It’s official: We’ve moved

To all of our long-suffering readers, I’m happy to announce that while Sweet Pickles and Corn has officially rung down the final curtain and joined the choir invisible, we have taken up shop at a new location: Koreafix.com.

The new site features many of the same cast of characters, with a tightened focus on Korea. Come have a look for yourself, and from all of us at Sweet Pickles and Corn, thank you for your love and support.

Advertisements

Korea This Week (June 18 – 24)

A selection of this week’s Korea-related news and commentary

Nuke-free Korea?

Korea’s oldest nuclear power plant, the Kori 1 reactor located in the suburbs of Busan, was permanently shut down last Sunday after 40 years in operation. Commissioned in 1978, the reactor’s initial 30-year life span was extended by ten years in 2008.

Since then, the public mood in Korea has somewhat soured on nuclear power. In March 2011, many Koreans were alarmed by the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power

Fukushima reactor meltdown

The ruined Fukushima nuclear plant

plant in Japan, which prompted many calls for a review of Korea’s energy policies. And in 2012, the Korean public (and this Busan resident) were again rattled by the revelation that the Gori 1 reactor and others had been supplied with substandard parts backed by forged safety certificates, a major scandal  that resulted in several jail sentences.

President Moon Jae-in has vowed to wean the country off nuclear energy, which currently accounts for 22% of South Korea’s power generation, and to move toward renewables and natural gas. Critics of the plan have claimed that Moon’s move may hurt construction companies who have benefited from technology exports in recent decades. In addition to the example of Fukushima and the 2012 scandals, Moon and other proponents point to the potentially catastrophic combination of Korea’s population density, susceptibility to earthquakes, and a long-standing emphasis on cost and efficiency at the expense of public safety as justification for the push to go nuclear-free.

[Mis]adventure Tourism

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year old former student at the University of Virginia, died on Monday after being released from detention in North Korea, where he had been imprisoned since January 2016 for stealing a poster from a Pyongyang hotel. In response, Young Pioneer Tours (YPT), the company that brought Warmbier to North Korea, has announced that it will no longer accept American passport holders for its North Korea tours, while other tour groups that specialize in North Korea trips are expected to follow suit.

According to their website, YPT specializes in “ destinations that your mother would rather you stayed away from”, including Iraqi Kurdistan, Somaliland, and the site of the Chernobyl disaster. Regarding North Korea, the YPT website claims that it is “probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit provided you follow the laws as provided by our documentation and pre-tour briefings,” though it adds that if you do manage to break the law (even an absurdly minor one like stealing a poster), the consequences can be “severe”, or in other words, you’re totally screwed.

YPT also has a reputation for creating tours with a booze-fueled party atmosphere, and

Gareth Johnson of Young Pioneer Tours

YPT founder Gareth Johnson on a 2009 visit to Pyongyang.

for being somewhat lax in the organization of its tours. If you find yourself questioning the wisdom of a business model that encourages excessive alcohol consumption in a country where breaking the most minor law gets you shipped to a gulag for fifteen years, you’re not alone.

Love and Marriage: An Institute You Can Apparently Disparage

Over the past few years, anecdotal evidence has suggested to me that young Koreans are less willing to get married, or to delay marriage to their 30’s. The hard evidence for this trend is provided by Statistics Korea, who report that Korea’s marriage rate has dropped steeply since 1996, and last year recorded the lowest rate since 1970.

Against this backdrop, I was not quite sure what to make of this recent Korea Herald article, which reports that single-person households are now the most common living arrangement (27.8%) in Korea, while also noting that a majority of the people living alone (59.1%) are married.

It’s long been noted that many couples around the world, like this one in England, have found many benefits to sleeping in separate beds or even separate bedrooms.  Are Korean couples taking this marriage-saving trend to the next level by maintaining separate pads, or is it a dark omen that portends a further  weakening of the already battered institution? Stay tuned.

I Love Lucy

Still from the sitcom I Love Lucy. Though Lucy and Ricky’s separate beds were a product of prudish television moral guidelines, today’s viewers may more often see such sleeping arrangements as a crucial component of marital bliss. 

Korea This Week (June 11 – 17)

A selection of this week’s news and commentary on Korean culture


 

I must admit feeling very spoiled reading this recent WSJ piece about the difficulty (read: ‘virtual impossibility’) of wiring the rural United States for broadband. The problem of course boils down to too few customers spread over too large an area, which, barring some massive infrastructure spending initiative, makes laying the requisite amount of fiber optic cable unprofitable.

nebraskafarmer

A Nebraska small-business owner waits for an e-mail to load.

Clocking in at 28.6 Mbps, South Korea still has the highest average broadband connection speed in the world, at something like a third of the price of broadband subscriptions in my country of birth (The U.S.), which just barely cracked the top ten at 18.7 Mbps. Three cheers for population density!

 


 

A recent viral video showing Korean lawmaker Kim Moo-sung shoving a wheeled suitcase through an airport arrival gate door without looking has touched some nerves in Korea. In the video, one of Kim’s aids scurries to collect the bag without receiving any form of greeting or even simple acknowledgment, and many people who have viewed the clip have pounced on what they see as a symptom of a work culture whose demands for deference go far beyond simple etiquette and often seem to require something closer to slavish devotion to the boss.

I don’t really have a dog in that race, but the video does strike me as somewhat unflattering to Mr. Kim, though to be fair, his no-look pass could have been intended to fake out someone off-camera, perhaps his wife, who had warned him not to come home with duty-free cigarettes and whiskey…

nolookpass

No-look pass (the cool kind)


 

Every week, I come across a few articles talking about the spread of Korean cultural products (film, TV, food, music, fashion) to some new corner of the globe, a wide-ranging trend/global marketing strategy better known as Hallyu, or “The Korean Wave”. Some of these articles are legit, others are promotional flak for Korea Incorporated, and some are a bit of both.

Others, like this one noting the popularity of Korean films and music in Northeastern India, are oddly fascinating. In 2002, the People’s Liberation Army banned Hindi films and television broadcasts and suppressed songs sung in Hindi in the Northeastern state of Manipur, where the PLA has been waging an independence movement for several decades. Because nature abhors a vacuum, the people of the region have turned to popular Korean entertainment, which, according to several sources, has become “the prime source of entertainment” in the region.

piratedKoreandvds

Pirated DVDs of Korean films and TV dramas have flooded Manipur’s markets

The trend was noted in this 2014 Al Jazeera piece, and by this young Indian blogger, who describes the Korean “cultural imperialism” that has many young people in Manipur greeting each other in Korean, imitating Korean hairstyles and fashion trends, and even heading to Korea for schooling.

As a citizen of the country that gave the world Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Hollywood, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t occasionally cheer me to hear another country donning the “cultural imperialist” label for a change. It almost even makes up for the slow internet. Almost.

And how was your week?