Monthly Archive: October 2009

Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top – On the Campaign Trail

Myunghee and I arrived at Nojeok Hill around 6am this morning and started our walk along the perimeter trail in the dark. About a hundred yards down, we came across Candidate #7, Kim Seok-Gyoon, handing out campaign cards under a park lamp. As luck would have it, I had brought my camera and asked Candidate Kim's assistant to snap the memory.

10-27-2009 1-33-35 AM 

Tomorrow is special-election day in our district, Sangrok-Gu, to fill the position held by someone else until he was impeached for corruption. Every candidate gets a number, with the lowest numbers going to candidates from the largest parties. So that means my pal, Candidate #7, is hardly the leading contender for the position. 

Candidate #7_Page_1Sure enough, his campaign card shows him as "unaffiliated", though it is clear he is aligned with a dissenting faction of the Grand National Party (GNP), which is the party of President Lee Myung-bak and which currently holds power in the Korean National Assembly. Candidate #7's faction is that of Park Geun-Hee, who is the daughter of former President Park Jung-Hee (see yesterday's post) and who was beaten by President Lee to lead the GNP in the presidential primaries a couple years ago. The bad feelings from that political battle still dog the government party.

Candidate #7_Page_2 From the back of the card, we can see the issues that are important in our area. First of course, is the question of who will best protect the disadvantaged in the current economic recession. But second is the decision of where the new Ansan subway line will be built. Candidate Kim assures us that as assemblyman, he will make sure the new line goes through our neighborhood and not the area a few miles to the west. The final decision is set for December, so there's a lot of lobbying going on. The residents of whichever neighborhood the subway line goes through can look forward to a big property value boost.

Korean elections in the city are notable by how easy it is to meet and greet the candidates. Because of the close proximity within which everyone lives, just a casual stroll through the neighborhood can generally produce a candidate's campaign truck roaming around with speakers blaring (see video below) or an actual candidate (as evidenced by our meeting in the dark this morning). And when campaign workers line up on street corners and bow to the passing cars, they make no distinction between voting Korean and non-voting foreigner. I always get a kick out of being bowed to as I drive around during election season.




Finally, just as I was finishing up this post, I received the following text message on my phone. It says: "October 28 (Wednesday) is election day for the national assembly member representing Sangrok-Gu. Voting is your right. Sangrok-Gu Election Committee". I would have expected it to also mention something about not accepting money from politicians in exchange for a vote but perhaps the days of that kind of blatant corruption have passed.

National election day in Korea is always a public holiday; unfortunately, because these special elections are being held in just certain areas, we don't get that benefit tomorrow. If we did, I could miss my Strategic Economics class at university…

Korean President Park Jung-Hee: Thirty Years Later

Park Jung-Hee had been in power in Korea a little over two years at the time of JFK's assassination in 1963. Sixteen years later on this day, October 26, 1979, Park was also shot dead while still president. Today, not unlike the way Americans remember Kennedy, many Koreans look back on the rule of Park with nostalgia and virtually everyone regards his rule and death as pivotal events in the modern history of the nation. At his funeral, hundreds of thousands of Koreans lined the streets of Seoul to mourn.


But Park was no respecter of human rights in the tradition of Kennedy and he didn't reach office through the ballot box. Instead, he was a military man who took power through a coup e'tat, ousting the elected president Syngman Rhee, with whose chaotic rule many had become tired. This event ushered in eighteen years of right-wing dictatorship — and closer ties with the United Stated. In these and many other ways, Park's rule was nothing like that of Kennedy's term of office; it was most similar to that of 20th century autocrat, Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

But today, if you ask the average Korean who Park Jung-Hee represents to them, many, if not most, will say he is the father of the modern Korean nation, that he carried Korea through a necessary phase of economic development and that he paved the way to the advanced society Korea is today. At the same time, Park's rule was harsh and few in Korea would welcome back anything like it again. Opinions about his death at the hand of the director of the Korea CIA (some Americans would see another possible parallel with Kennedy here!) tend toward a belief that his rule was destined from the beginning to end in tragedy. 

Today's articles in the Korean newspapers looking back on his life and death reflect this dual memory Koreans carry with them of President Park Jung-Hee: sincere appreciation for what he did for the country, but a refusal to say much good about him without following up by reminding the reader of the excesses of his rule. It's almost as if his achievements need an apology; that he was the exception to some rule that says success can't come from doing things the wrong way.

I often wonder why later Korean presidents have suffered so much in the opinion polls after they take office. It happens every time. Perhaps it's due to the memories Koreans have of Park as someone who ruled with an iron fist for nearly two decades without any apparent personal financial corruption and who got things done and moved the country forward relentlessly. It may be a different world now, but Koreans long for another leader who delivers everything they remember about President Park — but who does it nicely.

Commentary on Translation Situations in a Legal Job

1. In translating emails, there was footer content which had nothing to do with the case. But we can’t just skip it as if it doesn’t exist. The translation team simply cut-and-pasted the graphic from the PDF with a comment that the text was regarding looking for missing children. This was a well-thought judgment call since it lets the client know what’s there without including billable and useless translation.

2. The translator felt that the Korean source file was written in a very polite way and so, though it didn’t include the phrase “Thank you” at the end, he included it in the translation to reproduce the feeling for the reader. However, if the source file doesn’t say “Thank you”, then don’t add it, even if the source file is being polite. It would be a very exceptional circumstance to warrant a change of the content like this, though minor.

3. The Korean included the name of an organizational department for which no English translation could be found ont the Internet. Therefore, the translator rendered a literal translation into English (“Results Enhancement Division”). Even though it’s a proper noun, this is the appropriate handling of it. If the English translation of a department name like this isn’t available, then we have no choice but to translate it as best we can.

4. In translating emails, the translator mentioned that he’s started coming across some emails that are written in both Korean and English. The English versions are not full translations, but they relay the main points and are basically the same. He wanted to know if he should re-translate the email contents, or just skip past those emails.

The answer is clear: Translate them with a correct and full translation of the Korean. While sometimes there are cases where the source file has a translation of the Korean side-by-side, the problem is that very often these are not precise translations and our client (attorneys) will be very interested in the differences since it’s the details that help them make their case. In general, we should just translate straight through the Korean, though don’t hesitate to ask me for guidance if it’s a particularly large block of text or if the English translation really is very accurate. Often the English will have helpful cues though for context and terminology, so do try to improve your translation based on the English.

5. In the emails, the job title of a particular person in Korean is 차장 but in English, they are rendering it as “Managing Director”. Well, 차장 isn’t anything like this kind of rank and is normally translated like “Deputy General Manager”. It appears that the Korean company is using a higher-sounding rank in their US business than is actually warranted by the company’s internal organizational structure. In this case, when translating the person’s rank to English, we should translate it as “Managing Director’, since to do otherwise, would cause confusion for the client when comparing emails original written in English and our translations of the Korean. It is not a bad idea to point this out to the client separately though.

6. In the current job, there were some spots in the English translation where a word wasn’t separated by space before the start of an opening parenthesis. Korean doesn’t always put spaces before and after parenthesis, even in sentences. The rules for this are a bit complicated, but they don’t concern us in translating to English. The use of spaces before and after parenthesis should reflect their common usage in English and not mirror the use in Korean.

Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top – Is Ansan an International City?


This is Hasan, a friend of ours from Bangladesh who is living in Korea. We took this photo in our neighborhood near the foot of Nojeok Hill. Myunghee met his sister in Texas while studying English together several years ago but the sister's US visa ran out and she returned to her home country in 1995. In 1996, Myunghee visited the family in Bangladesh for almost a week. While she was there, Hassan was her "tour guide", showing her around the area where they live, but communication was difficult because his English-ability is limited.

Unbeknown to us, shortly after Myunghee's trip, Hasan applied to work in Korea as a foreign laborer. It involved a bribe to a Korean bureaucrat or official fee (we're not sure which) in the amount of about $5,000 (a huge amount of money there) to earn the privilege of coming to Korea to work. He also studied Korean for a year in order to increase his chances of being selected for the Korean work visa. It seems that there are far more applicants for these work positions than there are positions.

He called one day about a year ago to notify us he had arrived; we'd heard through his sister that he might be coming, but we didn't know when he was going to show up. His year of Korean study had paid off as communications with him are much easier now that we can all speak Korean together.

There are tens of thousands of foreign workers in Korea from various countries. And it turns out that Ansan is the city in Korea with the highest number. According to an article in the Jungang Ilbo last week, approximately 35,000 foreigners are living legally in Ansan and another 35,000 or so illegally. Of these, by far the most are Chinese, followed by Indonesians and Vietnamese. Most come to live in the area around Ansan Station, which is far from our neighborhood. And most of these foreign residents are providing labor for the factories that sprawl through the the Banweol and Shihwa Industrial Areas, south-west of Ansan and south of Shihwa City.


Photo taken from Nojeok Hill

At current exchange rates, foreign workers coming to Korea can expect to earn the equivalent of about $800-$1,400/month for 40-60 hours/week of work, as well as living accomodations, which are often very basic. And most foreign workers send between 60-80% of their earnings back to their home country.

It was only 20-30 years or so ago that Koreans were going overseas (mostly to the Middle East) to labor on construction projects. The fact that Korea is now hosting hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill the need for unskilled labor, even during the current economic difficulties, is testimony to the prosperity that Korea enjoys today.

See the map below for orientation to the Ansan area:

10-15-2009 11-33-30 PM

Translating Addresses on Asian-Language Business Cards

Client question about his Japanese business card

Is it normal for the address on the Japanese side to be translated?  Obviously if this address was used in Kanji the USPS would have some difficulty in delivering it.  

My answer:

You are right that the address translated on the Japanese side isn’t absolutely required; and it’s not useful from the standpoint of the USPS. But you’ll have your English address on the English side anyway, and this gives some balance to the card. It also reflects the way cards by your Japanese colleagues will have the address in both English and Japanese. In some cases, it can help with pronunciations of place names. And so, for these reasons, we translate/transliterate the address as a standard approach.

However, it’s a judgment call and leaving the address in English also a good alternative. I’ll be more than happy to switch it back to English so just let me know what you’d prefer. You will not face any issues in using the cards with either approach.

Issues in Calculating Rates for K>E Translation Jobs


A client sent me this recently:

We are trying to standardize our pricing and base everything on source words. I understand for into English documents, you usually charge based on the target English word count or based on a flat rate that is agreed upon in advance. Would you mind providing a per-character rate for into English translation based on the number of source characters? Assume this will only apply when we have an MS Word document or something with live, selectable text.

Here's what I wrote back:

There are a lot of extra issues with basing K>E jobs on a per-character rate. The first is simply that very few (perhaps just 10-20%) of K>E jobs come to me with editable source files; most everything is scanned from hardcopy, it seems. But beyond that, to count characters then counts numbers on a per digit basis, and also when English words are mixed it, it dramatically raises the character count. However, accommodating for this is an imprecise science and makes for a difficult process. 

The other issue, which is also not negligible, is that the conversion rates between English and Korean are not stable and so to account for the extra risk factor in this would require a per-character Korean rate that would generally be higher than my current rates, since I do everything based on a per-target-word rate.

An alternative to this is to ask for a quote in advance on jobs where you/your client don’t want to take a word count risk. I could then give you a fixed price on which you could base your pricing to your client.

I hope this is helpful.

It follows then from the above that I am not generally willing to provide both a fixed-job quote AND a word count estimate on a Korean>English project. That's because in a situation where I don't know in advance what the final billable word count will be, by providing a fixed quote, I'm taking all of the word count risk and giving the client a fixed number they can base their decisions. On the other hand, if the client thinks my quote may be too high, I'm perfectly happy to quote a per-word rate too. In this case, they can choose before the project starts whether to go with the fixed price or the per-word rate.

Even after this, clients will sometimes still come back and ask for a word count estimate. But this a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't request, since the client isn't happy if they take the per-word rate and it turns out in the end that my word count estimate was significantly low, and vice versa if they take the fixed-quote rate. Still, I feel the need to give a number and so my response to this question always requires careful wording, such as the following:

I don't know what the English word count will be, especially from scanned Korean PDF files like this. However, instead of a fixed-quote price, I'd be glad to take the job at just a straight $.__/target word, if you decide before the project starts to choose that. From this calculation, you can see that the job would be about _,___ words before it reaches the $____ fixed-quote price I sent you.

As you can see, this message makes it clear that I'm not taking responsibility for a specific word count, either with the fixed-quote or the per-word price, but it does explain the linkage between these and the word count, whatever that may turn out to be.

Insight into Just How Little Anybody Really Knows about North Korea

Take a close look at the following photo of Kim Jong-Il embracing the Chinese premier in Pyeongyang this week.

 10-5-2009 9-15-31 PM

Considering that the border with North Korea is just a short drive from Seoul (indeed, I used to have a view of the mountains of North Korea from my desk while working at LG International Corp.), it's often hard to help people understand the extent of the world's ignorance about the communist country. Here's an excellent opportunity to explain.

It is assumed that Kim Jong-Il had a stroke last year but the only way anybody knows this is from indirect evidence, such as photos and video released by the North Korean government. Usually, these are undated and occasionally fabricated. (The most absurd recent example I can think of is where North Korea published a photo that a South Korean guy had put up of himself on his website but which the North Koreans insisted was a recent photo of Kim Jong-Il's son… It turns out the latest genuine photo available of the son is several years old and was determined to be him only after he returned from studying in disguise in Europe.)

Anyway, apparently what's interesting about the above photo to those who study North Korea is that is shows one finger of Kim Jong-Il's that won't extend, indicating a physical issue that has not healed from his stroke last year. 

If matters this trivial and based on such small details are the focus of this kind of attention in South Korea (indeed, the photo was printed above the fold on the front page of the Jungang Ilbo newspaper this week), consider what this says about how much is really known about North Korea and the "Dear Leader".

Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top – (Almost) Full Moon Over Ansan

The Korean Chuseok holiday took place this weekend to celebrate the harvest full moon. It is one of the two major Korean holidays of the year (the other being the Lunar New Year). 

I took this photo of the full moon early in the morning today from Nojeok Hill facing west. In the distance on the right, you can faintly see the new skyscrapers of Songdo IBD (click the photo for a bigger view), the latest Korean new city, which is being built on reclaimed land off Incheon (and very close to the place of MacArthur's famous Incheon Landing on September 15, 1950).