Music Break: Two K-pop Gems You’ve Been Missing

I’d like to like Misogyny Drop Dead by Planningtorock, but agree with a commenter that its more “experimental” and “obscure” than something you can actually dance to.

As for that “problem” though, the author definitely has a point. Just type “trance” into a Youtube search and see for yourself:

Trance Music ObjectificationThoughts? Any more quality K-pop (or covers or remixes) out there that should be much better known? Would you say the objectifying imagery is simply because — I assume — most of the DJs are male? Or some other reason?

*Update: Link is just about the regional Wellington competition sorry. Any sources on the national competition would be appreciated.

Korean Gender Reader


1) Abortion rate falls by half in last 5 years

According to a survey by the Ministry of Health and Welfare late last year. While that figure may well be true, it’s simply astounding that the Chosun Ilbo’s brief report doesn’t mention the huge role the criminalization of abortion undoubtedly played in that, instead quoting unnamed experts that attribute the drop simply to “a change in the social perception of abortion, the wide range of contraception available, and a rise in planned pregnancies”.

2) Less than 1 in 4 elementary school teachers are male

Anybody know how this figure compares internationally?

3) South Koreans account for 1 in 4 sex-trafficking victims in the US

To the best of my knowledge, sex-trafficking victims in a developed country usually come from much poorer ones. Why then, in the case of the US, are there more from South Korea than anywhere else? See this excellent report in the Washington Times by Youngbee Dale for an explanation, who argues that it needs to be understood in the context of Korea’s loosely-regulated credit-card mania and the limited financial opportunities available for women here.

(Sources: left, right)

4) Reebok forced to refund over $25,000,000 to gullible Easytone buyers

Strictly speaking, not (yet) Korean news. But as you can see from the assvertisements above, they’re also sold here, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Korean reaction to this order by the US Federal Trade Commission will be.

Hopefully a wake-up call, as it has been empirically proven that Korea has far more ads promoting passive methods of losing weight than active ones, such as this one that encourages women to literally sit on their asses all day…

5) Women 3 times more likely to be sexually-assaulted in Korea than in the US (Continued)

Some recent reports demonstrating the attitudes that underpin that surprising discovery, as discussed in last week’s Korean Gender Reader:

– First, the Korea Herald reported that the number of reported rapes has surged 33% in the last 3 years. This is bad enough in itself (although it may be positive, reflecting a greater willingness to report them), but unfortunately ended its first paragraph with the line “though the country moves toward harsher punishment for the crime, a report showed Monday”, which rings somewhat hollow upon hearing about the following from Asian Correspondent:

On Wednesday the ninth criminal division of the Seoul High Court (Judge Choi Sang-yeol presiding) sentenced 20-year-old Mr. B and three other young men, all convicted of sexually assaulting 12-year-old middle school student A over a period of hours, to three years in prison and four years of probation. This is a lesser punishment than that imposed by the trial court, which sentenced them to six years in prison and ten years of offender registry.

The judge wrote in the opinion that “viewing the situation as a whole there is no evidence that the victim lacked the ability to resist… The trial court misunderstood the facts”. The opinion continued that “as Mr. B and the others acknowledged their crime, regret their error,  have reached an agreement with the victim, and do not want to be punished, and as the defendants are young and this was their first crime, having no prior offenses rising to the level of a fine or higher, so we find this to be an appropriate sentence”.

– Next, also at Asian Correspondent, is the news that students that sexually abuse disabled students receive minimal punishment, in contrast to abusers of non-disabled victims. Partially, this is because disabled students are often unable to provide accounts of what happened, but it is also because many parents of disabled students, thankful that their children are in a mainstream school at all, do not want to rock the boat.

(For related news, also see #10)

– Finally, for those who weren’t already aware, spousal rape still isn’t a crime in Korea, with the Seoul High Court only ruling that it can be prosecuted at all just this week (a similar case in Busan 2 years ago was dismissed when the defendant committed suicide; see my post on that here). While this development is very good news then, which you can read more about at the Korea Joongang Daily here, if editorials like this one at the Korea Times are any indication (“rape” in inverted commas??) then unfortunately public and media attitudes have a long way to go before following suit.


6) New Zealand “goose mothers” network to avoid loneliness, depression

Not counting those who leave the family nest through marriage, as many as 1 in 8 Korean families have at least one immediate family member living away from home. The vast majority are men, either forced to live in a different city because of work, or remaining in the same city while their wives move their families to Seoul to try and take advantage of the educational opportunities there. While many are effectively forced to do so, others do so voluntarily, and in either case there are naturally large knock-on effects on their perceptions of “normal” family life and marriage, as I discuss in depth here and here. Either way, most hate it, particularly those wives and families who live overseas, while their husbands and fathers – known as  “lonely geese” (외기러기) continue to support them by working in Korea.

I confess, I haven’t given them much thought since writing those earlier posts 3 years ago, but I was still (naively) surprised to learn that technology isn’t really making the separation any easier for such families, as this report from Stuff makes clear.

(Also see those earlier posts for information about “weekend couples” {주말부부}, to whom many of the same conclusions apply)

(Source: Busan Focus, 08.09.2011, p.22)

7) Korea is world’s largest male skincare market

This will probably come as no surprise to most readers! But bear in mind that Korea isn’t exactly the most populous country in the world, which makes its 18% of global sales all the more impressive.

8) Korea to put more women on front-line

See the AFP for the details. In sum, the Defense Ministry said 6,957 women currently serve in the army, navy, air force and Marine corps, but the total was expected to reach 11,500 by 2020.

This compares to figure of 6000 women out of a total of 655,000 soldiers in the armed forces given by the Ministry last October, when it announced that it was going to produces uniforms specifically for women for the first time.

9) “Women to lead S. Korea’s foreign policy in 10 years’ time”

Which is great news. But as Subject Object Verb explains, unfortunately they’ll actually be “leading” by being diplomats’ wives and playing golf…

10) The Crucible (도가니/Dogani) surpasses 1 million viewers at box office

As described at Korea Real Time, the movie:

…is adopted from the bestselling book of the same name by Gong Ji-young, one of the most prominent and respected female writers in Korea. The book is about serial rapes of students by the headmaster and other adults in a school for the hearing-impaired in Gwangju, a city about 180 miles southwest of Seoul. The crimes went on for five years.

With a bungled and inadequate prosecution thereafter however, the subsequent public outrage is forcing a new investigation by the National Police Agency, and calls for better monitoring of private schools.

Anybody seen it yet? Has plans to?


Korean Gender Reader


1) Sunny (써니) Now Playing in Theaters

And all about girl power, according to Dramabeans. Judging by the trailer, my first impression is of a comic version of the excellent Take Care of my Cat (2001; 고양이를 부탁해).

Meanwhile, does anybody know of any similar coming-of-age movies for guys? Other than the violent and overrated Friend (2001; 친구) or pornographic Plum Blossom (2000; 청춘) that is?

2) May 11th was 6th Annual Adoption Day in Korea

See Ask a Korean! for the details. Also, Korea Real Time has more on the controversy created by soon to be aired commercials encouraging more domestic adoption.

Update: Yesterday was also the first Korean Single Moms’ Day, Busan Haps had a good photo-essay on adoption last month, and the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network has translated a December article on how unwed mothers are not necessarily poor, but society ultimately forces them to become so.

3) Only Foreign Staff Made to Attend Sexual Harassment Seminar at Korean University

After all, it was actually a Korean professor that was fired for having a sexual relationship with one of his students, so I’m sure you can see the logic. What’s more, the seminar was given by a completely unqualified speaker too, according to blogger Supplanter clearly both uncomfortable with and clueless about the subject he was presenting.

Ironically, the very next week after enduring that, Supplanter himself would be accused of sexual harassment at his local swimming pool.

4) A Normal Night Out in Seoul?

See Banana Milk to learn more about it. Call me sentimental and/or trying to (mentally) relive my twenties, but I subscribe to a lot of Seoul social, fashion, nightclubbing, and/or dance-music sites like it (in particular, M.S Photography always has *ahem* very interesting pictures), and am thoroughly jealous of people unencumbered by kids that get to actually enjoy it!

Speaking of which, tomorrow Paul Van Dyk will be performing in Seoul, only…sigh…10 years too late. See 10Magazine for the details.


5) Ending Bias Against White Male and Asian Female Couples

Like Shanghai Shiok! says:

Women with a preference for black men get a thumbs up. Women with a preference for Asian men get a thumbs up. Women with a preference for Middle Eastern men get a thumbs up. Women with a preference for white men get a thumbs down. Generally true?

Unfortunately, yes, and it took a lot of persuasion from her readers to get her to open the comments on that post!

6) “Prostitution Thrives on Twisted Entertainment Culture”

While I don’t mean to sound facetious, particularly not in light of seven bar hostesses committing suicide since last July, this is an unusually good article on the subject for the otherwise appalling Korea Times, and I look forward to reading more articles from author  Kim Tae-jong (see Extra! Korea also).

7) Korea: Sex Criminals Easily Become Taxi Drivers

Again I don’t mean to sound facetious, but, like Asian Correspondent explains, the fact that taxi-driving is one of the few occupations open to ex-convicts in Korea does explain a lot about their wild reputation.


8) Desert: A Movie About Kiwi-Asian Marriages

If you’re living in Auckland, New Zealand, make sure to see Desert while you still can. First shown at PIFF last year, it:

…reveals the untold story behind many Kiwi-Asian marriages….Based on real life events, Desert follows the story of Jenny, a young pregnant Asian girl living in Auckland who is left to fend for herself; when she is abandoned by her Kiwi boyfriend just before they are about to get married. Jenny is rejected by her Asian community for getting pregnant to a westerner out of wed-lock and after unsuccessfully searching for her run away boyfriend; she is forced to look inside herself to find a positive solution for her and her unborn baby.

Jenny’s story is a reality for the growing number of Asian women in New Zealand. The Asia NZ Foundation recently recorded that there are 26 per cent more Asian women than Asian men, aged 25 to 49, living in New Zealand and nearly a quarter came to New Zealand to get married. [Director Stephen Kang’s] inspiration for the film came from observing the struggles facing many Asian women living in New Zealand and Desert is the first film of its kind to give a platform and voice to these common challenges and personal stories.

While I take exception to the title of the article that that’s from, the movie itself sounds really interesting, and you can see its Facebook page for more details, interviews, and a trailer. There’s also its webpage of course, but unfortunately the designers made a big mistake not providing a mute button(!),  and the trailer should really have been uploaded onto YouTube too.

9) The Changing Face of Cosmetic Surgery

As always, South Koreans have the highest rate of cosmetic surgeries per person in the world, but an increasing number of people receiving them are from China and Japan: 80,000 per year in fact, with many of the most famous clinics reporting 20% growth rates in their numbers of medical tourists.

As The Economist notes, Korea is a “nation that often struggles to attract foreign visitors, [so] it is hardly surprising that the authorities have begun actively encouraging this trade. It is now aiming at a target of 400,000 such visitors in 2015”.

The author BTW, also has a fine Korean blog of his own here.

10) Skirting the Issue

For those few of you that don’t know by now, a local education board in Gangwon-do is confronting the “issue” of female school students wearing shorter and shorter skirts by…spending $700,000 installing new desks with boards to stop teachers and male students being distracted by them.

For much more on this, see (in no particular order): Gusts of Popular Feeling; the BBC; Extra! Korea; and BusanHaps. But in particular, see Michael Hurt’s comments on Facebook here (roughly the 12th down), who notes the glaring absence of the opinions of the girls themselves in most discussions.


Koreans, Criticism, and the Korean Language

(Taking too close a look at the frogs in the well? Source: FARK)

For those of you that don’t already know, yours truly was briefly mentioned in an article on how Koreans handle criticism by foreigners by Bart Schaneman in The Korea Herald on Monday. It resulted in a lot of hits on the day, and even some offers of being paid to write from some other sources, so all in all pretty good for something that I originally declined to respond to. Citing his space restrictions, I thought that replies of mine to Bart’s email questions would be reduced to mere one-liners, but obviously I relented, and to his credit he did manage to get a lot of information into the article. You can see a full PDF of that here; in this post I’ll just clarify and expand upon some of the points in my own short contribution to it:

…We’re not that different

New Zealander James Turnbull runs The Grand Narrative. He calls it “An irreverent look at social issues.” Much of his work deals with Korean advertising and media as well as social commentary. In his eighth year in Korea, Turnbull teaches English in Busan.

“I find the notion that only Koreans are ‘permitted’ to speak about Korean problems simply absurd,” he said. “That isn’t to say that all foreigners’ opinions on them are equally valid, but if the roles were reversed then I’d be quite happy to hear the opinions of, say, a Korean person who had spent some time in New Zealand and who made an active effort to study and know New Zealand society and learn the language. In fact, probably more so than someone who was merely born there.

(I should really give credit to Gomushin Girl for at least the inspiration for that last point).

One thing I would add to that, albeit too egotistical sounding for me to have offered to Bart, is that I think that I’d probably be more likely to feel that way more than most New Zealanders themselves, or indeed the natives of any country. As a teenager I moved around a lot, at one point going to six different high schools in three countries in three years(!), and while it was a difficult and much resented experience at the time, it did at least mean that as an adult I’ve tended to be a bit more objective about a country’s good points and bad points than the natives. The flip side of that, though, is that to a greater or lesser extent I’ve always felt like an outsider in all of the four countries I’ve lived in, which goes some way towards explaining my newfound sympathies for the experiences and opinions of Koreans living there.

But neither that ability, nor the fact that I’ve been here for eight years automatically makes my opinions on things Korean more accurate or helpful than a newbie’s; actually, they’re just as likely to be simply more cynical and jaded instead. My point in the article then, admittedly not very subtle, is that the right to have one’s opinions about Korea to be taken seriously has to be earned, regardless of whether you’re a newbie, old-timer, or even Korean yourself. It’s true that that process takes a little more work in Korea than in many countries, but still, I wasn’t lying when I said the next:

“The majority of netizens aside, I’ve actually found a significant number of Koreans to feel much the same way about the opinions of non-Koreans.

The following though, really does suffer from lack of the example I gave to justify it, but once you read my expanded version of that below then you’ll understand why Bart left it out.

“Another advantage to using and considering Korean-language sources as much as possible is that it makes you realize how much you may stereotype and generalize Koreans yourself without being aware of it.

I wrote that because a few years ago, I realized that I was very guilty of both myself. Not despite me being a Korea studies geek; actually, probably precisely because of it.

The occasion was listening to the radio on the bus home one night in 2005. Frustrated with never getting any Korean listening or conversation practice, and being unable to find a Korean drama to watch that I didn’t find nauseating and/or wholly unrealistic, I spent my commuting time those days listening to the traffic channel on my small hand-held radio (94.9FM in Busan). Not an obvious first choice, no, but there was minimal music, and it did have a lot of interviews and talkback callers whose conservations I could usually at least get the gist of. That day, a woman from the Ministry of Health and Welfare was on, and she was explaining the numbers of HIV positive and AIDS cases in Korea and how they contracted the disease.

Naturally my ears pricked up at that, because, as we all know, not only do all Koreans think that both are “foreign diseases”, but they also believe that there are absolutely no Korean homosexuals. So how on Earth were she and the interviewer going to work around those?

Korea LGBT(Source: InSapphoWeTrust; CC BY-SA 2.0)

In short, they didn’t. She calmly and patiently explained the number of cases contracted from drug users, mother to foetus transmission, homosexual partners, heterosexual partners, homosexual prostitutes….and so on, in a matter-of-fact manner that indicated that there was nothing exceptional or noteworthy about the subject. Neither did the interviewer nor later callers question the figures nor get into any racist hysterics about “foreign gay contamination of Korean blood” either. What the hell was going on? It was just as sedate as any similar discussion in any Western country.

And then I realized that in fact I’d only ever read that Koreans thought like that, and I’d never actually asked a single Korean about homosexual Koreans and/or AIDs myself. That may sound strange, but then I saw no reason not to believe the books, and I can think of more appropriate free-talking topics for conversation classes.

Why did the books say that then? Well, because undoubtedly a majority of Koreans once did once think like that once, and, as this recent case of teenage prostitution illustrates, some still do, but despite that clearly most Koreans had long since moved on from whatever book on that particular aspect of Korean society I’d read was published. Hence my next and final point, and kudos to Bart for also retaining my (indirect) criticism of the very paper the article was printed in:

“Without any Korean ability, foreigners are usually forced to rely on either the limited English language media or books for the bulk of their information, and both have problems: the former for often presenting a rose-tinted version of Korea to the world, and the latter for being quickly out of date in a country as rapidly changing as Korea.”

It sounds obvious, but it took me five years to realize that, like I said probably because I’m more of a Korea studies geek/bookworm than most. But I’m glad I did, and on the plus side – although my Western and Korean friends will scoff at this – it has made me a bit more humble and circumspect in my comments and criticisms about Koreans and Koreans ever since.

Update: Anyone further interested in the numbers of HIV and AIDS cases in South Korea, please see here and here