Interview for Radiowa Trójka


For any Polish speakers amongst you, I was interviewed about K-pop, sexual objectification, and — of course — Gangnam Style by Radiowa Trójka the weekend before last. Check me out in translation in section 3 here, and let me say again how nice it was to meet reporters Katarzyna Borowiecka and Marcin Pospiech, who look like they’ve produced quite a comprehensive show! :)

Korean Gender Reader

(While you were sleeping 10 by Shin Sun Mi, 2011. Source)

As I missed last week’s KGR, I decided to add last week’s links here too. Ending up with roughly one hundred and thirty of them though, rest assured I won’t ever be doing that again!


Factory Girl Literature: Sexuality, Violence and Representation in Industrializing Korea Presentation by Ruth Barraclough, 4-5:30pm, Monday October 22 2012, University of Minnesota

BOOb Crawl : 붑 투어, Saturday October 13, Itaewon 9pm (Bras for a cause)

The Sae Gil Womens Shelter Charity Drive (Busan Haps)

Body Image, Health

Defending My Daughters from the Media/Fashion-Industry Complex (Thick Dumpling Skin)

SECRET’s Hyosung asks portal sites to edit her weight (Omona They Didn’t!)

Shin So Yul of ‘Reply 1997′ reveals her weight loss story on ‘Strong Heart’ (Allkpop)

More Men Opt for Plastic Surgery (Korea Realtime; Jezebel)

— Vignettes on Weight-Loss: 1, 2, 3 (My Journal)

Gap in Receiving Health Care Services (Human Rights Monitor)

Diabetes Creates More Stress for Married Korean Women (Newswise)

Breast cancer quadruples in 15 years (The Korea Herald)

Is Korea the most beauty obsessed country? (Whatawaygook)

Dr. Wang Shuping: How I Discovered the HIV Epidemic and What happened to me Afterwards (Seeing Red in China)

Cosmetic surgery bookings surge over the holiday week (Want China Times)

Censorship, Media

Can the Government Stop the Objectification of Minors in K-pop? (Seoulbeats)

“Previewing” MVs (Angry K-pop Fan)

Banned: Is the KMRB’s Intervention a Good Idea? (MTVK)

JYJ’s Xia Junsu Denied Coverage From SBS? (MTVK)

The National Para Games apologizes to JYJ’s Junsu and his fans (Omona They Didn’t!)

K-Data Blackout: A Necessary Measure? (Seoulbeats)

YG Disappointed in KBS Review Standards for G-Dragon (Soompi)

Psy’s “Right Now” and 2PM’s “Hands Up” cleared of previous ban (Allkpop)

MOGEF Gives Second Chances to Banned Tracks (MTVK)

Appeal by 8 Members of Tajinyo Rejected and Declared Guilty Ending Tablo′s Controversy (Enewsworld)

Media reliance on Naver growing concern (The Korea Herald)

Don’t believe the 하이프 (The Marmot’s Hole)

Asia Institute Seminar with Robert McChesney “Korean Media in Comparative Perspective” (Korea: Circles and Squares)

Why is Lee Min Jung considered a victim in her relationship with Lee Byung Hun? Netizens! (Asian Junkie)

Asia Institute Seminar with Noam Chomsky: “The Problem of the Media in Korea” (Korea: Circles and Squares)

Korea: Wired (AlJazeera English Video)


New crime stats for teachers, both Korean and foreign (Gusts of Popular Feeling)

On-street questioning revives after a series of sex crimes (Human Rights Monitor)

Korean police crack down on men who hit their foreign wives (Asian Correspondent)

Convicted rapist claims he was treated unfairly because of his nationality (The Marmot’s Hole)

For Whom Does the Death Penalty Exist? (Human Rights Monitor)

Hawaii job offer becomes a nightmare for women (Korea Joongang Daily)

Dating, Relationships, Marriage

Korean girl seeks fake apartment to fool protective parents (Asia News Network)

BIFF Movie Review: In Another Country (Busan Haps)

Familiar ad trope: Pairing white men and Asian American women (Tales of Wonderlost)

Uzbek Wife Married to South Korean Man a Hit on Korean TV (KoreaBANG)

Seeking: Attractive Asian male. Why you’ll never find the above on Craiglist (The Daily Pennsylvanian)

Give Us A Chance! Why You Should Date an Asian Man (The Steel Closet)

I am an Asian Woman and I Think Asian Boyfriends Are Superior (Well, Mine Is Anyway) (xoJane)

Korean lonely-hearts feel cheated by pricey matchmakers (The Korea Herald)

[Movie] “Time” (시간) by Kim Ki-duk, 2006 (Out of Korea)

Interracial Dating in China is Not Just for White Men (Speaking of China)

Education, Parenting, Demographics

Academy seeks local role models to help young Koreans (The New Zealand Herald)

School where South Korea’s dropouts flourish (BBC)

What makes Korean unwed mothers give up their children? (Ilda)

What to do with Anti-Japan Sentiments in ESL Classes? (Ask a Korean!)

The plight of abandoned Korean babies (The Marmot’s Hole)

Foreign schools show Korea’s social divide (The Korea Herald)

1 in 3 students at Seoul National University is a binge drinker (The Marmot’s Hole)

Mekong Delta girls “eager” in learning to become wives of Korean men (Vietnam Net)

A Society Where Multicultural Students Can Live Without Difficulties (Human Rights Monitor)

Vietnamese Migrant Wives Now Outnumber Chinese (The Chosun Ilbo)

University Entrance Exams Near, Netizens Share Education Jokes (KoreaBANG)

Lack of Teachers for Students with Disabilities (Human Rights Monitor)

No comment necessary. An entire class of high school students receive IV drips while cramming for exams (Ministry of Tofu)

The Unintended Consequences Of China’s One-child Policy (io9)

Economics, Politics, Workplaces

New generation quits boring jobs quickly: Report (Korea Joongang Daily)

SKorea: Elite schools still dominate national prosecutors’ office (Asian Correspondent)

Leaving the Chaebol (Korea Realtime)

Women in finance cut off from executive posts (Korea Joongang Daily)

Young Koreans: Give Us Freedom, Not Mortgages (Korea Realtime)

Busan vs. Seoul (Meet me at the Wall)

South Korean Voters Call for Longer Poll Hours (Global Voices)

Women in China Face Rising University Entry Barriers (The New York Times)

The Importance of ‘Face’ for Chinese Jobseekers (China Real Time Report)

Japan’s Lost Art of Innovation (The Diplomat)

Gangnam Style

AAK’s definitive guide for PSY and Gangnam Style (Ask a Korean!)

Asian Stars and The USA: A History (Hootvintage)

Psy tries to trademark “Gangnam style.” Oh, and he gets wasted on stage too. (Korean Law Today)

Ten things you need to know about PSY’s Gangnam Style and Korean hip-hop (The Telegraph)

Why China Lacks Gangnam Style (The New Yorker)

Pop Music Brings a Lot More Readers than Social Science: Follow-up on ‘Kangnam Style’ (Asian Security Blog)

Gangnam Style Tops Global Charts, Korean Twitter Reactions (KoreaBANG)

Is ‘Gangnam Style’ the Peak of K-pop’s International Success? (Asianaut)

South Korea puzzles over oddball success of ‘Gangnam Style’ (Los Angeles Times)

Gangnam points to our future (Brisbane Times)

Where to Find Your Gangnam Style (Korea Realtime)

His Style Is Gangnam, and Viral Too (The New York Times)

Why BBC Radio 4 Is Wrong about “Gangnam Style” (The Unlikely Expat)

Where to Find Your Gangnam Style (Korea Realtime)


Power & Gender in the Early Korean State (Korean Gender Cafe)

The good daughter. The fascinating life of Park Geun-hye. (Korea Law Today)

On Gisaeng and Ginyeo (Lost in Traffic Lights)

Reading List: Male Concubinage: Notes on Late Choson Homosexuality by an American Naval Attache (The Kimchi Queen)

What’s the story behind those hats Korean men used to wear? (Lost in Traffic Lights)

LGBT, Sexuality

The Number of Room Salons and Hostess Bars at All-Time Highs In Korea (The Korea Times)

BIFF 2012: Park Chul-soo’s B·E·D (Modern Korean Cinema)

Gayspeak: Talking About 세이프 섹스 in Korean (The Kimchi Queen)

Reading List: Memento Mori and Other Ghostly Sexualities (The Kimchi Queen)

Chongqing University providing free condoms, admits students all be sexing each other (Shanghaiist)

Watch: Taiwan Pride 2012’s campaign video for same-sex marriage (Shanghaiist)


Report Reveals South Korean Soldiers Fed Poor Quality Food (KoreaBANG)

What Counts as Racially Offensive in Our Postracial World? (Korean Bodega)

Pop Culture

Factory Girls: Cultural technology and the making of K-pop (The New Yorker)

The New Yorker Rides the Hallyu Wave (SNSD-FFA)

The New Yorker examines K-pop (Korea Law Today)

K-Town Cast and K-pop Fans (Seoulbeats)

From Ikea to Korea: Writing for K-pop (Mark Russel’s Website)

Jun-jin, Joo-hyun, and The Idol Dating Game (Seoulbeats)

“An argument could be made that, historically, the vibrancy of any given pop scene can be measured by the amount of appropriation going on.” (Occupied Territories)

Tiger JK’s Sorry, But Where’s the Real Apology? (Seoulbeats)

‘Middle Powers’ Like South Korea Can’t Do Without Soft Power And Network Power (Global Asia)

K-pop’s Rooted Use of Labels: [insert title here] Idols (Seoulbeats)

“Sometimes I really don’t think K-pop labels know what they have on their hands…” (Occupied Territories)

Social Problems

What Keeps South Koreans Up at Night? (Korea Realtime)

Why does Korea interpret netizen comments as public sentiment? (Omona They Didn’t!)

Our Homeland shows family torn by N Korea-Japan relocation program (Visual Anthropology of Japan)

The lives of female runaways in Seoul, Part 2 of 6 (The Hankyoreh)

Why Koreans Are Angry: The Social Cost of Spectacular Growth (KoreaBANG)

The Good sans the Bad and the Ugly: September (Seoulbeats)

Social Workers’ Human Rights (Human Rights Monitor)

Asia Institute Seminar with Dr. Eckhard Schroeter: “Korean Social Welfare in Comparative Perspective” (Korea: Circles and Squares)

Dogani and South Korean culture’s major problems with abuse (The Unlikely Expat)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

Korean Sociological Image #73: The True Numbers of Korean Working Women

(Source; edited)

If recent BBC coverage is anything to go by, marriage in South Korea is like a business. It’s also becoming a bit of an explosive topic as social mobility slows down and the traditional image of the male breadwinner becomes eroded by the increasing participation of females in the labour market. Some of the most widely publicised scandals and controversies on the Korean internet seem to have been, in some way or another, due to this intensifying gender friction.

(KoreaBANG; my emphasis)

My apologies for singling out Justin at KoreaBANG, whose post is still excellent overall. And as you’ll soon see, I often make mistakes too.

But that comment I’ve highlighted? Frankly, it just infuriated me. Because even though it’s completely wrong, I seem to hear it all the time these days.

In reality, the Korean female workforce participation rate has stagnated at one of the lowest rates in the OECD ever since 1997-98, when women were overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs during the Asian Financial Crisis. Back then, the logic was that wives would be provided for by their husbands, and 20-something daughters by their fathers. And 10 years later, in the latest crisis, to a large extent this logic was reapplied, although on this occasion there was a clearer economic – not just patriarchal – logic in that women formed the bulk of irregular workers (see here, here, and here for much more information).

Or so I’ve often written. But naturally, it was difficult to find definitive statistics on that when I first reported on it three years ago. At that time, my most up to date source was my copy of Working Korea 2007, published by the Korea Labor & Society Institute. Here is my scan of page 19, which has a graph of the male and female workforce participation rate of 1970-2006:

In hindsight, although it does show a big drop in the female rate in 1997-98, it shows an equally large (even slightly larger?) drop in the male rate too. With my apologies, I’m very surprised I didn’t notice that earlier, and, although it does contradict most of the literature I’ve read about the Asian Financial Crisis, and is just from one source too, it still definitely bears further investigation.

That aside, a year later I found a source going up to 2008 (it shows a fall of 50.3% to 50.0% in 2006-2008; see below also). And today, spurred by Justin’s comment, I tried looking again, and found the following at the National Statistics Office’s website:


The blue bars represent the economically active female population, in thousands (i.e., the first figure is 10.75 million), the pink line the female workforce participation rate. Although the choice of right scale gives the false visual impression that the rate has changed a great deal, as you can see from the numbers it has remained within a narrow band of 49% to 50.5%, last year’s rate being just lower than that of 2002. Also, clearly a 0.9% drop between 2008 and 2009 isn’t quite as big as I’ve been making out, and again is something that bears further exploration.

But still, one thing is clear: the number — well, percentage — of Korean women working has little changed in the last 15 years, and remains very very low by the standards of other developed countries. So it can not be the cause of increasing gender friction.

The perception that Korean women are making significant inroads into the Korean economy though? That’s entirely possible, and indeed I highly recommend KoreaBANG for much more on that (indeed, especially the remainder of Justin’s post), as well as many posts by Gord Sellar too (source, right).

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean(?!!) Movie Review #6: Air Doll (2009)


Starring: Bae Doo-na (Nozomi),  Itsuji Itao (Hideo), and Arata Iura (Junichi). Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (original manga by Yoshiie Gōda). In Japanese with English subtitles. 126 minutes.

Less than four minutes into Air Doll, middle-aged owner Hideo has sex with the inflatable doll he’s named Nozomi, with all the crunching of flesh against plastic and washing of detachable vaginas that that implies. It’s as if director Hirokazu Koreeda was deliberately encouraging the squeamish to walk out of the theater.

It’s also ironic, as the very next scene reveals it to be a very erotic, albeit knowingly voyeuristic movie too, the camera luxuriating on Nozomi’s nude form as she magically comes to life (see the telling juxtaposition in the NSFW screenshot below; the subtitle actually refers to some dew she’s touching). She’ll proceed to spend a disproportionate amount of the next two hours topless, even for a movie about a sex-doll.

Yes, still an inflatable sex-doll, not a woman. For as she proceeds to leave Hideo’s apartment in a maid costume, and encounter a succession of sad, desperately lonely characters, her literal hollowness proves to be a poignant metaphor for all their lost, empty souls.

But she deliberately appears palpably, sensually human too, and you just can’t have it both ways. Especially in a movie that already so heavily relies on viewers’ suspensions of disbelief.

So, even if is nitpicking to wonder how she goes from learning speech and what clothes are in the morning, to getting a job at a DVD store in the evening, a scene in which a beautician covers her suddenly visible* seams with make-up is nothing but confusing and distracting. As is another when she pumps herself full of air one morning (naked, of course), yet somehow had a meal at a restaurant with co-worker Junichi the night before. And so on. Suffice to say, her new form is ambiguous, but much more human than not.

When she accidentally punctures her hand and rapidly deflates fifty minutes in then, it’s jarring, and it’s asking far too much of the viewer to pretend that she’s been nothing but a walking, talking balloon all that time.

*With the benefit of 4 viewings, the seams are visible earlier, but only in some scenes. Appearance-wise, the movie is rife with continuity errors.

Granted, Air Doll is fundamentally an allegory. But, rather than aiding it, here the confusing content simply gets in the way of the message. Koreeda, who borrowed only the initial concept from the original manga, really should have considered alternative methods of conveying it.

One possibility would be having Nozomi become fully human at the beginning of the movie and during the day, but often uncontrollably and reluctantly reverting a little, then changing back completely at night. Indeed, this is actually very similar to what happens in the first half of the movie, and then making her transformation progressively more unstable would suit the second half — and narrative as a whole — very well too.

Crucially, the nagging questions also distract the viewer from fully appreciating one of the movie’s great strengths, which is how Nozomi never really stops the innocent, childlike exploration of her new world, nor finding beauty in it. And her exquisite mimicry of its inhabitants is simply priceless.

Yet despite those, she also shows, as Tirdad Derakhshani of The Inquirer puts it, a sublime progression “from a childlike naif who plays with toddlers in a sandbox to a sophisticated woman who devours books, draws portraits, and philosophizes about life,” (my emphasis) and I’m not alone in thinking that Bae Doo-na is one of the few actresses that has the skill and versatility to pull the combination off (Tom Miles of Midnight Eye suggests Rinko Kikuchi or Hanae Kan, while Yuna at The Marmot’s Hole calls Aoi Yuu “a Bae Doo-na equivalent in Japan”).


The practicalities of that process are that, despite everything, she soon establishes a routine of leaving for work at a DVD store once Hideo leaves, learning about the world through the strangers she meets on her breaks and/or days off, and especially by constantly asking questions of her unfazed, endlessly patient coworker Junichi, who soon starts taking her out to see the things she asks about. Finally, she has to rush home to lie passively for her “master” before he returns home, finding him increasingly repulsive, but using the time to ponder her discovery that she is/was a cheap “substitute for handling sexual desire;” to learn about love, mortality, and desire; and to determine why she found herself “with a heart [she] was not supposed to have.”


(Minor Spoilers Begin)

But then, with the combination of a rare form of cunnilingus and strategically-placed tape, Junichi saves her from her puncture. An obvious turning point in their relationship, albeit more because Nozomi thinks she’s found a kindred spirit rather than because of their new intimacy per se (indeed, Junichi is so enigmatic that she initially thinks he is a sex doll too), unfortunately the movie, already convoluted, becomes very difficult to follow. And, crucially, not because of the depth of the message, but rather because Koreeda seems to be deliberately encouraging mistaken readings of the plot. In particular:

  • The morning after the puncture scene, the next 20 minutes show Nozomi symbolically throwing away Hideo’s pump for her, then leaving rejoicing in her freedom and liberation around the city. It very much seems as if she’s left Hideo forever…so again it’s jarring when you see her miserably by his side that evening, as per usual.
  • That last scene above is very brief, and it’s easy for it not to really register (although in fairness, it is technically there). So when you see Nozomi sneaking a look at Hideo bringing a new doll home, it appears that perhaps he’s doing so because she’s actually left him. Not, as, we’re supposed to think, that he’s put the (still fully inflated) Nozomi away in a cupboard.

And there’s many more confounding examples. Perhaps, certainly, the misreadings are just due to my own dull-wittedness, but I don’t think I’d be alone in needing two — actually three! — viewings of this movie just to figure out what the hell is going on. In contrast, Inception (2010), say, has many deep messages, but somehow I still understood the plot in that on the very first try (source, right).

In combination with obvious questions about her human or doll form then, and the problems of continuity with Nozomi’s image, this is a third red flag that points to laziness and/or arrogance on Kareeda’s part. Or alternatively, with a hat tip to Gomushin Girl’s comment in my review of Kim Ki-duk’s Samaria (2004), perhaps he simply got too caught up in his own message to think about how it might look to a less-informed audience member.

But he redeems himself with a powerful message just before the end of the movie, and one that I’m amazed that other reviewers (at least the 25+ I’ve read) didn’t pick up on

.(Major Spoilers Begin).

While, again, it’s delightful to watch Nozomi learning to be human, in the process noticing the hidden joys and beautifies of life that most of us have chosen to ignore, that’s increasingly tempered by her realization that her own purpose is nothing but to sate the sexual desires of the men around her, who do nothing to disabuse her of that notion. It’s vividly shown in the dead expression on her face when the DVD store-owner blackmails her into sex, threatening to tell Junichi about Hideo, and also partially explains why later, having finally left Hideo, she tells Junichi she’ll do absolutely anything for him.


When he replies that he’d like to deflate and then breathe life into her again, she’s visibly shocked and — I’d say — disappointed that he’s ultimately no different from all the other men she’s met. But of course agrees, and appears to enjoy the ensuing “sex.”

Yet then, when he’s sleeping, she cuts an equivalent nozzle into his own navel, ultimately killing him from, presumably, loss of blood. But not before blowing into it herself, climbing on top of him, and unequivocally orgasming to the ensuing “conventional” sex (which, despite his tremendous pain, he’ll also do his best to actively participate in).

While it may sound minor in isolation, and I don’t want to be so glib as to take loudness, frequency, and duration of moans as a barometer for women’s sexual pleasure, it is the only moment in the entire movie she imposes her own will and/or sexuality on others, rather than being a mere, literal, receptacle for theirs. As such, It stands as a rare and very welcome final moment of defiance in the somewhat inevitable and predictable path to her coming suicide. (Update: on that last, see io9 for a curious case of life imitating art.)

(All Spoilers End)


To the extent that it exists at all then, it is precisely here that a feminist reading of the movie could be further explored. In contrast, John Esther’s point at Jesther Entertainment that “Air Doll stands for, among other things, as a metaphor for women who are to look pretty, say nothing, stay home and wait for the patriarch to return home and breathe his breath into her lifeless a(i)rea” is true, but a bit of a dead end. As is Nick Davis’s comment at Nick’s Flicks Picks, which I thought was a misguided — and very forced — interpretation:

If you know anything about the Pacific fronts in World War II and a history of chauvinist disavowals by Japanese governments, the casting of a Korean actress as a Japanese man’s inert, unresisting erotic receptacle can’t help trigger distasteful connotations.

That aside, and in conclusion, while it’s a little harsh for Kelly Vance of East Bay Express to describe the movie as a “dreary, middlebrow allegory,” it is true that the movie is at least thirty minutes too long, many of those spent in vignettes showcasing the emptiness of the characters’ lives, while Nozomi drones on about — wait for it — how empty life is, all to the accompaniment of languid, sickly-sweet music in the background. Also, in a review at Antagony and Ecstasy that I highly recommend, Tim Brayton rightfully points out that the movie only provides observations and not actual insights, whereas plenty of Pinnochio-like movies have given both before, and with much more skill too.


So, with the important qualification that you may need a lot of help with the plot before watching, Air Doll can a pleasant enough movie, albeit one lacking much of a vision, and inexpertly conveyed at that. Instead, think of it more as an invitation to form your own.

And, in the process, do take time to notice the superb cinematography too. For as Tom Miles at Midnight Eye Review explains, it’s set:

in one of Tokyo’s remaining shitamachi, an old neighbourhood of little independent houses, while ominous high-rises wait on the other side of the river for the aging abodes to crumble, impatient to take over the turf.

On that note, see above for my favorite location in the movie, which even someone as literal-minded as myself could appreciate!

Permanent Revolution by World Order: Japanese Robot Salarymen for Peace!


With island disputes between China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan so dominating the news recently, it’s nice to see something that puts a positive, optimistic spin on those relationships. Let alone one that does so by having Japanese salarymen strutting like robots around the streets of Tokyo and Seoul:

The group is World Order, a Japanese band formed by Genki Sudo, who also directed and produced the video (with choreography by Ryo Noguchi). Just the latest in a series of similar videos performed all around the world, Tofugu, a Japanese pop-culture site, describes them as “the most innovative dance and music troupe in Japan,” and adds that their appeal is not just their dancing, but also:

…the people watching them dance. They just go out in public areas for the most part, do their thing, and then leave. People walk by, look at them all confused, take video/pictures, ignore them completely, and all kinds of other hilarious things if you pay close enough attention. Try to watch and you’ll see some entertaining reactions.

See Tofugo for many examples. Meanwhile, the very cool cartoonist Jen Lee (of Dear Korea fame), whom I’m very grateful to for finding the video, has managed to find a rare translation of the lyrics too:


A blue shine on my fingertips

As I touch the side of your pensive face

When I look up to the gray sky

A blue sky spreads out over the east sky

Keep changing

Permanent Revolution

Without stopping

Keep walking

Permanent Revolution

To a single world

Gather the accumulated lies

Keep erasing them among the pluses, without making a sound

Keep believing

Permanent Revolution

Without wavering

Keep loving

Permanent Revolution

Open your heart

Keep changing

Permanent Revolution

Without stopping

Keep walking

To a single world