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.


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…


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.


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?

Until They Bleed

By Eli Toast

When I left Ralph at the bus station his mien was one of resigned disappointment with the way things had panned out. He was going back to a different part of Asia and I was boarding a train heading south the same evening. I took a rickshaw to the train station and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the driver about our families and life trajectories. At the train station I sat and waited like everyone else, all of us looking nauseously green beneath the platform’s droning sodium bulbs.

Standing there on the platform as the train arrived I looked down at the tracks and noticed a cinnamon colored splat of diarrhea on top of a used maxi-pad. It was demonically gross. I watched as the skeletal mongrel pups that lived off the meager scrapings of a South-Indian-train-station-diet tried to focus their muzzles in on the invisible skein of effluvia that was no-doubt coiling upward from that sickening  stack of waste.

I boarded the train rattled and lonely, longing for the familiar stupidity of home.

Inside the train was stale and close. My bed for the night was the middle berth, easily the worst one. Another fresh bruise on my abused morale. No sheet, blanket, or pillow, merely a vinyl cushion en-slickened with involuntary night-sweat and be-smirched with the type of compacted grime that collects under one’s fingernails. I slept poorly and awoke to the unnecessary banter of a set of superfluous Australians; my feet ravaged by bed bugs. By 9am nearly everyone on the train had disembarked at Bangalore. I sat alone in my cabin reading a Harper’s magazine Ralph had given me, occasionally staring out the window only to see old men taking shits and dead horses covered in carrion fowl.

At some point a weird, gay, Indian kid slinked into my cabin and started talking to me about some stupid shit; I don’t know, some gay-code thing, clearly trying to get fresh with me.

“I don’t mean to be rude man, but I just wanna read this,” lifting the magazine, “here, by myself.”

He left, which was good, because I despised him.

When I arrived in Mysore I allowed a rickshaw driver to take me to a hotel of his choosing (major rookie mistake, but I was a bit out of sorts) that paid him a commission. I accepted a lousy room, for double what it was worth, that stank of reluctantly agreed upon sodomy.

It was hot when I stepped out for lunch. On my way a small Indian man wearing a belt that wrapped around him one and a half times approached me offering some friendly advice. I tried to ignore him by walking faster and making graceless walking choices: one foot on the curb, the other in the gutter, weirdly passing a group of women by skipping sideways… Finally, the nice man barked: “Why are you running from me? We are not dogs! Indian people are not dogs! You don’t need to treat me like that!”

“Look man, I got shit to do. My job is to take care of that. Your job is to not help me do it!”

And I left him in my dust (I feel ashamed about how I treated this guy. I didn’t get the sense he was trying to scam me, and even if he was, it’s hard to begrudge a man for trying to make a few ducats).

I sat down at some shitty Cafe mentioned in the Lonely Planet called the Parkland (or whatever) and ordered–get this–the “Chicken Macaroni” off the “Continental” section of the menu. It actually wasn’t that bad, but the heat of the first spoonful triggered a gnarly toothache in a problematic molar. No fucking way am I getting dental work done here. I ordered a large Extra-Strong Kingfisher beer and when it was finished I had splitting headache.

I went back to my hotel room to take a nap but the racket from the overhead fan in concert with the bedlam from the street below didn’t allow it. So I ended up just staring at the ceiling and scratching my feet until they bled.