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February 27 2014

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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 05 2014

Forget What You Know About Visiting Kosovo

A trip to Kosovo nowadays would convince anyone that this country, far from its sometimes negative reputation, has indeed a lot to offer. According to the World Bank data, more than 70 percent of Kosovo's population is under 35 years old, which surely explains the fact that on the flight this Global Voices author made to the country's capital Prishtina, half of the passengers were under 10 years old. This makes for quite the start to an unusual holidays!

Kosovo youth, while having to deal with terrible unemployment rates of 55.3 percent, manage to energize the country and push the rough memories of war further and further away. US blogger Adventurous Kate comments how first-time visitors feel:

It’s my first time in Kosovo, and I don’t know what to expect. Just the mention of “Kosovo” in America brings to mind an image of war, of death, of ethnic cleansing, of bombs. Even though this took place more than a decade ago, I’m wondering just what kinds of scars the country will bear.

Far off from the scars, what strikes the freshly arrived visitor most are Prishtina's incredible cafés. Everyone should experience the taste of a perfect macchiato on a sunny and well-designed terrace, looking over the frenetic errands of passersby. It certainly is not a legend that the coffee there sometimes tastes even better than an Italian one – we apologize to our Italian friends for this, but it must be said!

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

The Dit' e Nat' café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

The Dit’ e Nat’ café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

Although it might be true that Prishtina's architecture, mostly grey and anarchic buildings, is not its main attraction, the city is buoyant in its attitude and style. Its walls are full of graffiti and other forms of street art; the soul of the city appears on them an open book to visitors.

“I love colors” and “I love flowers” appear very frequently on the walls of the city, mostly in the saddest parts.

The claims not to forget the leaders of the Kosovo independance are visible here and there.

Urban art urging people not to forget the leaders of Kosovo's independence are visible here and there.

Creative details are available on every corner.

Creative details are available on every corner in Kosovo.

Kosovo's people seem to look more towards the future than stay stuck in the past praising war heroes or pacifist icons of Kosovo's battle for independence from Serbia, like Ibrahim Rugova. Kosovo, now the newest nation in Europe, was historically a part of Serbia and previously Yugoslavia. The 1998-99 Kosovo War was fought between the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up by Serbia and Montenegro at the time, and the Kosovo rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), with military air support from NATO, after 10 years of non-violent resistance from the civil society of Kosovo.

Although portraits of Ibrahim Rugova, the first president of newly independent Kosovo, as well as of the leaders of the armed resistance are visible here and there, the general impression to the newcomer is that today's actors of Kosovo are building up their own models. Witnessing the elections in Kosovo from Prishtina in November 2013, Darmon Richter comments:

Newspaper stories about riot police and violent assaults in polling stations do nothing to give a sense of modern-day Kosovo, save for the few pockets of the country where race rivalry is still rife. In the city of Pristina, people crave recognition of their independence… but all in all, it's about as normal a city as you'll find anywhere in the Balkans.

In fact, with a reported 60% voting turnout nationwide, democracy almost seems to be working better here than it does in the UK.

In the center of Prishtina, Rugova is still there, but the colors are washed out.

In the center of Prishtina, street art bearing Kosovo's first President Ibrahim Rugova's image is still there, but the colors are washed out.

Somehow, Prishtina could appear as a “mini-Istanbul” in the sense that it is sitting quite balanced between a post-Ottoman and a Western European culture. Kim's travel blog, from an American and Korean perspective, underlines the surprising cosmopolitan atmosphere of the “city of love”:

After visiting Pristina, I truly understood why people had been calling Kosovo a fast developing and energetic country. You could see the new buildings coming up everywhere, and could see foreigners traveling (majorly European) around the city and there were many exciting restaurants available besides just Balkan foods (…). Although I did not see any Asian people at all, one of my friends informed me that he had seen four Japanese people touring around the city. I wish I was there to witness the ASIANS walking around the city, that would have been hilarious. We probably had exchanged strange looks thinking “what the hell are you doing here…?” haha

What comes out of it is, just like in the Turkish city of wonders, a fascinating mixture of traditional silver art craft shops, highly modern new cafés, a multitude of bakeries, some old mosques being rebuilt, and some churches left to rot. In the center you can see some incredible buildings like the Prishtina University library, which appears almost as an unidentified object in the middle of the communist architecture that inhabits the rest of the area. Kim's travel blog also mentions this building:

You could see many historical buildings around the city, and you could tell Kosovars were very proud of them. University of Pristina, the best one in Kosovo, was structured nicely. Also right next to the university, there is Pristina National Library, which was quite impressive and weirdly designed. My friend who currently works at University of Pristina had explained to me what the structure and the design was based on, but … of course this chicken head had forgotten about it. Maybe I will google and Wikipedia it later.

The magazine Kosovo 2.0, available in English, Albanian and Serbian, is the new brand of this educated, multilingual and very open, worldly society. Covering politics, arts, fashion, social debates, women and gender issues, Kosovar topics and global subjects, the magazine is available in print as well as online. Kosovo 2.0 also offers a selection of the latest sounds produced locally, mostly electro genres, which are available online : http://www.kosovotwopointzero.com/player. Enjoy the musical ride!

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

Prishtina is full of surprises for visitors from any origin. But as Kosovo is young, it is growing and changing very quickly. So do not lose any more time and, if you can, hop on the next plane or car and take a moment to discover this promising city and its joyful contradictions. If you are quick enough, there might still be a piece of cake there for you!

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much but not quite.

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much, but not quite.

All photographs in this post are by author Marie Bohner.

North Korea Rips Off Mac OS X

North Korea has released its own operating system, Red Star Linux, which remarkably resembles Apple's Mac OS X. One tech writer calls it ‘basically a Linux distro skinned to look like OS X‘ and if you want to check yourself, visit North Korea Tech blog who explains in detail with many screen shots. 

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.

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