Yes, Old Korean People Have Sex Too…

( Source )

But perhaps as you’d expect, they’re generally not using protection. A quick report from The Daily Focus on Wednesday:

Number of STD Cases Among Old People Rising

While the national total number of STD cases has dropped overall, the numbers of people aged 65 and over contracting STDs has risen sharply, it emerged on the 28th.

The Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service presented its “Current Situation Regarded STD Treatment Recipients” report to Assemblywoman Son Sook-mee of the National Assembly Health Welfare Committee, according to the data of which the number of cases of people aged 65 and older receiving treatment for STDs was 44,000 in 2007 and 64,000 in 2009, a rise of 43% in just 2 years.

In 2007, people 65 years and older accounted for 4.0% of all cases of people treated for STDs, but this has risen to 5.5% as of March this year.

Little information to go on unfortunately, but Seoul residents may be interested in placing that into the context of the prostitution culture around Jongmyo Park in Jongno, which caters to the thousands of male retirees that spend their days there. From story #13 in a “Korean Gender Reader” post from March last year:

Prostitution Answers Sexual Needs of Senior Citizens?

The first time I visited in Jongmyo Park in Seoul in 2000, naturally I remarked on the hundreds of mostly male retirees there to my friend visiting from Japan, who rightly pointed out that they “didn’t particularly have much to do nor anywhere in particular to do it,” so why not play Korean chess all day there? In hindsight though, many would much rather be doing something else, and it’s almost surprising that it took so long for prostitutes to encroach on this captive and – let’s call a spade a spade – somewhat desperate market.

Here, the Korea Times reports on the ensuing problems of unsafe sex, the sale of fake Viagra and “men’s stamina” products, and the general increasing seediness of the area. You can also read discussions about it at ROK Drop and The Marmot’s Hole.

One surprising omission in the Korea Times article though, was the fact that the area between Jongmyo and Tapgol Park is also “packed full with gay bars and hotels catering to gay clients”, as noted by regular commenter Gomushin Girl.  Still it does end with the pertinent point that:

…the social atmosphere of viewing senior citizen’s sexual desire as a nasty matter has worsened the situation. “Sexual desire is a desire not only shared among young people but also old people. But our society is sill stuck in the obsolete Confucian-based perception that labels desire as an undesirable state, playing a major hurdle in setting a sound sexual culture for the aged,” said Prof. Lim Choon-sik at Hannam University’s social welfare department.

( Source )

And accordingly, probably the most notable if not the only “recent” Korean film to depict the sexuality of the aged – Too Young to Die (죽어도 좋아; 2002) – was heavily censored. As noted at KoreanFilm.org:

The filmic career of this independent digital feature about an elderly couple in love has followed an unusual arc. It began at the pinnacle of respectability, being selected to screen in the Critics’ Week section at the 2002 Cannes International Film Festival. After receiving a number of very positive reviews, it went on to be selected for the Toronto International Film Festival’s showcase of Korean cinema, and then received a special grant from the government-supported Korean Film Commission to help finance the film’s transfer to 35mm film for a release in Korea. Then, alas, the film was submitted to the nation’s Media Ratings Board, where it was judged unfit for public viewing and banned from release in ordinary theaters.

Too Young To Die is based on the true story of Park Chi-gyu and Lee Soon-ye, a man and woman in their early seventies who met, fell in love, and then rediscovered sex. The couple, who play themselves in the movie, seem little different from a couple in their twenties. They tease each other, fret about their hair, take snapshots of themselves, argue over trifles, and leap into bed with unabashed frequency. Indeed, watching them forces you to rethink all your stereotypes of what it is to be old.

In particular, as Gomushin Girl mentioned in the context of the excessive censorship of women’s sexuality in general:

…the key scene of fellatio was darkened and shortened significantly before it could be released. I would suggest that it was not just the fact that the couple was elderly that made the sex scenes so controversial, but the gusto and relish that the woman took in the acts.

Which raises the question of if there have been any other depictions of aged sexuality in Korean popular culture in the past 8 years (positive or otherwise), as perhaps that experience put directors off? If you know of any, then please let know, but regardless I’d wager that we’re likely to see more soon; after all, with Korea rapidly becoming the most aged society in the world, then audiences (and rating boards) can only become more sympathetic to the subject over time.

In the meantime, can anyone think of any areas in other Korean cities where retirees and prostitutes regularly meet?

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“Want to Sleep With a Foreign Girlfriend?”

A provocative article title from Yahoo! Korea yesterday, yes?

Alas, actually it’s only about one lawmaker’s concern over the growing number of “lewd” internet advertisements these days, among which presumably that’s a common slogan. But that does underlie some of the street harassment and groping that many foreign women experience here, so it’s interesting in its own right.

As is the irony and hypocrisy of Yahoo! Korea posting such an article in the first place too. For Korean portal sites are virtually like The Sun newspaper in their content, tone, and adherence to journalistic ethics, like I said of them last year:

Unlike their English-language counterparts, you have roughly a 50% chance of opening Naver, Daum, Nate, Yahoo!Korea, and kr.msn.com to be greeted with headlines and thumbnail pictures about sex scandals, accidental exposures (no-chool;노출) of female celebrities, and/or crazed nude Westerners.

And indeed, scroll to the bottom of Yahoo! Korea as I type this, and just today’s “image galleries” below include lingerie photoshoots and “beautiful Russian news anchors”, let alone the links on the rest of the site.

Not that I mind those in themselves of course. But if they’re the standard for Korean portal sites, then you can just imagine what it’s like for the rest of the Korean internet.

Take those of “serious” newspaper websites for instance, the main focus of the orginal article, and which are already notorious for posting pictures of women in bikinis or even middle-school girls in short skirts:

‘외국인 여친과 잠자리?’ “인터넷 음란광고 강제 퇴출해야”

‘Want to Sleep With a Foreign Woman?’ “Lewd Internet Advertisements Should be Forced to be Withdrawn”

[아시아경제 김성곤 기자]인터넷 광고시장이 급성장하고 있지만 법적 장치의 미비로 선정적인 내용의 음란광고로 홍수를 이루는 등 부작용이 심각한 것으로 나타났다.

While the internet advertising market is experiencing rapid growth, its legal oversight is imperfect, and there has been a flood of lewd advertisements with suggestive contents, with serious side effects.

김성동 한나라당 의원은 27일 방송통신심의위원회로부터 제출받은 자료를 분석한 결과, 인터넷 광고시장은 2004년 4800억원 규모에서, 2005년에는 6600억원, 2009년에는 1조2978억원 등으로 매년 크게 늘고 있지만 성적 호기심을 자극하는 광고가 난무하고 있다고 지적했다.

On the 27th, after analyzing data submitted by the Korean Communication Standards Commission, Kim Seong-dong, an assemblyman from the [ruling] Grand National Party, concluded that the Korean internet advertising market was worth [at today's exchange rate] US$419 million in 2004, US$576 million in 2005, and US$1.132 billion in 2009, rapidly expanding every year. However, he pointed out that this is also true of advertisements stimulating sexual curiosity.

이 자료에 따르면 국내 종합 일간지의 인터넷판 광고에는 ▲ 외국인 여친과의 술자리에서 헉 ▲ 그녀가 원하는 건 크기·힘! ▲ 보통여자 명기 만들기 등 선정적 광고가 전체 광고의 11.8% 수준에 이르렀다. 특히 스포츠 연예지는 선정적 광고의 비율이 20.6%에 달해 전체광고 5개 중 1개는 음란 광고였다.

According to the data, if you look at all the internet advertisements of national newspapers, sexual advertisements with lines like “At a bar with a foreign girlfriend…Wow!”, “She wants size and power!”, “Make a normal woman a famous kisaeng (Korean geisha)”, and so on make up 11.8% of the total. In particular, the rate is 20.6% in sports newspapers, or 1 in 5.

문제는 이러한 인터넷 광고는 다른 광고에 비해 소비자 피해가 즉각적으로 발생하고, 피해 범위도 광범위하다는 것. 특히 피해가 발생해도 광고주의 이동과 은닉 등으로 피해구제가 어려운 것이 특징이다. 아울러 판별능력이 부족한 어린이, 청소년에 대한 무분별한 광고의 노출은 부작용이 심대하기 때문에 규제의 필요성이 절실한 형편이다.

The problem is that compared with other advertisements, consumers instantly suffer a wide range of damages from them. In particular, the producers of the ads can move and conceal themselves easily, making relief and help for the damages difficult (James – I think what these “damages” are exactly should have been made more specific). Accordingly, because the side effects of children and teenagers seeing sexual advertisements is serious, as their ability to understand them properly is lacking, then there is an urgent need for their regulation.

김 의원은 “이러한 현실이 인터넷 광고에 대한 내용 규제가 제도적 미비로 인해 제대로 작동하지 않은 것에서 기인하고 있다”며 “정부, 인터넷 사업자, 민간단체 등 모든 주체가 참여하는 공동자율규제 도입을 고려해야 할 때”라고 주장했다.

Assemblyman Kim claims that “This problem is caused by a lack of and/or poorly-functioning regulation of internet advertising at present,” and that “this issue of regulation needs to be considered by all participating and/or concerned parties, including the government, internet businesses, NGOs, and so on.”

한편, 현재 인터넷광고는 2007년 발족한 한국인터넷광고심의기구가 자율규제를 하고 있지만, 법적 구속력도 없고 비회원사의 참여를 강제할 수도 없는 구조적 모순 아래 놓여있는 형편이다.

There has actually been an organization to regulate Korean internet advertising since 2007, the Korean Internet Advertising Deliberation Organization, but its authority is insufficient as its decisions have no legal binding, nor can it force non-members to participate. This undermines its role as an advertising relief(?) organization. (end)

(Another wholesome ad from October last year)

Meanwhile, observant readers will have noticed two other links in the original screenshot: the first, a Korean blogger’s opinion piece saying that if you’re a Korean woman and want a foreign [male] friend, then you’ll have to get over everyone’s suspicions that you’re with them just for the sake of English and/or sex.

Which may well be true, but unfortunately my wife says it reads like it was written by a 16 year-old.

The second however, another blogger’s advice about getting a foreign girlfriend, actually looks rather interesting, but unfortunately is several thousand words long. I’d still consider translating it though, probably as a 9-part series, but only if readers are interested. If so, please let me know!

Korean Sociological Image #50: The Depths of the Red Ginseng Craze

Are commercials for this product really the same the world over? Put that to the test by quickly trying to guess what is being advertised above, before all is revealed at o:10.

For non-Korean speakers, the powder shown is a combination of ganghwa-yagssoog (강화약쑥), or “medicinally strengthening” mugwort, and hongsam-paoodeo (홍삼파우더), or red ginseng powder. And surely there is no greater testament to believing in its health benefits than by being prepared to use it in the most intimate of places?

Lest my bashful euphemism for VAGINAS detract from that point however, do recall that during the 2008 protests against US beef imports for instance, many Koreans genuinely believed baseless rumors that Mad Cow Disease could be caught via the gelatin used in sanitary napkins. So it makes perfect sense for aptly-named manufacturer Body Fit (바디피트) to capitalize on the belief that what’s inside sanitary napkins can have direct effects on the wearer’s health.

Indeed, red ginseng in particular is even rumored to be an aphrodisiac too.

Still, you could also argue that it actually smacks of desperation by ginseng producers. For – with apologies for the inadvertent pun – one of the first things the commercial reminded me of was the fact that:

…once a market is saturated, I learned at university in New Zealand, there is a inherent tendency for a company’s rate of profit to fall. But this can be offset by re-marketing and/or making new varieties of the original product, and accordingly my lecturer posited the plethora of varieties of Coca-Cola available in the U.S. as a reflection of the greater capitalistic development of its economy (read: saturation of its domestic market) compared to New Zealand’s, which then only had two. Indeed, advertising culture in New Zealand in the late-1990s, he suggested, was only akin to that of the US in the 1950s in its scale and intensity, no matter how brash and “American” New Zealanders regarded it.

( Source: unknown )

And the second was either a Metro or Focus newspaper cartoon I remember from 2005, a satire of the “well being” (웰빙) craze that showed that simply adding a sprinkle of green tea powder to a product seemed to give it health benefits in consumers’ minds, and for which they were prepared to pay a premium for. In particular, the last panel had me laughing out loud on a crowded subway car, for its ads for extremely expensive “Well Being Apartments” built with green tea concrete really hit the spot.

And which just goes to show that not all Korean consumers are gullible as the mad cow disease connection above suggests. And – seeing as we’re talking about vaginas after all – then the latest Western craze for “labiaplasties” for instance, sounds far far worse (see a NSFW video here too).

But hey, if a misguided belief in the health benefits of a product exists, then you can guarantee that companies will exploit it and/or encourage it. And so it seems very strange then, that actually neither sexual potency or health benefits are the stated logic of the commercial, which is rather that the combination of mugwort and red ginseng would eliminate odor. And which my wife assures me is a genuine concern for women, and not an invented concern as I first thought.

But still, would they really be the most appropriate substances for doing so? How about green tea powder, which – you guessed it – is also found in feminine hygiene products in Korea?

Let’s just say I have my doubts. Meanwhile, can anyone also think of any red ginseng (or green tea) products specifically aimed at men? Or, aphrodisiac-wise, is red ginseng actually only supposed to work on men anyway?

Update: Here’s a collection of amusing and/or bizarre “care down there” ads from around the world. Enjoy!

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

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Groping in Korea: Just How Bad Is It?

(Source: leftycartoons)

I never did think that women should consider street harassment as flattering of course. But still, this cartoon is eerily effective in getting that message across. It’s no wonder that’s it’s received nearly 300 comments over at Sociological Images.

Most of those dealing with the US though, now I’m curious as to how bad street harassment is in Korea in comparison. And in hindsight I realize that I’ve largely overlooked that in favor of covering workplace discrimination previously, most recently the landmark sexual harassment lawsuit against Samsung.

I did know about bbikkie (삐끼) though, or men that literally drag attractive women into nightclubs to encourage men to spend their money there (see here also); that Korean dating culture actually condones stalking; that this sometimes affects foreign women (see #12 here); and that Caucasian women especially are hypersexualized by the Korean media and/or often get confused for Russian prostitutes; and so on.

But groping? I’d never really thought about it, except in passing. After all, what guy does?

Hence my surprise and naivety at discovering that it’s not a problem confined to subways, and in fact was a pervasive problem among crowds during the World Cup, as the following report I’ve translated makes clear. And, even in broad daylight today too, as Krista of Salt City Girl wrote in her email to me that I’ve posted after that.

(Source: Sinfest)

“골인” 환호 순간에 웬 남자 손이…/ In the Moment of the “Goal in!” Cheer, Some Man’s Hand…

Kim Shi-hyeon, The Chosun Ilbo, June 26 2010

서울의 한 고교 2학년 최모(17)양은 지난 17일 강남구 삼성동 코엑스 앞 영동대로에 월드컵 길거리 응원을 나갔다가 봉변을 당했다. 아르헨티나 에 0 대 2로 뒤지던 전반 막판 이청용의 만회골이 터지자 시민들은 일제히 소리를 지르며 서로를 부둥켜 안았다. 최양도 친구와 손을 붙잡고 팔짝팔짝 뛰었다. 소리를 지르며 정신없이 뛰고 있던 중 갑자기 뒤에서 한 남자가 어깨동무를 하며 다른 손으로 가슴과 엉덩이를 더듬었다. 놀란 최양이 뒤를 돌아보자 20대로 보이는 남자 1명이 순식간에 군중 속으로 사라졌다. 최양은 “남자 얼굴을 제대로 보지 못했고 사람들 속으로 숨어 버려 경찰에 신고도 못했다”면서 “월드컵이라 부모님이 특별히 밤 외출을 허락했는데, 완전히 기분을 망쳤다. 앞으론 절대 길거리 응원은 안 나갈 것”이라고 했다.

Choi Mo-XXX, a 16 year-old (western age) second year high school student in Seoul, had a bad experience on the 17th after she arrived at Yeongdong Road in front of COEX in Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu to cheer [the Korean team] during the World Cup.

Korea was losing 2-nil, but then at the end of the first half Lee Cheong-yong suddenly exploded back into the game with a goal, and everyone in the crowd cheered in unison and hugged each other, with Choi Mo-XXX too holding tight onto her friend’s hand and jumping up and down. But while she was doing this and not thinking about anything else, a man who was behind her placed one hand on her shoulders and with the other groped her breasts and buttocks.

She turned around, and saw a man who appeared to be in his 20s, who disappeared into the crowd in an instant. She said “I didn’t really see his face, and he disappeared into the crowd so quickly, that there’s really no point in telling the police,” and added that “because this was the World Cup, my parents gave me special permission to come out and cheer with everyone, but now my feelings have been completely ruined. From now on, I’m never going to attend any cheering events like this again.” (Source, right)

월드컵 기간 길거리 응원을 나가는 여성들에게 ‘성추행 경보’가 켜졌다. 남아공 월드컵은 시차 때문에 저녁 8시나 11시, 새벽 3시 30분 등 어두울 때 경기가 열려 성추행 범죄가 일어나기 쉬운 상황이다. 특히 위기대처 능력이 부족한 여자 중·고생들은 성추행을 당하고도 무서워서 가만히 있거나 수치심 때문에 주위에 도움을 청하지도 못하고 있다.

A big “Groping Alert” to women has been issued to women going to the streets to cheer during the World Cup period. Because of the time difference with South Africa, games are played at 8pm, 11pm, 3:30 in the morning, and so on, providing easy opportunities for gropers to strike. Especially women least able to deal with such a situation, such as middle or high school students, may be so scared as to quietly accept the groping and/or through a feeling of shame or disgrace be unable to ask for help.

인터넷 게시판에는 길거리 응원전에 나갔다가 성추행을 당했다는 제보가 끊이지 않고 있다. 네이버 한 카페에서 ID ‘바람’은 “사촌동생이 거리응원 나갔다가 성추행당했다고 그러더라. (이겨서) 너무 좋고 정신없어서 당시엔 잘 몰랐는데 가슴을 대놓고 만졌다고 했다”고 썼다. ID ‘단탈리안’도 “친구가 길거리 응원 나갔는데 계속 가슴에 어떤 남자의 손이 부딪혔다고 했다”는 글을 올렸다.

On internet cafes, there is an unceasing stream of information from women who have been groped during World Cup cheering events. On one Naver cafe, a commenter with the ID “Baram” wrote “My younger cousin said she was groped at a cheering event. Without her realizing at first, while she was concentrating on cheering her breasts were roughly grabbed, with no attempt by the groper to conceal what he was doing”. Another with the ID “Dantallian” posted the message that “When my friend went to a cheering event, a man kept feeling her breasts when she was crushed up against him.”

한 인터넷 커뮤니티에는 “거리응원 가서 생각지도 못하게 여자 가슴 만져서 레알(진짜) 기분좋음 ㅋㅋ” 등 성추행을 한 사실을 밝히는 글도 올라 있다.

(Source)

[But] On another internet community site, there have been messages like “At a cheering event I touched accidentally touched a women’s breasts. But it (really) felt good LOL”, clearly stating that the writers have groped women.

인터넷에는 16강 진출이 확정된 24일 아침 서울의 한 거리에서 남성 5~6명이 핫팬츠를 입은 여성을 자동차 보닛 위에 올려놓고 성추행을 하는 사진이 떠돌고 있다. 지난 21일 경기도 파주에서는 한국과 아르헨티나전 경기 응원 현장에서 여중생 김모(16)양을 성추행한 40대가 경찰에 입건되기도 했다.

And on the 24th, when it was confirmed that the Korea team had made it through to the first round, a picture of 5 or 6 men lifting a woman in hot pants onto the bonnet of car and groping her was posted around on the internet. Also, on the 21st, when Korea was playing against Argentina, a 40 year-old man was booked in the town of Paju for groping 15 year-old Kim Mo-XXX at a cheering event.

26일 열리는 우루과이 전 길거리 응원에서도 여성들의 각별한 주의가 필요하다. 경찰은 우루과이전에 서울광장 15만명, 영동대로에 12만명, 한강공원 반포지구에 12만명 등 전국에서 182만여명이 응원에 참가할 것이라고 예상했다. 서울경찰청 고평기 여성청소년계장은 “월드컵 길거리 응원을 나갈 때는 혼자 가지 말고 어른들이나 여러 일행과 함께 가는 게 좋다”며 “성추행을 당하면 큰 소리로 ‘싫다’고 소리치고 주변 응원객들에게 알려 붙잡도록 하는 것도 방법”이라고 조언했다.

Women need to take special care on the 26th, when Korea plays Uruguay. The police expect 150,000 people to participate in the cheering event at Seoul Plaza, 120,000 at Yeongdong Road, 120,000 at the Han River Banpo Baseball Stadium, and roughly 1.82 million people nationwide. Seoul City Police Women & Adolescent Crime Division Chief Go Pyeong-gi said that “it is better if you don’t go to the cheering events with older people or in groups rather than going alone,” and recommended that “if you get groped, the best method to deal with it is to scream “I hate this!” to the surrounding crowd to make sure they know what is going on and can help catch the groper.”

And now Krista’s experience, whom I’ll let speak for herself. And thanks again to her for giving me permission to print this part of her email (Source, right):

It seems to me that sex, sexuality, gender and race are somehow at more extremes in Korea.

I have never been as groped or inappropriately grabbed at in my life until coming to South Korea. Just a few days ago, I was assaulted by a man in the rainy streets of Chungju in the middle of the day in front of other men. He had no problem at all with putting his hand in my shirt and grabbing my breast. I have resorted to wearing high-necked tops at all times because of the experience. When I shared this experience with a Korean man, he seemed to suggest this was surprising and unlikely to happen because I am “foreign” but then went on to suggest I may be to blame for wearing a low-cut top. I cannot believe either of these instances happened. I did not make that man grab my breast and my low-cut shirt more than covered my breasts. And I certainly expected a more sympathetic ear. But the fact that anyone anywhere thinks it’s okay to grope anyone else is absurd. (I wish I could also explain how demeaning the blatant staring, pointing and discussing of any waygukin woman in the area is.) This hypersexualization of Caucasian women allows an attitude which makes it easier to discriminate against Caucasian women and the people who are willing to help them, work with them, talk to them or have anything to do with them. Obviously the objectification of women everywhere has lead to and continues to allow for misogyny, albeit often in a more subtle form in the US.

It would be a lie to say I haven’t been groped or otherwise harassed in America, but again, it does not compare to South Korea. The behavior is more extreme, bizarre and accepted.  Quite frankly I do not even begin to understand how Korean women tolerate it and I believe it goes a long way towards explaining why it is so rare to find a Caucasian woman who has been in Korea for more than five years. It is something that gives me pause when considering whether or not Korea is a place worth living.

I hope that gives you some insight into how at least one Caucasian woman sees hypersexualization in Korea.

Not to downplay Krista’s experiences in any way, but I had no idea that things were so bad here that many foreign women were persuaded to leave. Do readers agree that it is a big problem here, or has Krista merely been extremely unlucky?

Update: Read about a slightly bizarre 2-hour long case of groping on a train here and here.