movie is getting – less active promotion by distributors and not many screens are showing the film. People also mentioned that the title of the movie, “Another Promise”, is a satirical use of Samsung’s famous advertising slogan “Another Family”. 

That ad slogan “Another Family” – they would have never imagine this would come back to bite them like a boomerang. I really hope they pay the full price for taking advantage of their “family” in the ad without really taking responsibility for the customers, labor workers and victims.

With members of my group “Power to the People”, I watched the movie “Another Promise”. I've tried to take a confirmation photo proving that we watched it, but there was no movie poster displayed inside the theater, and not even one banner stand. And they say the movie is screened only twice a day. What a pathetic situation. 

February 02 2014

Korean Comfort Women Issue Explained by Cartoon

A special exhibition on ‘comfort women‘- young Koreans girls forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese army during the World War 2 era- was featured at one of the leading cartoon festivals in France. It made several headlines as the Japanese government tried to block it, but failed. Korean net users have shared an English translation of Park Gun-woong's cartoon ‘Tattoo- A Story of a Comfort Woman'. (The cartoon- which is based on a true story- depicts violent assault, torture and rape. Viewer discretion is strongly advised) 

January 31 2014

Have Acne? South Korea Will Tax Your Treatment

Who has the right to tax your pimple outbreak? In South Korea, it is the finance ministry.

Beginning of February, a new tax system that imposes a 10-percent tax on surgeries having to do with appearance and beauty will go into effect in South Korea. This so-called beauty tax not only includes well-known plastic surgeries such as nose job, double-jaw surgery or lip augmentation, but also ordinary skin care, such as acne treatment.

New taxation which was introduced last summer claims that it would rein in the country's rampant cosmetic surgeries, but it has been widely unpopular from the moment of its proposal. Critics argue [ko] that the scheme is simply a plan to increase tax revenue decorated as a public health law. Several web users pointed out [ko] that the tax won't tackle society's obsession with looks and people who have the means or who desperately want such procedures will not be affected. 

One the eve of the plan going into effect, one tax – 10 percent on pimple treatments – seems to have rekindled people's opposition to the bill. Below are some tweets from frustrated net users: 

As if it is not bad enough to have acne and hair loss. Now, we have to pay a tax for having those.  

The hyenas prowling, looking for things to tax, finally found the item – pimples!

To @mosfkorea [the official account of Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance]: Who do you think you are to tax my pimples? 

So the Ministry of Strategy and Finance's logic is this: Since they don't think acne is a serious case of skin disease, whatever that cure the acne problem is categorized as a “beauty-related” surgery, it will be taxed. It was ridiculous enough to hear about the tax on cosmetic surgery and now this! Whatever the reason you give, will you just please stop taxing more? 

The medical community seems enraged by the news as well. The Korean Medical Association circulated the poster below explaining their frustration. The first sentence in bold letter laments that it is not the medical professionals, but the finance ministry who is making a judgement call on how to understand acne – not as a serious skin condition, but as a beauty-related inconvenience. Net users shared the image via Twitter and made fun of the current government's economic motto of “Creative Economy”, one user even invoking current President Park Geun-hye's notorious nickname “chicken”:

Taxing pimples… That is indeed “Creative”. 

Imposing an additional tax on skin treatment is bit too much. Acne patients are already paying considerable amounts of money to get proper treatment. And most of them are either teenagers in puberty or in their early 20s. It turns out that the chicken administration's “creative economy” actually means “creative ways to tax things”.

There is no country like ours where society is completely obsessed with looks. And the ones who helped shaped our society into how it this now tax each item related to enhancing ones look. This is ridiculous. 

Wow… How far will they go? Will the next step be taxing nail care and body slimming? It is not a sin to have some pimples. 

January 29 2014

Samsung Withdraws Controversial University Quota Policy in South Korea

Image of Info Session/Recruitment Scene

A recruitment and information session in South Korea for Samsung. Uploaded by Flickr User Samsungtomorrow (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

South Korea isn't notoriously nicknamed “The Republic of Samsung” for nothing. 

Amid harsh criticism, Samsung has withdrawn a new hiring policy [ko] that would have allowed applicants recommended by their university's presidents to skip ahead in the recruiting process. The change would have also put a cap on the number of students from each university using that recommendation.

Although the recommendation does not guarantee a position in Samsung, it gives a significant head start by allowing students to skip the résumé screening process – a big deal in a country where Samsung, one of the most coveted employers, receives several hundred thousand applications each year. There is even a market for books and costly crash courses [ko] on how to get high scores on Samsung's standard exam. 

Pointing out the quota was given disproportionately against [ko] women and colleges in certain provinces, net users on Samsung's home turf lashed out not only at the corporation, but also at universities, which were either elated or depressed by the quota dictated to them by Samsung. Two tweets below may best reflect one of the most frequently seen reactions from South Korea's Twittersphere about the Samsung's university quota:

The company are now acting as if they were the university's overlord and can do such an arrogant thing like “setting a quota for a university”. This shows that a monopolistic economic system has formed, prevailed and held a tight grip on our society. Additionally, it also reflects that hope is scarce in our current situation.

The moment that universities accept Samsung's proposal, the universities are no longer the place for academia, but they will have become a docile supplier manufacturing disposable goods for the company. 

January 28 2014

South Korea: ‘Less is More', Net Users Turn Sour on Typical Movie Poster

French Poster Image of Movie 'Frozen'. Fair Use Image

French Poster Image of Movie ‘Frozen'. Fair Use Image

A massive Disney hit movie, Frozen is rapidly gaining traction also in South Korea. However, more young Koreans are turning sour on typical Korean-style movie poster, which has long been criticized for being either too confusing or overly interrupted [ko] by extra-bold text dropping names or media/net users’ reviews ridden with cliche [ko]. One net user from the TodayHumor site compared different versions [ko] of Frozen poster (allegedly tailored for audiences in US, France, Japan, China and Korea) and Koreans exchanged heated discussions on what has made Korean movie distributors select such cluttered posters as one can see below. (In comparison, on the left is the poster released in France which has been lauded by many net users for its artistic simplicity) 

Three Korean Poster Images of Movie 'Frozen'. Fair Use Image

Three Korean Poster Images of Movie ‘Frozen'. Fair Use Image

 

January 24 2014

Massive Credit Card Data Theft Hits 20 Million South Koreans

Image by Flickr User Don Hankins (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Flickr user Don Hankins (CC BY 2.0)

An unprecedented large-scale theft of customer data in South Korea has affected 20 million people, or about two-fifths of the country's entire population.

The data was lifted by a consultant working for a personal credit rating firm, Korea Credit Bureau, who accessed the user databases of three major credit card companies and sold the information to phone marketing companies.

The dimension [ko] of the confidential information stolen is truly terrifying: Not only basic information such as name, phone number and social security number were taken, but also critical data that could lead to serious abuses, such as credit card expiration date, annual income, residential status, credit limit, credit history and credit records. In some cases, as many as 21 kinds of personal information were stolen.

Right after the news broke, furious customers not only flocked [ko] to the card companies’ local stores, but shared via Twitter a very long list of their stolen personal data, followed by sarcastic comments and downright curses aimed at the firms and authorities: 

Name, social security number, card number, home phone, home address, cell phone number, work address, work position, work place official name, residential status, password question, credit card limit, info of credit card by other firms, credit rating, bank account linked to the card… This kind of info was stolen. But still they say don't worry because at least the CVC (Card Verification Code) number was not stolen. I just want to punch them in the month. 

@_2on_:성명 주민번호 휴대전화 자택전화 자택주소 직장정보 카드번호 유효기간 카드정보 결제정보 신용한도 연소득 이메일 직장번호 직장주소[...] 비번도 알려줘라

@_2on_: My name, social security number, cell phone number, home phone and address, work place info, card number, expiration data, card info, card payment info, credit limit, annual income, email, work number, work address have been stolen[...] Why don't you just give away my password as well?

Authorities try to assuage public anger by stressing that the breach has not yet lead [ko] to any real abuses, and several days later, released a package of counter measures [ko], which included more severe punishments placed on the affected firms (suspension of business and higher fines); limitations on financial firms from collecting unnecessary customer information and trading it to a third party; an extension of card customer service hours; and a five-year limit on storing previous customer data. The card companies vow to offer full compensation for the losses and reissue new cards upon request. Not many are satisfied.  

They need to know that is is much easier now to find someone whose info has not been stolen. Reissuing credit cards upon quest? If that is the most effective way, then they should replace every customers’ cards, not just someone who requests it.

The most unpopular measure regulators announced was creating an additional step in the identification process, meaning more hassle for customers: 

It is the companies who leaked the info, but it is the customers who have to bear with the inconvenience caused by the incident. What weird logic. RT @tebica: Authorities are now announcing comprehensive measures against the personal information breach and one of their measures, “adoption of one more identification step when making credit card transactions”, makes people shudder.  

It is not the first data theft of a national scale, but is certainly one of the largest. Many called for more fundamental measures. Twitter user @leesns tweeted:

How many times have we seen thefts of personal information? The current social security number system no longer works effectively in identifying users, but instead has became a tool that can easily be abused by criminals. We should either revamp or scrap the social security number system. And re-issue every credit card and stop firms from trading collected customers’ info.

January 23 2014

South Korea: I Would Rather Sell My Personal Info

Personal information of about 20 million people, which amounts to two fifth of the entire South Korean population, has been compromised in the country's worst identity theft. Customers of the affected three major credit card firms gasped at the sheer extensiveness of the breach; it is not just the user's real name, home/work address, cellphone/home/work phone number, social security number, but in many cases, even user's credit limit, credit history, credit card expiration date, and credit records have been stolen. Korean online venues flooded with angry users’ comments and one net user even set up a fake website entitled ‘Trade My Info; the No. 1 Online Personal Info Trading Venue’ [ko]. Its intro sarcastically proclaims that instead of letting the identity thief sell your personal info, users should rather trade their info by themselves and make a a modicum of money out of it. Most of the site's links lead to related news articles on the breach. An extensive post on Korean reactions to the country's worst ID breach will soon be posted on Global Voices.

January 21 2014

Korean Seniors Prompt Boycott of McDonald and Get McResolution

Korean elderly have made headlines in New York City as they loiter at McDonald's each day, starting early in the morning till well after dark, ordering only fries or coffee. After they were kicked out for hampering business, some in the Korean community called for a boycott of the restaurant.

The New York Times story on elderly squatters in McDonald's went abuzz over the weekend, and McDonald's reacted quickly, putting out the fire by Monday by reaching a “McResolution!“. They promised extended sitting hours for the elderly during less-busy times and even to collaborate with local seniors centers to provide transportation to and from the restaurant.

However, Koreans, who are familiar with senior citizens overstaying at fast food stores in one of the most overcrowded and busiest cities in the world, South Korean capital Seoul, seem to understand McDonald's tough choice. Here are some reactions from South Korean online venues.

Image by Flicker User Kansir (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Flicker User Kansir (CC BY 2.0)

The McDonald's fiasco. I really hope people don't bring ‘race’ in to the equation. It is not like they were kicked out because of their race/nationality. By emphasizing that it is ‘Koreans’ who were being kicked out, they are actually embarrassing themselves. This is so ugly, and just embarrassing. I can see why this happen.

The reason why I am not rooting for McDonald's boycott in New York is because how they approach this problem is just so typical. Jongmyo Area in Seoul is packed with elderly who loiter at fast food chains. It is not Korean “culture”, but a problem Korean society has. It is just deplorable they brought it over and repeat it in another country.

Net users cast doubt on the Korean Parents Association of New York – a group who initiated the boycott and question whether they are eligible to represent the whole Korean community in general. Some from the group, notably the chairwoman, are accused of being extreme right-wingers who infamously blocked a peaceful protest against the election manipulation scandal held in New York last autumn. User @hippietech wrote [ko]:

자극적인 제목으로 민족성 자극하는 저질 기사. 한인사회 발끈한 적 없습니다. 몇몇 노인들이 진상짓 했을뿐

I see so many sensational, trashy reports which provoke ethnicity issues. No. Korean communities have not been angered by [the McDonald's case] and it is just a handful of rouge seniors who made a scene.

January 20 2014

South Korea Accused of Rewriting History in High School Textbook

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) 

A conservative high school history textbook in South Korea that puts a positive spin on some of the country's most controversial periods of history, such as Japan's colonial rule, has been a source of heated debate for several weeks, with the government being accused of favoring textbooks that support their political beliefs and paint a rosier view of various periods of history.

The textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co has been lambasted not only for its inaccuracy, but for whitewashing the past flaws of certain interest groups. Critics say the sheer volume of errors – over 750 mistakes – in the textbook are serious enough to disqualify it as a legitimate learning tool.

Parents and students protested hard against several schools who have decided to adopt Kyohak's textbook and finally succeeded in revoking the decision. However, the Ministry of Education has offered excuses for the publishers, first by claiming that it was not the final version. Even after it was revealed that Kyohak still has not applied the required adjustments to the textbook and its revised version contained about 350 errors, the ministry again embraced them, saying that it was a trial version. According to local report, one historian said [ko] “in his 22 years as a history teacher, he has never heard of such thing as a ‘textbook trial version’, and the ministry’s outlandish claim renders him speechless.”

The scope [ko] of the errors are wide: misleading descriptions of Japanese imperial rule of Korea, incorrect names of locations on a map, and the false claim that the United States had a colony in the Indochina region. Another noteworthy mistake includes an inaccurate description of President Park Geun-hye’s father, the late military dictator Park Chung-hee: the textbook says Koreans’ average per capital income reached 10,000 US dollars under his rule, when it should be 1,000.

The textbook also claims that the so-called comfort women – young teenagers and women, many of whom were Korean, who were forced into prostitution by the Empire of Japan during World War II to “comfort” the troops – “followed the Japanese army around”, thereby implying that they have voluntarily choose to serve the army for the money. There is even an error suspected to have been lifted from an online blog post.

The New York Times recently added fuel to the fire with an editorial entitled “Politicians and Textbooks” in which the paper accused President Park of downplaying Korean collaboration with Japanese imperialists during Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The editorial concluded that Park, along with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, are “pushing to have high school history textbooks in their countries rewritten to reflect their political views.” The Korean Foreign Ministry fired right back, saying it will “take necessary steps against the New York Times with regard to the erroneous facts.”

Enraged Koreans commented as below:

Kyohak Publishing’s textbook is only worth as much as the ruling Saenuri party’s campaign flyers. 

After watching Chairman of Kyohak Publishing Yang Cheol-woo’s interview on the JTBC Sohn Suk-hee’s news program, I can totally see how that garbage, pro-Japanese imperialist book was born. He kept claiming their textbook has no flaws and it is the most accurate book available. He even accused other textbooks of being “left-leaning”.

More concerns arose as reports came out [ko] that immediately after Kyohak Publishing’s history textbook had been rejected by parents and students, the government and ruling Saenuri party began pushing to publish it and impose the textbook on a national level. Currently, students, parents and teachers have a say in the textbook selection process, and have a choice among several different books. The political opposition denounced the move [ko] as an attempt to stifle points of view that differ from their own, and commented that a one-size-fits-all textbook system is a favorite of authoritarian regimes who can easily manipulate its content. The most notable cases of the one national textbook system would be North Korea and Russia. 

When they found out that Kyohak’s history textbook had been completely rejected by students, parents and teachers, the proper way to respond is by looking back at their flaws and feeling shameful and apologetic. But how did they react? It is as if they are seeking revenge, they are pushing to switch to a universal textbook system. This is an utter disregard for history and disrespect for the people.

Twitter influencer and historian Jeon Woo-yong (@histopian) tweeted a series of messages regarding this issue:

Even the monarchy of the Joseon Dynasty did not interfere with chroniclers’ works. It is those in power who should be afraid of history, not history that clings on to power. The reason why those in power want to exert control over history is either because they are ashamed to face history, or they dont even bother to make themselves feel unashamed'. 

January 09 2014

South Korea: Political Revenge against Whistleblower?

Kwon Eun-hee, a policewoman and ex-chief investigator at Seoul Suseo Police station, revealed last summer that her team had received pressures and ‘unreasonable orders’ from superiors to reduce the scope of an investigation into the spy agency election manipulation scandal. Although net users lauded Kwon, her bold act seems to have taken its toll; local media reports [ko] that Kwon has failed to get a promotion which was considered ‘a sure thing for someone with Kwon’s resume and qualifications’, adding that if that happens one more time, by law she would be forced to leave her position in four years. Many suspect it is a politically-motivated decision, including prominent citizen journalist Media Mongu who commented it is ‘a scary revenge’ [ko] and embedded a highlight video of Kwon's revelations.

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