I came across a remarkable piece in the Jungang Daily newspaper yesterday. I say it's remarkable because within just a small print space, the article provides a unique glimpse into the Korean mindset of today and illustrates factors from the past that have contributed to this outlook.
Though the main news stories in the leading Korean media are translated over to their English editions, many gems are left out and remain inaccessible to non-Korean speakers. This is unfortunate, because a deeper understanding of Korea today cannot be achieved without grasping the nuances in tidbits like this.
In Panama on November 27, 1977, Hong Soo-hwan was crowned champion in the newly established junior featherweight division. When he first won a championship in 1974 in South Africa, Hong had called his mother to tell her about it and is reported to have said, "Mom, I beat the champion", to which his mother replied, "Yes, my son. Long live Korea!". In fact, this short conversion even entered the Korean vernacular of the time. Hong's fight in Panama also resulted in a well-known story. In the second round of that fight, he was knocked down four times but came out right at the beginning of the third round to win with a dramatic KO.
Even though many events have transpired throughout the modern history of Korean sports, Hong Soo-hwan's win in 1977 stands out as one of the most memorable. What could be the reason for that? More than anything, the answer to this question is found in the fact that we Koreans are drawn to the idea of a come-from-behind win. Having lost our country's independence to the Japanese at the very beginning of the 20th century, Korea then emerged from the Japanese colonial period only to be split in two and then suffer through the Korean War. During those long years, could we have wanted anything more ardently than a "come from behind win"?
Of course, athletes such as Sohn Gi-jeong and Yang Jeong-mo earned gold medals in the Olympics in 1936 and 1976, respectively. But it is the comeback wins in wrestling by Kim Il, in boxing by Hong Soo-hwan and in baseball by the Kunsan Commercial High School in the 1970s that Koreans remember with the most pride. These winners gave victories not just to the nation as a whole, but also to each of us individually. Hong Soo-hwan's win took place alongside the national achievements in 1977 of reaching $100 million in exports and per capita income of $1,000, and coincided with the re-emergence of "makkoli" made with natively grown rice.
Another reason Hong Hwan-soo's win stands out so clearly today is that it represented a happy moment in what was otherwise a very difficult time in the country. In 1977, the darkness of the Yushin Constitution was pressing down on society. Furthermore, not only had Korea been on the losing side in the Vietnam War but the oil shock of 1974 caused enduring economic shadows. As a result of the severe emergency measures taken by the government in response to the outbreak of student demonstrations about a month before, there was a 20-day suspension of university classes and no one at the time could predict when things would get better. In addition, the fresh memory of the Iri Station dynamite explosion incident that occurred on November 11 of the same year led to a generally gloomy feeling throughout Korean society. It was within this context that the victory of Hong Soo-hwan provided such an inspiration to the entire nation.
Sports generate various effects like this in society. In particular, they serve as a means of bringing a nation together through the shared experience of sporting events that take place at the national level. This is one reason most autocrats have pressed for the development of national sports programs. But in addition, the more sporting develops, the more the genuineness and variety are lost as commercialization creeps in. Here, we might even mention the cruelty that sports often involves. Thus, even if we say that such achievements are sought for the sake of the "country", we still miss the naive beauty of the sports of that bygone era.
Korean portal site, Daum.net, offers a mapping service of Korea that is very similar to Google Maps. And just as Google has been unrolling their Street View across North America, so Daum is doing the same in South Korea with Road View. This is where 360-degree photos are taken by a camera strapped to the top of a specially-fitted vehicle as it drives down the road.
So far, Daum has covered the main roads in the main cities, including everywhere indicated in blue lines in this graphic. Just this week, the company announced it is going to extend coverage soon to every drivable road in Seoul.
I don’t know when they will get their camera cars out to the alleyways of Ansan, but they’ve already photographed the main roads here. And so I put together the following four minute video from those photos simulating a drive from the entrance of our apartment complex, out and around Nojeok Hill and then back home.
Because of the way the photos were taken, there is a good bit of reckless lane changing and driving on the wrong side of the road, but that is just part of the fun, I guess.
You should notice Nojeok Hill in the background during much of the video.
The following map shows the path taken in the video:
Matt Strum, a fellow member at Korea Business Central (www.koreabusinesscentral.com), and his associate Chris Kwon are working on a Korean language resource called the Korean Wiki Project (www.koreanwikiproject.com). It is packed with easily accessible and useful information about the Korean language. I encourage anyone interested in the Korean language to check it out and contribute.
Ever have the need to type in Korean on a computer which doesn’t have the Korean IME installed? Use Hangeul Assistant), a small flash app Matt wrote to help people type Korean on any computer. All you have to do is click on the keyboard and start typing away like you would if you had enabled the Korean IME.
An associate of mine in Korea was looking for an English teacher for one-on-one lessons. Through my network at Korea Business Central, I was able to introduce him to a highly qualified American on-staff at a nearby university.
Here are the three steps for setting things up in Word 2007 to proofread a translated file.
1. In the Review tab, be sure Track Changes is turned on.
2. Then, in the drop-down menu, select Final (rather than Final Showing Markup). The reason for this is that Final Showing Markup will continue to show all deleted text on screen as red cross-out text and inserted text on screen as underlined red text. This can clutter up the screen and make it easier to miss small things, such as an extra or missing space here or there. It also changes the positioning of text on the screen to change, which can mean formatting issues can get through. However, by selecting Final, the program continues to catch all changes even as you, the proofreader, can work on a clean text copy.
3. At the end of the proofreading job, switch the drop-down back to Final Showing Markup, before saving the file and sending to me.
When I receive the file from you, I will simply go to the Review tab, click the Accept button and choose Accept all Changes in Document. I will also turn off Track Changes. If any comments remain in the file, I will address them, save as a final version and deliver to the client.
There are just two McDonald's outlets in Ansan and one is right at the foot of Nojeok Hill. It is located in the food court at Homeplus, which is the very successful Korean discount chain run by Tesco of the UK. We eat at Mickey D's occasionally, but not particularly often, mainly because there are way too many excellent Korean food options available.
While McDonald's does a decent business in Korea, the stores near us are seldom packed. Getting to the restaurants can be a hassle too, especially if finding a parking place is hard and/or costs money.
Neither of the two McDonald's stores offers a drive-though, either. Indeed, it's only at Lotteria, a rapidly growing Korean competitor of McDonald's, where I can order, receive and eat my food in the car. And the Lotteria menu is remarkably creative; for example, I enjoyed a Shrimp/Avocado Burger there last week!
But McDonald's is experimenting with new ideas, too. They've started offering coffee and an Egg McMuffin for breakfast; something Koreans aren't used to. We've been a couple times in the morning and I think we were the only people in the store both times, so it's hard to say this has been a raging success.
And some time back, McDonald's introduced a home delivery service through a national toll-free number (its 1600-5252, in case you're interested). When placing the first order, you give the operator your address, but after that, the system automatically links the address to the phone number and placing an order is as simple as dialing in and saying what you want. Takes all of 30 seconds… and within about 20 minutes, the food is brought by motorcycle delivery: cold food in one insulated pack and hot food in another.
I was home alone today and rather than make lunch myself, I ordered by phone and this friendly chap brought it over. Since delivery is free (home food deliveries are ALWAYS free in Korea, it seems), it cost me W5,500 (about US$5)… pretty competitive, I'd say, but still, I don't know if many Koreans are ordering hamburgers from home.
In the news this week, I read that McDonald's is planning to open 1,000 new stores next year, including many in Asia. I wonder how many will be in Korea, though. (In fact, one McDonald's store in Ansan closed a few years ago.) With the competitive Korean market, I wouldn't be surprised if they are planning to take their investment dollars to more promising Asian countries.
My $5 McDonald's lunch today was delivered in 20 minutes for free!
Indeed, Korea has been a tough market for many American corporations. Wal-Mart left in 2002 after suffering huge losses. In today's Jungang Daily (세계적 온라인 서비스, 한국선 왜 고전하나), there is a story about how Second Life and MySpace have given up in Korea, most Koreans don't seem to have heard of Facebook, and Google captures less than 10% of the search market. It's all the more difficult to understand when I look at the apparently weak Korean competition these online companies face.
On the other hand, you can barely find a seat at a Starbucks in Korea in spite of the fact that Starbucks coffee prices here are reported to be the highest in the world and General Motors (of all companies!) is a big player in automobiles since their acquisition of Daewoo Motors over ten years ago.
I'm still working through the reasons why some foreign brands succeed, while others fail so miserably here. It's hard to make sense of sometimes. Meanwhile, I keep hoping that McDonald's will break a profit on this home delivery service so I can continue to enjoy it.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event is being celebrated around the world as the symbolic beginning of the end of the Cold War. But to Koreans, the Cold War hasn't fully ended yet as the separation between the two Koreas at the DMZ (Korea's "Berlin Wall") is still (with notable exceptions!) as impenetrable as ever. Indeed, as noted in a previous post (Insight into How Little Anybody Really Knows about North Korea), the news that crosses the border from North to South is most notable for its absence.
Even in our neighborhood in Ansan, there are small reminders of wartime hostilities in the form of foxholes at Nojeok Hill. Here are two that I know of which are right beside well-travelled paths.
Long before Ansan was built as a new city (see previous post, The New City of Ansan), Nojeok Hill would have been near the sea. Today, of course, the shallow bay has been filled in for development and the ocean coastline is miles away.
I've often wondered when and why the foxholes were dug since they've been around as long as I've been climbing the hill here and never during that time have they served a purpose. It seems possible they originated during the Korean War itself but I'm not aware of any hostilities having taken place in this immediate area.
Instead, I suppose they were installed at some point later as a defense against a sea invasion by the North. Since the city of Ansan was developed from the beginning of the '80s, it seems safe to assume the latest this area could have served as a military line of defense would have been the 1960s and 1970s.
Though obsolete today, these neglected foxholes are a reminder of long conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Getting back to the connection with the Berlin Wall, today is the Korean newspapers' annual opportunity to discuss the parallels between the unification of East and West Germany and the as-yet unrealized unification of North and South Korea.
The lead editorial in today's Jungang Ilbo (Korean article: 베를린 장벽 붕괴 20주년의 교훈) covers the same information that I've ready many times about the possibility of future unification between North and South Korea. Here are the main points of the editorial, which reflect pretty much the standard position of the political class in Korea:
The fall of the North Korean regime could come suddenly and at any time. South Korea must study carefully the process of unification in Germany in order to be prepared.
E. German per-capita income in 1989 was 43% of that in the West but in spite of astronomical sums spent by the West, incomes in the East are still just 71%. Considering that North Korean per-capital income is barely 6% of that in the South, Korean unification cannot follow the same path taken by Germany; it would likely be most similar to the China/Hong Kong approach.
But when the opportunity comes, the South must pursue unification resolutely with vision. According to a Goldman Sachs report, a unified Korea governed under sound policies could reach a per-capita GDP level equivalent to France, Germany and Japan. There is nothing Koreans want more than to be able to boast of this achievement.
Other countries in the region may oppose the strength of a united Korea and the government must take advance steps to overcome these objections.
Even now, one of the main lessons to learn from the experience in Germany is that South Koreans need to provide humanitarian support and work to improve human rights in the North.
Korea is a land of mountains, but compared with the famous peaks in other parts of the world, Korean mountains are really just "hills". Nearly every one is climbable in a day; there are very few multi-day mountain hikes available. But that isn't to say the views aren't fantastic from any of them.
The best thing is that it doesn't even take a mountain to get a fantastic view. Just 8 1/2 minutes is all that's needed to climb Nojeok Hill and see the entire Ansan area.
So, for the record, here's the climb from bottom to top… (BTW, sorry for the shaky camera… and the smoggy view at the top… Other photos on this weblog were taken on clearer days.)
Steven S. Bammel
Technical Translator, Korean to English B.B.A. Economics M.S. Management Strategy
President, Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc.
Reliable, confidential, fast, and accurate translation from a trusted professional with 20+ years of experience working in Korea and Korean translation