Korean Society

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. 

5 Things I Specifically Hate About Korea

complainingBy Larry Lawrence

“Man alone is born crying, lives complaining, and dies disappointed.” ~Samuel Johnson


Like fans of a bloodsport worthy of Caesar, a great many expats residing in Korea find immense pleasure in complaining about all the things they hate about being here. Whether minor or major, “troublesome” or “alarming,” nearly all who pass through the turnstiles soon carry some sort of gripe, and they anxiously await entrance to the pissed off parties being held at the local bar, the myriad blogs or in the howl-led halls of the Facebook Colosseum.

It’s really quite the thing, you know?

I might well have exceeded the age where trends are a concern or current style is more than a wink and a nod, but I refuse to miss out on this one. So, with your indulgence, I would like to gain admittance to the party.

The Top 5 things that I specifically hate about Korea, in no particular order:

1.  Nothing
2.  Nothing
3.  Nothing
4.  Nothing
5.  Expats complaining about Korea

There you go.


Let’s examine my top five one by one.

Number 1: There’s nothing particularly bothersome about everyday life in Korea that I haven’t been bothered by elsewhere in the world. Be it the full demographic of citizens standing in my way on the escalator like it was a geriatric thrill ride at the amusement park; morning vomit in the elevator, obnoxious drunks who created the vomit the night before, cigarette burns in the stairwell, pools of spit on the sidewalk, pushy people on the subway, insane bus drivers, racist glares or blind nationalism. I’ve seen it all before, at home and abroad, and there’s nothing I hate about it more in Korea than anyplace else I’ve been.

Number 2: The strikingly shoddy journalism sometimes witnessed in the Korean English media is anything but unique. Crappy reporting and writing disgraces the pages of news outlets around the world. Much like here in Korea, I have elsewhere been peeved by “unnamed sources,” a lack of context, ideological slant, sensationalism and by a complete absence of objectivity. I have also witnessed such a worldwide abundance of bad grammar and piss-poor prose that I expect any day now the entire planet will break out into a chorus of We is da World.

Number 3: Fashion and style are, of course, amongst the many “beauty in the eye of the beholder” concepts. Being as I am said “beholder,” I find nothing any more “hateable” in Korea than I have found in other places I’ve traveled. Be it couple outfits, short skirts in the winter, bandannas, heavy makeup, facial reconstruction, lens-less glasses, obsessive dieting, overdone piercings or metrosexual males, I share an equal distaste for them all, no matter where they are.

I also harbor no bias in my disregard for people who dress up their dogs, dye their fur or carry them around in the streets—regardless of what street they are on, in whatever country it may be, and whether they plan to eat them or not.

Number 4: Bad driving exists everywhere I go and, from my experience, the difference between Korean drivers and the rest of the world is negligible. Be it senior citizens’ lack of familiarity with the rear-view mirror in Florida, pistol-wielding commuters on the LA Freeway, meth-infused Tuk Tuk drivers on the streets of Bangkok or piranha-like swarms of cyclists in Vietnam. And yet, cries ringing forth from the cheap seats in Expat Arena make it sound like the Korean roadway is in the midst of an automobile apocalypse.

Number 5: Much like the previous four above, expat bitching and moaning is neither unique nor special to Korea—people will turn nada into whine no matter where the podium rests. But, as I am living in Korea, and my stream of media is mostly based here, I am immersed in Korea-themed bickering on a regular basis. “I hate this!” and “I hate that!,” “Why can’t they do it this way?” or “Why don’t they do it that way?”

At the risk of stumbling on the metaphysical tripwire: You are they, they are you, we are all each other. And, as best I can assess, the aliens are likely waiting for a higher-evolved monkey before dropping in for dinner. In short, according to the universal scheme of things, we all kind of, you know, suck.

* * *

In retrospect, if I could add a sixth category, it would be my loathing of locals who say, “If you don’t like it here, then go somewhere else!”

The source of my distaste for this common utterance, heard the world round, is my belief that it is wrong to inflict upon the inhabitants of “somewhere else” another voice in the continuing chorus of global bitching by people doing the same damned things everywhere.

Get over it, because overall, life is mostly quite good and we’re mostly all the same—no matter where we are.

Actually, I hate it when people say that, too.