Category: korea studies

A Recap of Mark Minton’s Interview on Korea Business Central – “Helping the World Understand Modern Korea and Korea’s Place in Asia”

Author_book_mm Understanding Korea and Koreans from the wider geopolitical context yields important insights into the newly confident nation we find today. Anyone doing business in this dynamic economy can expect to increase their effectiveness by learning about recent Korean history and its position in the region.

Mark Minton boasts of a long history in E. Asia, as a US diplomat in Japan and Korea, and later in Mongolia as US Ambassador. In this discussion with KBC host Tom Tucker, Ambassador Minton shares deep insights about modern Korea and doing business there.

Click here to listen to the interview, download the .mp3, subscribe in iTunes, read the transcript and or discuss this interview and this topic with other members of Korea Business Central visit the English-language discussion link.

Click here for the full list of interviews in the 2011 Korea Business Interview Series, or here for the 2010 interviews.

I also tried something new this time, which was to prepare my own short video synopsis of the interview:

 

Main Points of the Interview

Topic #1 – Ambassador Mark Minton and The Korea Society, An Overview

  • In between stints in Asia, Ambassador Minton also spent long periods of his career in New York City, with the Foreign Service, as well as the US Mission to the United Nations, and now with the Korea Society. He notes that in the short period of time between his previous time in NYC and now, the profile of Korean culture films and arts has risen dramatically.
  • The Korea Society is the foremost and oldest non-profit private organization in the US dedicated to expanding understanding of Korea in the US and promoting exchange between the American and Korean people. It was established by General Van Fleet, who had been a US general in the Korean War. The Society has grown along with the increasing success of Korea.
  • Lately the Society has been active in promoting Korean film with the Museum of the Moving Image in New York though a large, annual film festival.

Topic #2 – The Korea-Japan Relationship

  • The relationship between Korea and Japan has been difficult, perhaps because the two countries are so close in proximity but have distinct cultures. This historical friction is dissipating quickly with the younger generations in each country extremely interested in each other. Tourism is rising fast.
  • The interests of the two countries, being successful economies and democracies, are converging in the modern era. The current administration of Korean President Lee Myung-bak has handled relations with Japan with a mature, sophisticated and sensitive approach.
  • The Japanese have looked at the Korean achievements of the last 25-30 years and truly respect it and have been impressed by it. 
  • Japan was the first East Asian country to successfully modernize and as Korea was a late-comer to this development, Korean President Park Chung-hee, explicitly folled Japanese models, though he used them with Korean characteristics. Today, Korea is increasingly innovating on its own.
  • It is clear that there's still a symbiotic relationship between Japan and Korea, but Koreans will expand even further to take on other partners, especially as Korea signs FTAs with more and more other countries and sells its products around the world.

Topic #3 – The Korea-Mongolia Relationship

  • Ambassador Minton served as US Ambassador to Mongolia from September 2006 until September 2009. 
  • Mongolia is the only true democracy in central Asia, making it politically and culturally unique in the region. It is located between China and Russia and so its foreign policy is to reach out to the broader world, economically, policically and diplomatically, so that it has options beyond just China and Russia.
  • Mongolians consider Koreans to be the closest people in the world to them. History shows there has been some migratory connection between Mongolia and Korea in the past, and the two countries share cultural characteristics, which makes Mongolians feel comfortable dealing with Koreans.
  • Going forward, we will be hearing more and more about Mongolia as world-class mineral assets in uranium, coal, copper, gold and others come online. Major mining companies are just now beginning to develop these assets, which are some of the largest undeveloped deposits in the world. It is expected that the Mongolian economy will start growing at around 10% per year over the next decade.
  • Korea is looking to Mongolia as a source of raw materials, but Korean construction companies are also well-placed to build the infrastructure that Mongolia is going to need for its new economy.
  • Mongolia may also become an attractive tourist destination for Koreans, as it's only two and a half hours by plane from Seoul. There is a lot of open space and beautiful scenery.
  • China is the 800-pound gorilla in the living room for Mongolia, which dictates that China will be the major customer for Mongolian resources. But Mongolia is also looking to develop other partnerships, and Korea has a major role to play in this.

Topic #4 – Significant Events in Modern Korean History

  • The Korea Society recently held a seminar to discuss the new book "The Park Chung Hee Era". President Park is the modern figure who transformed the Korean economy and created the foundation for what the Korean economy has become today.
  • There is a lot of debate even today about the extent to which the policies of the Park era may have retarded political developments of the country. 
  • Looking at the major events of modern Korean history, we can see that each led to the next. The Park Chung Hee coup d'etat of 1961 fired the trigger, but its success in raising the living standards of Koreans lead to protests for more freedoms with the Gwangju Uprising in 1980 and the June Democracy Movement of 1987, and ultimately to democracy.

Topic #5 – Korean Viewpoint on the Signing of FTAs

  • By signing FTAs with the US and with the EU, as well as other countries, Korea is looking to draw itself closer to these major Western economies, which will have all sorts of positive payoffs and benefits for the relationship as a whole, including as a counterweight to China as Korea's trade with China increases.
  • In addition, the US-Korea FTA is so complex and well-considered that it reaches into so many regulations, laws and practices, that when it is implemented, it will have an effect of enhancing the efficiency and transparency of the Korean domestic economy and the way it is managed, bringing Korean activities up to international norms.

    Topic #6 – "The Hub of Korea"

    • Korea has considerable assets to become a hub. It is geographically positioned this way in northeast Asia and is complemented by the marvelous Incheon Airport, as well as Songdo city, which is an attempt to create virtually a complete new city oriented towards international commerce and business.
    • Korea also has a role to play as a hub in the politcal dimension, too. As host of the G20 meeting last year, as of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Summit next year, Korea is increasingly becoming a kind of honest broker in international politics, as well as diplomacy. This is reinforced by the symbolism of the re-election of Korean Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General of the United Nations.

    Topic #7 – Wrap-Up

    • When we think of "Korea" these days, we inevitably think of something contemporary first. A good keyword to use to describe Korea would be "successful innovation", not only in economics, but also in political, cultural and international diplomacy, too.
    • Going forward, The Korea Society is looking to capitalize on "Hallyu", or the Korean Wave, which is beginning to take hold in the United States as well. There's a growing awareness of the world of arts and design in Korea, particularly Korean film and literature. 

        A Recap of Peter Bartholomew’s Interview on Korea Business Central – “Promoting the Value of High-Tech Shipbuilding and Traditional Architecture in Korea”

        Author_book_pbThere are few people more qualified to discuss the Korean economic miracle than Peter Bartholomew. Having arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer, he has remained in Korea almost continuously since 1968. Peter worked in a Korean company for almost a decade in the 1970s, and for the last 28 years, he has run IRC, Ltd. in Seoul, specializing in the shipbuilding and construction sectors.

        In this interview, Peter shares deep insights about Korean business, including techniques for negotiating with Koreans, as well as about efforts to preserve traditional hanok homes, an area on which he is particularly passionate. He believes that a modern Korea should be compatible with maintaining the natural and historical assets of the past.

        Click here to listen to the interview, download the .mp3, subscribe in iTunes, read the transcript and or discuss this interview and this topic with other members of Korea Business Central visit the English-language discussion link.

        Click here for the full list of interviews in the 2011 Korea Business Interview Series, or here for the 2010 interviews.

        Main Points of the Interview

        Topic #1 – Personal Background in Korea

        • Peter arrived in Korea in January 1968 with the US Peace Corps and spent five years along the northeast coast of the country. He started working for a Korean company in 1972 and stayed there for eight years. In 1982, Peter founded IRC with some partners and is still operating the company today.
        • The biggest change in Korea over the last forty years is the economic development of the country. Even in the 1970s, there were virtually no paved roads in the countryside and even electricity wasn't widespread. Cars shared the road with oxcarts. There were no highways and very little manufacturing; it was primarily an agro/fisheries economy.
        • Koreans today can be described with words like persistence, hardworking, impatient, aggressive and hungry for knowledge. Friendships in Korea last a long-time.

        Topic #2 – Shipbuilding in Korea

        • The three big shiyards in Korea are Hyundai (80-85 ships per year), Daewoo (40-50 ships per year) and Samsung (40-50 ships per year). 
        • STX's shipyard in Korea is small but they have built a new shipyard in Dalian, China. Hanjin's is the oldest Korean yard, located in downtown Busan, but they've also got a huge shipyard in Subic Bay, Philippines, too.
        • The Korean majors are notable for their diversification, having expanded into offshore oil and gas structures, as well as drilling ships.
        • Peter's role at IRC is to organize custom shipbuilding programs for vessels that have never been built before. He identifies the best Korean resources (not just shipyards, but also specialist services and products) and helps in negotiating the deals, having completed over 100 projects in the last thirty years. 
        • Koreans shipbuilders have a diversified spectrum of products, not just ordinary container ships and bulk carriers, but also sophisticated L&G carriers and others, such as the new types of structures for the offshore industry, as well as industrial structures build in modular form to be assembled on-site. This diversification gives Korean makers longer-term stability.
        • The core speciality in Korea is production engineering and productivity. This has been achieved by taking the industry to a new level of high tech, with exensive automation, excruciatingly sophisticated computerized control of production and scheduling. They are at least as good as the Japanese, but much better than the Europeans and Chinese in this regard.
        • The Chinese can be expected to take more and more of the low-cost/low-tech business from the Koreans, but the Koreans are moving up the value chain quickly.
        • The Koreans also benefit from a strategic mistake the Japanese made many years ago where they decided to emphasize pre-designed standardized ships. This limits the Japanese' ability to produce new designs.
        • It should be remembered that shipyards are really just huge, multi-disciplined industrial structure manufacturing facilities. Among those structures, some float and some don't. As the Koreans are strong in this aspect of finding new ways to excel, we can expect them to keep diversifying, including into the green energy industrial structures, such as large turbine windmills. The Koreans are also expanding overseas, as mentioned above, and STX even owns yards in Europe. 

        Topic #3 – Korean Business in General

        • The Korean conglomerates ("chaebol") are moving from strength to strength and this success can be expected to continue. But what the Japanese have that the Koreans don't have is a strong small- to medium-sized company community. The Koreans are too dependent on the chaebol and this is a major weakness of the Korean economy.
        • Korean business is weak in services and in many aspects of management. There's high productivity on the shop floor, but low productivity in the office and in software.
        • When comparing Korea with Japan, it's also helpful to remember that Japan started industrializing nearly 100 years before Korea and so the Korean economy is like a cake that's grown too fast; it's all full of holes. Now Koreans are going back and filling those holes, one-by-one, but it takes time. 
        • Korean young people are going overseas to study in record numbers and they're bringing back new and innovative ideas. Once the generational shift kicks in and and the new generation moves into positions of power, the shift to a stronger small/medium-sized company sector, as well as better software and management capabilities, will take place.
        • Changes in Korea won't come from hiring in foreigners to positions of management authority but through an evolutionary, incremental process, developed within the crucible of Korea's own cultural persona and psychology.

        Topic #4 – Negotiating with Koreans

        • When negotiating with a top-end multinational Korean company, the people there will have broad, international exposure and experience so negotiations can take place on international terms and conditions.
        • Koreans are price buyers and so if you're trying to sell to Koreans, once the basic qualifications are set, the Koreans are really only interested in price.
        • Unsophisticated small/medium industry companies get upset when they see a Western contract. Contracts between Koreans are often shockingly short, naming what the product is, how much and that's it. It's a totally different concept toward documentation and legal contracting.
        • So what the foreigner has to do to achieve his ends is to do adequate advance research. What kind of entity is the Korean party which whom he's negotiating? What previous contracts or negotiations have been accomplished? Which are successful and why? The Western company should approach the negotiations based on this.
        • When dealing with a small/medium industry company, a full-blown 25-page contract is a non-starter. The contract must be boiled down to basic, fundamental, can't-live-without-it terms and conditions. Everything has to be done in Korean, with some kind of legal and language assistance along the way.
        • A good way to bring a drawn-out negotiation to a close is to offer to split the difference 50/50.
        • When negotiating, make sure to always ask yourself "Do they really undderstand the points I'm trying to get across?". Continuously summarize in simple form. List clear, short options. This is because there aren't just language problems, but also cultural psychology difference problems. 60-70% of the major contract disagreements are caused by a failure to understand at the beginning.

        Topic #5 – Hanok and the Korean Land Development Model

        • Peter has lived in the same Korean traditional style house ("hanok") for the last 35 years. Recently, the city government tried to demolish it to make way for a new development but Peter and a group of neighbors joined forces to successfully block this in court.
        • Koreans don't put value on old buildings. In the US and Europe, we can find many old style homes that are more than 100 years old. But in Korea, after 20 years, a building doesn't have any value; only the land has value.
        • Even restoration projects often involve tearing down old and replacing with new construction, such as the current "rebuilding" of the traditional south gate to the city of Suwon.
        • The years of rampant development, destroying old neighborhoods and natural beauty, to build new cities and developments is finally coming to an end. Ultimately, the government must stop deciding and planning these things without consideration for the market and environment.

        Topic #6 – Wrap-Up

        • The position of Korea between China and Japan is absolutely ideal for Western companies looking for a base in north-east Asia. IRC is actively seeking companies whose services and/or products would be valuable in Korea, in order to support them in this process.
        • The key factor of doing business successfuully in Korea and in Asia is to do your homework about the companies or government entities with whom you need to interface to achieve whatever business aims you have. Don't assume that business is done everywhere the same or that there's going to be a magic bullet.

            A Recap of Dick Warmington’s Exclusive Interview on Korea Business Central – “Uncovering Korean Potential at Chadwick School in Korea’s New City of Songdo”

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            When Korea Business Central asked Dick Warmington to do an interview for us, we just expected that he'd have great insights about Chadwick International School, Korean education and Songdo city. We didn't realize he'd also previously run the operations of Hewlett-Packard in Korea during the late 80s and early 90s, and then HP's entire Asia Pacific operations through the Asian IMF Crisis of the late 1990s. We also didn't realize that Chadwick School breaks the mold for international schools by mostly educating Koreans AND bringing a new, pioneering model to education in Korea. One also can't help but get a little more excited about Songdo after listening to Dick gush about its uniquenesses.

            This interview is inspirational as well as enlightening… It covers lots of ground as Dick shares insight after insight about Korea, Korean education and Korean business.

            Click here to listen to the interview, download the .mp3, subscribe in iTunes, read the transcript and or discuss this interview and this topic with other members of Korea Business Central visit the English-language discussion link.

            Click here for the full list of interviews in the 2011 Korea Business Interview Series, or here for the 2010 interviews.

            Main Points of the Interview

            Topic #1 – Background to Joining Chadwick International in Songdo

            • Dick graduated from Chadwick School in Los Angeles fifty years ago, before going on to study at Stanford and Harvard. He joined Hewlett-Packard, spending 33 years with the company.
            • Under Dick's leadership, HP established a joint venture in Korea with Samsung Electronics. In 1997, HP bought out Samsung's share and now owns 100% of HP Korea. Later, Dick finished his career in Hong Kong as CEO of HP's Asia Pacific operations, guiding the company through the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.
            • During retirement, Chadwick approached Dick to run their new branch school in Songdo, which he joined in early 2010. This was a perfect match for Dick thanks to his background in Korea and Asia, as well as a long-term interest in independent education, including the fact that his two children are Korean adoptees.

            Topic #2 – Setting the School Up in Songdo

            • Songdo is a new, architected city, the center of which is being developed by Gale International, a private US-based corporation. It was started around 2000, very close to Incheon Airport. Songdo is also an economic free zone for drawing foreign direct investment into the area and an international school was a prerequisite for attracting international families.
            • Setting up a school in Korea requires close work and licensing from the Korea Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. This process was more complicated than expected, meaning that the school opened about five months later than planned.
            • Chadwick International in Songdo currently offers grades K-7, with 280 students and 40 international educators. The official opening was September 10, 2010, and most students are ethnic Koreans. 
            • The Songdo school is a branch of the K-12 Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, California, which has enrollment of about 850 students and which has a 75-year history.
            • Support from the city of Incheon, which is the larger metrolitan area under which Songdo city is chartered, continued smoothly even when the mayor who had previously championed the city lost in the 2010 elections and was replaced by a new mayor from the opposition party.

            Topic #3 – Education at Chadwick and Korea At Large

            • Koreans put a lot of emphasis on education and this comes from the Confucian background where education is fundamental to success. It is traditionally a rote-based system and objective testing is the means through which universities admit their students. 
            • Chadwick, on the other hand, focuses on teaching critical thinking and creative thought processes. The program is experiential-based and rather than lecturing; teachers are facilitators. There is a lot of group work. Chadwick is using the International Baccalaureate program structure to deliver the subjects, and technology is heavily incorporated into the learning, with every student from the first grade required to have and use a computer.
            • The school hopes to be an example in Korea of alternative ways of approaching education and a lot of effort goes into educating families on this progressive approach. The kids enjoy their education and it's sometimes hard to persuade Korean parents that this is a good thing and will lead to them to become lifelong learners.
            • Because English is not the first language of most students in the current Chadwick International student body, the school is having to put an extra effort into bringing up their English skills, and computers are an integral part of this process. Things are still a work-in-progess, though.
            • Within the traditional Korean school system, class sizes of 30-40 are about average and after-school learning in private "hagwons" is prevalent. This means kids often study all day and then all afternoon and into the evening in order to cram as much learning in as possible, stunting their social skills, creative skillsand critical thinking skills development. 
            • In fact, up to 25,000-30,000 Korean families have moved to other countries, such as Southeast Asia, the US, Canada, Australia and other places to give their children alternative learning environments.
            • Because of these realities in the Korean school system and the difficulties in changing them, the Korean government has been active in attracting international schools, such as Chadwick, into the local market.
            • Chadwick is engaged in sharing about its approaches within Korea, including ongoing communications with the Ministry of Education and the filming of documentaries about the education being delivered.

            Topic #4 – About HP Korea and Korean Business

            • Setting up the HP subsidiary in Korea was a fascinating experience for Dick as HP was trying to introduce a Socratic Western business culture into a Confusion-based society. For example, in the Confucian structure mistakes are punished; in the HP approach, if you don't make mistakes, you're not doing your job. In a typical Korean company, decisions don't get made at low levels but in HP, employees get a lot of authority in their jobs.
            • Samsung was uncomfortable with the chaos in the HP Korea workplace, but HP was also their most profitable, fastest growing operation at the time and they learned a lot. HP started with 130 employees from Samsung Electronics when forming the company and when given the opportunity to return to Samsung after five years, not one person returned.
            • Success comes from getting agreement on objectives, but how those objectives are accomplished can vary. This lesson is serving Dick well in his current position at Chadwick, too.
            • In 1997, with the Asian Financial Crisis, HP top management saw the potential in the market and made the company's heaviest investments in Korea. HP bought a building, bought out the shares from Samsung and made other investments totally close to $300 million in 1997.

            Topic #5 – Korean Challenges for the Future

            • Challenge #1 for Korea is the low birthrate of just 1.12 children per family. Overcoming the issue of a declining population will be difficult.
            • From a business perspective, another challenge is finding ways to support the growth of smaller companies. This is necessary for maintaining a good, healthy growth rate in the country.
            • And moving the education from traditional approaches to a more experiential-based method is a third major challenge for Korea going forward.

            Topic #5 – Songdo City

            • The city is currently about one third built out and is still following its original architected plan drawn up in the early 2000s. Total area is about 1,500 acres, with 85,000 people expected to move in eventually. Avenues are wide; parking is underground. The city is built on filled-in wetlands. Buildings are modern; lots of glass. The city is built to environmentally-friendly standards, including areas like transportation, trash, sewage and materials used. Communication and transportation are integrated. POSCO Engineering & Construction's new headquarters, which is being built in Songdo, will be Korea's tallest building. The city is safe, people ride bikes and the air is clean. Getting to Seoul takes about 45 minutes. There is even a Jack Nicklaus golf course built here.

            Topic #6 – Winding Up

            • The top goal for Chadwick over the next 5-10 years is to graduate the first class in 2015 with the same characterstics as the school's students graduating from Chadwick in Palos Verdes. The school is also striving to get parents to truly appreciate what their kids are getting at Chadwick.
            • To understand Songdo, visit Songdo. This "aerotropolis" will serve as an example to city developers in the future

              Weighing the Pros and Cons of Korean New City Development Along the West Sea

              We recently interviewed Dick Warmington on KoreaBusinessCentral.com. (Click here to listen and/or read the fascinating interview.) Dick is President of Chadwick International School in Songdo, Korea, which is a new city built entirely on reclaimed land in the West Sea south of Incheon. It’s a dramatic testament to the Korean drive to develop new living spaces on a peninsula with very high population density.

              One member of KBC took exception to the development in Songdo, pointing out that it has destroyed a lot of the natural ecosystem in the area. His criticisms also extended to Chadwick, and I wanted to answer his concerns, because there’s no doubt that a lot of trade-offs are getting made in the process of the Korean economic miracle. (Click herehere and here for his comments.)

              The following is my reply:

              Vince – I’m surprised by your hostility toward Chadwick International (not Songdo International). There are international schools all over Korea and the world and have been for a long time, at costs roughly similar. Mainly the only thing Chadwick International is doing differently is to base their program in Songdo on the seventy-five years of history and expertise they’ve built back in California. Private schools like Chadwick are expensive everywhere.

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              I understand Chadwick jumped into Korea only after other educators had abandoned plans to run an international school in Songdo, leaving the city high and dry (I’m not 100% certain so others can confirm whether I’m right about this fact). What’s notable is that Chadwick International has a higher proportion of Korean students than other international schools in Korea; this point is significant to me because it gives them more of a connection to Korean society at large than most of international schools, and a means to influence the education debate in Korea.

              But even if you’re not impressed by this, your position on Chadwick still seems hard to understand and so I sense it stems mainly from misgivings about Songdo itself. Further, I’d say that these misgivings are actually based on a fundamental rejection of the Korean property development model in general, not simply that too many rich people live there or that they could have razed neighborhoods in older areas of Incheon instead of building out into the West Sea.

              The reason I say this is that Songdo is different only in degree and timeline, not in kind, from other development that Korea’s been engaged in for at least thirty years. My town of Ansan is just down the road from Songdo and over 50% of it was built on reclaimed land from the West Sea. In fact, if you want to know how far the water line used to run in my neighborhood, read my post History of the Area Around Nojeok Hill to get the translation of the historical marker pictured above, and be sure to check out the map at the bottom of that post. Everything between the current waterline and the old waterline is reclaimed land!

              Also, if you think beaches are being destroyed just for rich people, then hop in the car and drive a few minutes to Shihwa, which is halfway from Songdo to Ansan, This happens to be a working-class Songdo; dirty, small apartments, factories… and nearly 100% reclaimed land, just like Songdo.

              As you know, Songdo’s not the end of the line either. They’re working on new city plans for Yongjongdo! Or should I say, half-next, since the airport’s there already. (I visited Yongjongdo back in 1994 when you had to take a boat to get there and it was still relatively unspoilt.) 

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              So this is the runaway development you refer to. Fair enough; there is a certain irony in all the talk about being eco-friendly in Songdo and elsewhere when so much ecology was destroyed in the creation of these places (One of the mottos I’ve seen for Ansan lately is “Eco Ansan”….)

              But if you take a step back and acknowledge that nice cities are being created where millions of people enjoy things like the 2011 Ansan International Street Arts Festival (Click here for photos of the event, all on reclaimed land!) or where we can relax with the beautiful parks and views (Click here for some recent views), then is it a bit easier to understand the trade-offs that Koreans have been making to develop the outer edges of the Seoul area, and to appreciate that it’s not just a monster out of control? And if they’re going to build a city like Songdo, don’t they deserve some credit for giving it a low carbon footprint?

              Songdo’s only 1/3 finished so they’ve still got a ways to go before it’s done, but I’ve heard from Koreans who live there that it’s a great place to live already. To be honest, I’ve visited a couple times and not been terribly impressed, but maybe that was because I was seeing it in its 20% completion state and because I barely got out of the car. I’ve also heard from non-Koreans who live there that it lacks “vitality”, but to each his own. They probably wouldn’t like my Ansan either.

              I’ll also also point out that these Korean new cities satisfy some mysterious Korean urge to try to build new utopias, but that’s a whole different chapter of whatever book I ever decide to write.

              Since I don’t think Songdo itself is the problem, but that it’s the whole Korean approach that’s bothering you (and since I only have photos of Ansan, not Songdo), here are some links about the development of Ansan that you (and others) might find interesting, as well as a photo of the city from the top of our daily hiking course.

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              Click here to read the rest of the discussion, including insightful comments by other Korea Business Central members.

              I Sometimes Wonder if “Face” in Asia is a Figment of People’s Imagination

              Everybody’s heard that “saving face” is important in Asia. It turns out Koreans think the Japanese place particular importance on this. But on a recent discussion on Korea Business Central, a member familiar with Japan mentioned that Koreans take the concept of “saving face” to a whole new level, and later clarified that he thinks it’s the same in both countries but that each culture manifests it differently. I, on the other hand, have some suspicions about the whole thing. The following is what I posted in response:

              I harbor a suspicion that the supposedly unique Asian characteristic called “face” is a figment of people’s imagination.

              Perhaps some Westerner long ago traveled to the Orient and found it to be a mysterious place. One day, he learned that the Asians even have a word for one’s sense of personal dignity (“chaemyun” in Korean) and observed that we don’t have a word for it in the Western languages (well, we do, but it takes us several words to make the phrase.. it’s called, “sense of personal dignity”) and he and the Asians all got excited about this newly found trait that nobody’d noticed until then.

              Before you knew it, the concept had taken on a life of its own and it was used to explain all kinds of odd behavior and it became generally accepted that Asians will do anything to “save face” and that this makes them special and hard to understand. I guess that means Westerners don’t really give a damn if we’re insulted, shamed or otherwise made to feel less than special.

              I’m certainly open to other opinions (and very likely I’m wrong here), but I do suspect there’s not much to the chaemyun myth at all.

              Click here to read the rest of the KBC Relay Interview with Greg Sheen, including insightful comments by other Korea Business Central members.

              Online Source of Photos of Old Ansan

              44773I'm always amazed to think of the growth and changes in Ansan since I first arrived almost 17 years ago. But that pales in comparison with the transformation of what used to be a sleepy fishing village into a city of 350,000 people when I arrived in 1993 (Current population is about 750,000 now.)

              Here are links to some before/after photos of Ansan on my Seongpo-Dong blog this year:

              DSCN7200 Recently, I came upon another source of old photos, which is the website of the City of Ansan. The general photo section is here: https://photo.iansan.net/ but for photos of old Ansan, they can be seen in the following categories:

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              To see the photos in large size, you must be logged in (membership is free and easy, but basic Korean-language ability is necessary to get through the form) and be accessing through Internet Explorer (other browsers don't work.)

               

               

              Analysis of the Cheonan Incident and the Political Fallout, As Well as Predictions for Its Outcome

              I remember where I was when I first heard that the US Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded (in typing class, 11th grade – Lomalinda, Colombia), that the Ceausescu regime had fallen in Romania (backpacking – Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh) and about the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks (living room at home – Irving, Texas). In the modern history of Korea, the sinking of the Cheonan naval frigate will go down as a similar seminal moment. And where was I when it happened? In Yoido, Seoul, having beers after the inaugural meeting of the World FTA Forum.

              I'm not sure about the Challenger or Romania events, but the 9/11 attacks have generated plenty of conspiracy theories about who really committed the act; likewise, all minds in Korea are not of one accord when it comes to what happened with the Cheonan. (Click here for some of the "alternate" theories.) And as with the US reaction to 9/11, the Korean government has taken a hard-line stand, not willing to let this incident go without a response. Still, the actual options available to the Korean government are surprisingly limited. (Check out this article in the Korea Times.)

              We've been discussing the incident over at Korea Business Central (Click here to visit the discussion; note that I was the first member to post an opinion that the North was likely behind the attack.) for the last couple months and it's interesting to see the comments from members at different points in time since the attack occurred. North Korea expert Marcus Noland was a guest of KBC in the Korea Business Central Series back in this interview in January; he also discussed the situation a week ago in this podcast.

              P1010121My associate, Don Southerton, has already prepared an overview of the events and some expected outcomes here. It's been all over the news (at least in Korea and internationally; it seems it's not quite on the front page back home in the US). Here's some interesting analysis in The Economist, my favorite news source. 

              The Cheonan sinking has opened up a raging public debate in Korea about what's to be done; it's also affected society deeply, such that many public events this spring were cancelled, including one here in Ansan. The banner in the photo above from mid-April says, "Considering the atmosphere in society caused by the naval vessel sinking, this year's Ansan International Street Arts Festival is cancelled. We ask for the wide understanding of the citizens." On the other hand, life in the South goes on as before; I can't think of anything that's actually changed in our daily routines (except for losing the arts festival, which I suspect the city wanted to cancel anyway).

              I should point out that the effects of the incident have roiled the financial markets, leading to a spike in the exchange rate. This worked well for us when we transfered extra funds from the US last week to pay off a big chunk of our Korean apartment loan. Don Southerton has shared here about a silver lining of the Cheonan incident for the large Korean exporters, too.

              The following are my opinions (guesses!) about the situation. It'll be interesting to come back later and see where I was right and wrong. Note that I accept the Korean government's position that the attack was perpetrated by North Korea, and not by the US, South Korea or anyone else.

              A. The North Attacked the Cheonan To Reshuffle the Deck and Get a New Hand

              With the way things were heading geopolitically, Kim Jong-Il just didn't have much to lose in the attack and sought to shake things up in the following areas.

              1. The hardline policies of the government in Seoul were making things harder for the North and the only aboveboard way out was to humiliatingly accept the South Korean government's demands to shape up. By doing exactly the opposite of submission, Kim has signaled that the current offers on the table to him will (still) not work and thus changed the trajectory of discourse. By splitting the consensus of the other five nations in the six-party talks, he hopes to shift the framework and achieve better terms in future nuclear and aid negotiations.
              2. Kim has used this event to rally his people around the flag and distract from the disaster of last year's currency crisis which brought on economic hardship. It also disrupts the public mood enough to introduce new lines of thought, such as those regarding the transfer of power to his son Jeong-Eun. Apparently these benefits more than offset the loss of economic revenue from shattering ties with the South, and are possibly supplemented by additional aid from China.

              It is clear that Kim had thought through the next few moves, since the North's actions and statements following the incident appear to be following a script that is methodically shutting down all channels between the North and South. 

              By breaking the existing consensus, Kim hopes for new trends to emerge that are more in his favor. What those trends will eventually lead to, we can only wait and guess. But various interesting developments are underway.

              B. China's Just Not That Interested in a Consensus

              Based on the standards to which most countries are held, North Korea should have been put in its place long ago. But the implications of agreeing to the dastardliness of the Korean attack on the Cheonan are apparently more unpleasant to China than the embarrassment of looking so out of step with the international community on what happened and what should be done about it. 

              We are told that Kim Jong-Il, on his recent trip to China, insisted to the Chinese that the North didn't have anything to do with the Cheonan attack. But if China really does feel betrayed and lied to by the North, China's certainly not showing this and apparently there's more to the situation than meets the eye. I have to think the Chinese have some kind of understanding with the North about these types of incidents. In exchange for the North's role of keeping things unsettled in north-east Asia in ways that the Chinese approve of, China tolerates the pressure from the international community and makes sure the political system stays intact in the North. 

              It's hard to make sense of the thought processes there but it likely has something to do with the creeping influence of China in North Korea and China's possible objective of bringing the North much deeper into it's sphere of influence, as described in my post here.

              C. South Koreans are NOT United in their Condemnation of the North

              I was surprised that the Grand National Party of President Lee Myeong-Bak fared so poorly in last week's local elections, in spite of the praise it is getting internationally for its handling of the crisis. In the elections of 2007, the GNP won an overwhelming victory and interpreted that as a mandate to change the country's approach in a wide range of areas, including relations with North Korea and other nations.

              Apparently that wasn't the case though; perhaps voters in 2007 were just frustrated with the incompetence, but not ideology, of the previous President Noh Moo-Hyun. Public frustration with the government's misunderstanding of its original election mandate has lead to a never-ending series of political confrontations by the opposition to try to obstruct the current government's efforts. 

              It turns out that a surprising number of South Koreans blame the current administration's hard line position for pushing the North into a corner and leaving them too few options (see Point A above). Many South Koreans see the need to indulge the North a lot more and not demand submission. So while the current administration has been fingering the North for the Cheonan incident, the opposition sees more merit in talking about why recent policy has make the North do such a thing, rather than discuss the obvious (that the North is a bankrupt, dysfunctional and evil state). 

              This led to accusations during the campaign by the GNP that the opposition is not adequately patriotic, but obviously, this tried-and-true political strategy is not carrying as much weight as expected.

              D. The Cheonan Incident Will Be Gone from the News Very Soon

              The Lee Myeong-Bak administration could blame false propaganda for the demonstrations in 2008 against the import of US beef (which was actually about other stuff, in particular, panic by the opposition that the new government seemed unstoppable in its rolling back of the previous ten years of more liberal policies). 

              But the latest election defeat is clearly a different matter. The government must have thought it had an election winner with its hardline position against the North. Considering that the opposition's views and political strategies carry more popular weight than the government had heretofore cared to recognize, I expect that the current administration will soften its line on a wide range of issues.

              I bet grandstanding over the Cheonan incident will be gone from the news soon, the Sejong city move will take place as originally planned and the Four-Rivers project scaled back and, perhaps, forgotten.

              I wouldn't be surprised though if the government gives ground on the above "public" issues but then redoubles efforts to pursue its agenda in economic and financial sectors, as those appear to be less controversial, but no less near and dear to the heart of the president.

              President Lee's nickname is the "bulldozer". I expect that the heady days of the Lee Myeong-Bak administration's "bulldozing" approach to political change are over though; the next few years will involve a lot more middle-of-the-road consensus and less confrontation.

              E. Six-Party Talks Will Get Underway Again Next Year Without a Climb Down by the North

              The North won't apologize or admit fault but still the never-ending discussions about nuclear disarmament in the North will get underway again in the context of Six-Party Talks and the old cycle of bribing the North for promises that they only keep half-way will repeat itself yet again. 

              Considering China's apparent interests (See Point B above), there doesn't appear to be any other likely outcome.

              The GyeongGi Province Experience: GAFIC, Hyeongok, Dongtan and the Smith Company Battle Site of July 5, 1950

               

              GAFIC

              A few weeks back, I visited General Secretary Yong-Moon Kim, who runs the GyeongGi Province Association of Foreign Invested Companies (GAFIC), to learn more about what the association does and I reported about it (as well as another related meeting a couple weeks later in Suweon) on a post to this weblog

              6a011279704a5b28a40133ed890627970b  GAFIC is located in southern GyeongGi Province, officially in Pyeongtaek City, but actually about five miles west of the city within the Hyeongok Industrial Complex. It is dedicated to supporting the needs of foreign-invested companies in GyeongGi Province and I am a consulting committee member to the organization.

              Hyeongok Industrial Complex

              Hyeongok has sites reserved for foreign-invested companies and, according to materials published by GyeongGi Province, it focuses on companies manufacturing electronic parts, communications equipment non-metal mineral products and composite and chemical products. In the photo at right, the GAFIC office is at the "A" marker and the red line marks the outer border of the complex property. (Click here to see this map in Google Maps.) 

              Hyeongok is just one of many industrial areas in GyeongGi Province which have sites available to foreign-invested companies on preferential terms.(For more information, don't hesitate to contact me directly; as FDI advisor to the GyeongGi provincial government, I am available to assist non-Korean companies that need information about doing business in GyeongGi Province.)

              Dongtan New City

              6a011279704a5b28a4013480bcc863970c-800wiAs I left GAFIC, I followed the roads north north-east until I hit Route 1 near Dongtan. This is a brand new city going up just south of Suweon and the street layout below shows clearly the planning that went into its design. (Click here to see the map in Google maps.) I wrote a short post last year about Ansan, the city in GyeongGi Province where I live and which was one of the very first new planned cities in the Seoul area. Dongtan is being built on a similar concept.

              Dongtan City is slated as a terminal point on the future GTX transportation system, which will make it possible to reach destinations across GyeongGi Province by high-speed underground rail within about 30 minutes' travel time from Dongtan. The above photo on the left was taken across Route 1 with Dongtan New City in the background. Note the construction underway in the foreground of the photo.

              6a011279704a5b28a4013480bca99a970c

              Smith Company Battle Site of July 5, 1950

              Having connected up to Route 1 west of Dongtan, I headed south about a kilometer to reach the UN Forces Korean War First Engagement Memorial, just north of the city of Osan (and south of Dongtan), which marks the spot of Smith Company's defense on July 5, 1950 against the North Korean invasion of South Korea

              This is where I turn the article over to several relevant quotes from The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam.

              6a011279704a5b28a4013480bcfa45970c-800wi

              "What was about to unfold, as the Americans and the North Koreans rushed toward their initial meeting, was an American disaster of the first magnitude… On July 4, Smith took about 540 men, what was effectively an understrength batallion… a few miles north of Osan… They reached their positions about 3 A.M. on July 5." (p. 146)

              "The tanks kept coming — followed by a long line of infantrymen and then an even more terrifying site, another twenty-five North Korean tanks… the lead of the enemy column, later estimated to be about six mile long… The Air Force didn't know where Task Force Smith was… (p. 147)

              "…most of the battalion had been lost… It was a very bad beginning." (p. 148)

              "July 1950 was one of the worst months in American military history…" (p. 150)

              6a011279704a5b28a40133ed899885970b-800wi  As I stood on the north edge of the memorial site, I looked out over the southern outskirts of Suweon and Dongtan New City; the photo at left shows my view. In addition to Halberman's book, I had brought with me The Darkest Summer by Bill Sloan and The Korean War by Max Hastings and I read the relevant passages from each. I imagined the line of North Korean tanks rumbling south over the plain in this photo, and I tried to reconcile that image with the urban construction that now reaches the edge of the memorial park. It was hard to imagine this having ever been the remote location which marked the very first clash of the Korean War between UN (mainly US) forces and the North Korean invading army.

              6a011279704a5b28a40133ee257713970b-800wi  As I was just finishing up my reading, two busloads of American GIs pulled into the parking lot on a guided tour. Until that time, I had been virtually alone. As the Americans poured out of the vehicles, I finished up the last page, jumped in my car and drove off, taking note that the Americans in the buses demonstrate how even sixty years on, the effects of the Korean War are still with us. (Not to mention the recent attack and sinking of a South Korean battleship by North Korea, which took place after my visit that day. Click here for a discussion on Korea Business Central about the incident.) 

              As I followed Route 1 and drove back across the terrain the North Korean tanks had traversed in 1950, I was brought back to the present by the traffic jams and modern development all around. I ended up getting confused by the directions on my GPS, and took the long way back home to Ansan, approximately a 45-50 minute drive from the Smith Company battle site.

              Join me in person for the GyeongGi Province Experience and get a deeper understanding and appreciation of everything related to GyeongGi Province.

              Kolkata, The Koreans, Samsung, Michael Breen and the Rest of Us Expat Patronizers

              From: https://pages.cthome.net/india2/On Sudder Street in Kolkata, India (see photo at right, which is not mine; click to see original page) in late 1989, I formed my most vivid memory of anti-Americanism. I was having breakfast at a small coffee shop frequented by foreign backpackers and the room was crowded so there were multiple strangers to a table. Somehow – and I don’t remember the details at all – I got into a political discussion with a guy from France. He was criticizing something about the US government and I took umbrage to it. I was naïve, sure – should have known better – but there was something about others attacking my country that really rubbed me the wrong way that day. Before I knew it, the entire coffee shop of mainly Europeans was in an uproar and I ended up leaving without finishing breakfast.

              That was me, an American in India, getting upset with what others were saying about my country; imagine how the average American would feel if, say, a Brit came to the US, lived there for three decades, wrote a book explaining the American psyche to non-Americans and got himself a column in an American newspaper where he published patronizing and, at times, insulting analyses of US society?

              6a011279704a5b28a40120a831a08a970b-500wiI already shared my opinion about The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies by Michael Breen back in January. (Click here for my book review…. Incidentally, Breen’s a Brit who’s lived in Korea for about 30 years, wrote a book and authors a column for a Korean paper.) In my article, I was pretty critical of Breen’s stereotypical expat-oriented approach to explaining Korea and Koreans. 

              But in fact, before reading the book, I’d never heard of Mr. Breen. This isn’t his fault though; it’s more indicative of my isolation from expat society in Korea since Breen’s the “real thing” when it comes to long-term expats in Korea.

              My second experience with Mr. Breen was just a few weeks ago when I picked up a Korea Times newspaper looking for information about classified advertising. I realized then that he writes a column for the newspaper and the article I read there was about Korean-American Robert Park’s illegal entry to North Korea to protest against the regime. Breen challenged Koreans with this (paraphrased) question: “Why do Koreans care so much about Dokdo while North Korea is murdering millions of citizens and testing nuclear weapons? If the answer is that Koreans aren’t willing to stand up for important issues themselves, then they should at least be grateful to the foreigners that do it for them.”

              OK, fine. It seemed a little edgy and moralizing, but the point was worth bringing up; and surely outsiders have a role to play in bringing fresh perspective into the understanding of Korea. But my respect for Breen’s commentary here is diluted by a lot of what he said in The Koreans. And as it turns out, the Robert Park article apparently was not Breen's worst.

              Back in December, Breen published a piece in this same Korea Times column ridiculing corruption in Korea through a satirical spoof. In particular, he made fun of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee. The column has long since been removed from the Korea Times site I’m sure, so I can’t provide a link to it now. But here’s a link to an article about Samsung’s reaction, which included a $1 million civil suit against Breen for libel. And just today, the LA Times reports that Samsung is dropping its civil suit, but that the criminal case is still pending. (Funny I didn’t read about any of this in the Jungang Ilbo…)

              So this leads me to recount another experience from my teenage years. I remember once I was doing the typical adolescent thing with a friend, which was complaining about my parents. I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure I wasn’t being nice. I was having a great time until my friend started agreeing with me… and adding more criticisms of his own. Huh? Suddenly my perspective changed. I immediately circled the wagons and became my parents’ best defender.

              OK, so there you have it. Koreans are adolescents that don’t like their family being criticized by others even though they feel the right to criticize themselves. And their leading companies run roughshod over free speech to protect their reputation. But is this true? Is it only Koreans who would appreciate a little sensitivity to criticism, especially when some of it is rubbish from foreigners living in their country? Besides, doesn’t the UK have libel laws? Granted, the bar for libel is surely set higher in the West, but so what? Did Breen come to Korea to bring the ROK “up” to the level of his own glorious home country? What’s “up” really mean?

              In fact, I’m often surprised at the level of interest we non-Koreans have in the thought processes of the “natives”. It’s certainly true for me; I never gave a moment’s notice to what makes Americans tick while I was growing up, but the day I got off the plane in Korea as a 23-year old, I felt I had something to contribute to understanding the Korean psyche.

              Here’s an example of the nonsense that went through my head:

               

              • Question: Why do Koreans share so freely with me in their English free-talking classes?
              • Answer: They are glad to have momentarily escaped from oppressive Korean culture which makes them hide their true feelings. Finally, talking with me, a Westerner who doesn’t expect them to perform according to the burdensome social rules, they can relax.

              Um, OK. As I see it now, the very premise of the question is flawed. But this is the expat experience and I don’t know that we ever get through it completely. I still try to figure out Koreans and there’s a category on my blog entitled “Understanding Koreans”. How far do we take it though? I was talking with someone recently who said that she thinks Koreans need foreigners to explain their psyche to them since they don’t properly understand themselves. I mentioned this to another expat later… and he agreed with HER! It’s a good thing we Westerners have such clear thinking about ourselves. After all, Socrates said, “Know thyself” but no Eastern philosopher’s ever said anything that profound, right?

              I might also point out one more relevant item here. Samsung wasn’t bashful in going after Breen, but there’s a Korean who’s pretty much saying the same thing (actually far worse, and not with satire either). Former legal counsel to Samsung, Kim Yong-Chul, has published a tell-all book entitled Thinking Samsung and the story is described in this New York Times article. Samsung isn’t saying a word about this book officially; no lawsuit… Even the mainstream media in Korea isn’t touching it (though it is for sale here.) I find it interesting that Breen’s case, while not being trumpeted, hasn't been buried in Korea like the Kim Yong-Chul book story.

              Anyway, as I reach the end of this post, I find it very hard to write the conclusion. Any admonition to Mr. Breen to avoid moralizing and patronizing prognostication about Korea reminds that such an exhortation would be tinged with hypocrisy. 

              So here's the best I can do: In the words of Rodney King, another deep thinker whose situation in 1992 eventually lead to rioting in Koreatown in LA, "Can't we all just get along?"

              “New” is the “New Old” in Korea Today

              Koreans are reclaiming their history in a big way. When I first arrived in the mid-90s, I remember thinking that if Korea could put together a public relations machine like Japan's, they would really raise their profile in the world. As Koreans have a lot to be proud of, it's gratifying to watch this process underway now.

              A recent McKinsey report (Available for download at this Korea Business Central discussion: https://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/mckinsey-quarterly-reportsouth) explains that the Korean "national brand" still needs work but I am sure that over the next decade or so, the country will make great strides in promoting itself to the world.

              Even so, it is important to remember that promoting one's history isn't always the same as remembering and recreating it exactly like it was. The following are four examples of the "New Old" in Korea today.

              Makgeolli (막걸리)

              The Korean traditional liquor makgeolli has been making a comeback in Korea. This cloudy drink, an unrefined rice wine, was traditionally enjoyed by Korean commoners but lately, it's become very popular in respectable society too and the supermarkets are brimming with it. (Click here for an article about it on Wikipedia. See photo below for the choices at Star Mart here in our neighborhood in Ansan.)

              5-9-2010 7-32-34 PM There are makgeolli-related events going on throughout Korea and recently I even got an email from AMCHAM Korea promoting a Makgeolli Experience Tour for foreigners in Korea sponsored by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency. Koreans are all about letting the world know how healthy and tasty Korean food is, and I'm a big supporter of this.

              I personally love makgeolli, both for its taste and its low price. Nothing's better than a couple glasses in the evening while watching the latest Korean TV "historical" drama.

              But there's just one little problem…. Aspartame is listed in the ingredients of every major brand. I don't want to jump into the controversy here about whether aspartame is a deadly toxin or not, but I think it's safe to say that promoting aspartame-sweetened makgeolli as a healthy, traditional drink is a bit of misnomer. I guess the stuff the Korean peasants drank in the past really wasn't as tasty as the new stuff.

              Samulnori (사물놀이)

              P1010294 Visitors to Korea are often treated to a musical (and sometimes, dance) performance called samulnori, where musicians dressed in Korean traditional garb sit on the ground with four different kinds of percussion instruments and bang out hypnotic rhythms. It's amazing the coordination that these drummers achieve and this distinct musical form is getting a great reception from audiences from around the world. 

              Koreans seems to realize the potential for national branding here and children are learning it in school too. Just last week, at field day at my kids' school, one of the classes performed a form of samulnori. (See photo at right for the field day event. To learn more about samulnori on Wikipedia, click here.)

              But how old is samulnori? Undoubtedly, it derives from older musical forms, but as we know it today, it is… exactly 32 years old, thanks to Kim Duk Soo's creation of it in 1978. I'm not saying it's not a great product, but to call it "old" without recognizing the "new" elements would be a mistake. Before 1978, the samulnori of today did not exist.

              For an extra special treat, click here to check out this Nanta video. It mixes elements of samulnori with food… and showmanship… and comedy… It's definitely worth watching, but is this "traditional" Korea?

              Hanok (한옥)

              As Koreans gain renewed pride in their heritage, it is natural they would want to revive traditional Korean architectural styles. A great way to spend a weekend is to visit one of the many Hanok Villages across the country and stay for a night or two in a traditional hanok house. Bucheon, a neighborhood in Seoul, has been designated a neighborhood for hanok construction and the government is providing (very!) generous subsidies to get homeowners in the area to remodel in the hanok style. (Click here for information on Wikipedia about hanok.)

              Untitled I was very interested last year to see an article in the Jungang Daily newspaper describing the concept one builder has for a high-rise hanok apartment complex. Imagine, living on the 20th floor of a building and feeling like you're in Korea of yester-year.. I even cut out the article and though I can't find a link to the original article now, I've included a scan of the article on the right.

              In today's atmosphere where "hanok-ization" is becoming a new wave in Korean construction, it's easy to wonder how much of the "traditional" aspects are really being retained. For example, the Korean traditional "hot stone" concept of actually putting heated stones under the floor (thus "ondolbang" which means "hot stone room") was long ago replaced in modern homes by pipes sending hot water through the floor.

              Many other changes are afoot, too. Just this week, I came across an article from the Jungang Ilbo with a title translated to English as "Government Policy and Standards Support is Needed in Order to Commercialize and Modernize Hanok"

              Again, I'm not saying this is bad, but don't expect the resulting hanok styles to be "true to the original" either.

              Hanbok (한복)

              Korean family traditions are a mixture of the old and the new. Marriages are probably most representative of this, with at least 50% of the imagery having been copied from Western practice. But some aspects retain a Korean flavor, such as the requirement that female family members at the wedding wear the Korean traditional outfit called hanbok. (Click here for a Wikipedia article.)

              5-9-2010 8-39-47 PMAs it turns out, my niece is getting married this Sunday and my wife needs something to wear. Seeing as how hanbok has been around since time immemorial, you would think the hanbok outfit my wife bought about fifteen years ago would still be wearable. But no! It turns out that the styles for this clothing are changing almost as rapidly as for blue jeans and tennis shoes and we're going to have to rent an outfit for her since I'd hate for Myunghee to look out of style wearing this "traditional" Korean dress. (The photo at left was taken almost 10 years ago on my son's first birthday… I guess we'd be embarrassed to wear these old clothes around now.)

              Conclusion

              My point in this article is not to criticize the Korean efforts to modernize traditional goods (though I wish they wouldn't put aspartame in the makgeolli!), but simply to point out how the word "traditional" is a fluid term in Korea. 

              Of course, it's not just Korea; every culture finds it necessary to update as they go along since actually going back in time and really doing things the way they used to be done is something very few of us seem interested in anymore.