Hallyu

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?

Advertisements

Korea This Week (May 28 – June 3)

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


Is K-Pop a genre?

With the appearance of the all-American, self-proclaimed “K-Pop” group EXP Edition, the opening of K-pop cram schools in New York, and Jaden Smith announcing his intention to “drop a K-Pop single“, it was probably inevitable that fans and critics of K-Pop would eventually weigh in on the question

EXP-Edition-Group-Photo-Featured

EXP Edition

of what exactly K-Pop is; specifically, whether it is by definition a thing made only by Koreans, or whether it is a genre (like rock, hip hop, jazz, and many others) that has escaped the boundaries of its birthplace and is now open to any performer anywhere to borrow, imitate, or appropriate.

Last week, two K-blog heavyweights weighed in on the issue. “The Korean”, of the popular Ask a Korean blog argued that K-Pop is not a genre, and that the term refers to any form of popular music that is a product of Korea (read his full take on the subject here). Roboseyo, writing on his long-running, eponymous blog, argues that K-Pop is in fact a genre, and notes that the label is not used to refer to all music out of Korea. Whatever the case, if you find the question interesting, these are two considered opinions very much worth reading in their entirety.

Siesta, Korean style

studentsleepingKoreans are one of the most-sleep deprived groups of people in the world, clocking fewer hours of sleep than any other OECD country. Because of this, it’s still common to see commuters dozing on trains and buses, students nodding at their desks, and office workers consuming much more caffeine than was the case even a few years ago.

Since 2014, sleep-deprived office workers in Seoul have had another option to remedy their lack of shut-eye: the opportunity to get some quality downtime in a “sleep café”, which are places where visitors can pay a small fee and crash for a while before heading back to work. Personally I am cheering for these places to take off – many times have a wished there were a place to crash other than my office chair or local Starbucks sofa.

On the appeal of K-dramas in Malaysia

Though some Westerners these days are tuning into Korean dramas, many others (like myself) often find it hard to understand the appeal. Apparently this is true of a lot of Asian observers as well, like the staff at Cilisos, a Malaysian news magazine, who recently asked Malaysian fans of K-dramas what they liked about them. The resulting comments were interesting and touched on everything from the lack of

kdramakiss

Kissing tends to come late in the season, and is thus a bigger deal.

lighthearted fare from Hollywood, the focus on emotional rather physical intimacy, and the fact that Korean dramas often end after one season (which makes committing to a K-drama seem a lot less daunting than diving into an American serial drama).

Though I occasionally tune into whatever current drama my wife and kids are watching at home, I still don’t know if I’m sold, but it’s good to keep in mind that much of that stuff wasn’t made with middle-aged American guys in mind. To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign manager James Carville, “It’s the Asian market, stupid!”