Thursday, December 30, 2010

영어 선생 Hall of Shame Entry #6: The Chosun Ilbo (English edition). No One is Immune from the 영어 선생 Hall of Shame

The Chosun Ilbo Has Nothing More Interesting to Report?

I have no idea why this article was posted.  Let's try to speculate.
1.  The Chosun Ilbo wanted to brighten the mood of all those in Korea that don't like studying English, and give those people some justifiable reasons for not studying.  "Look mom, English is doomed, so I'm going to practice for the Star Craft (video game) tournament."  Does that work?
2.  The Chosun Ilbo wants to decrease the stress level of the population resulting from learning English.  OK, maybe this is why.  There is no doubt that the stress level of Korean life in general is highly stressful for a number of reasons.  I'm not sure that this article alleviates that, but let's give the newspaper the benefit of the doubt.

This Article Does More Harm Than Good
1.  Even if it were true, Koreans in Korea need to learn English.  Even if the article was true, there is no mention regarding how long it will take for English to fade into oblivion.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide will take all bets from those that think that we will live to see that day. 
2.  It distracts Korean people from reality:  Korea is too geographically small, and the population is too well-educated to support a completely self-absorbed economy and society.  So, unless South Korea plans to annex huge amounts of land from other countries filled with people and natural resources, Koreans will need to interface with people from other nations, who communicate in English.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide still believes that learning Japanese is largely a waste of time.  If you want to claim that studying Mandarin is a more useful endeavor, then the Seoul Gyopo Guide would agree with that.  However, the amount of effort necessary may be overwhelming.  Another factor to consider is that Chinese are learning English as well, so the Chinese have two languages: Mandarin and English.  One thought is that Koreans may try to "level the playing field" by making English the language of business transactions with the Chinese.

Now, Koreans are used to the idea that there is considerable manipulation of the press.  However, it might be better to suggest that Koreans change their study habits when studying English, as suggested here.  That would potentially reduce the almost-unbelievable amount of resources currently being used.

Sadly, this article is on the list of the Most Read articles if you visit the website right now.  In any case, given the harm this article does for those who don't want to study English in the first, place, The Chosun Ilbo wins a place in the 영어 선생 Hall of Shame.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Annoying Things About Korea #5: Wi-Fi Hotspots in Korea....Ole, Ole, Ole, OLLEH (updated)

Connecting to Wi-Fi Hotspots is Difficult and It's (Largely) Olleh's Fault

This could also belong on the What Foreigners Need to Understand About Korea (and Koreans) page.  Korea is the well-known to be the most widely internet-connected country in the world.  Tell that to a visitor from another country.  There are plenty of places that Wi-Fi is available, BUT the fact is that many, many, many places are controlled by Korea Telecom's Olleh.  You need to be a member of Olleh in order to connect to Wi-Fi at these hotspots.  The problem with becoming a member?  You need a national identification number that can be validated by software.  And there begins the problem.

Even if you have a visa, and you have a national identification number, the identification number isn't recognized by the software.  This is a problem on many Korean websites, PC rooms, etc when you want to connect to the internet.  For example, you can join a PC room with a user ID and password and get a 10% discount, but it requires your national identification number (an ID also calculates the exact usage time, rather than rounding up to the nearest hour if you have no ID).  There is an algorithm embedded in the number itself, and software installed around Korea also recognizes the pattern.  However, foreigners that have visas have a national identification number which has a different algorithm, and as a result, if you try to enter your number at a PC room, then it usually doesn't work.

This is changing to some extent in Korea.  GMarket, the very popular website, has a special place for foreign buyers, who can establish an ID correctly.  It is a small pain, but it is do-able.

Best idea?  Meet a Korean-native friend, and use his/her Olleh ID.  Don't do anything illegal, and it will be fine, if you are just trying to surf the web.  Other ideas?  Avoid going to the coffee shops that use Alleh entirely.  I have found that Caffe Pascucci usually has publicly available Wi-Fi.  In any case, the difficulty in signing onto Wi-Fi hotspots in Korea is highly annoying to foreigners, resident or visiting.

Update:  I met with a friend in Seoul, and acknowledged the same thing to me.  Connecting to wi-fi is also difficult to him, because he doesn't belong to KT. One notable exception exists:  Incheon International Airport, thankfully, has free wi-fi, while many U.S. airports have wi-fi but you need to pay by the day or subscribe to network, called Boingo, that exists at many airports.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

영어 선생 Hall of Shame Entry #5: Exercises Are Useless Without Explanations

This morning, this link appeared on Twitter.  Now, there is nothing wrong with practice.  However, one reason that studying English in Korea is inefficient is that there endless repetition without reason.  Here is yet another example.

It may be the case that the author is completely fluent and completely qualified to teach English.  Nevertheless, the last thing that Korean students need are drills, drills and more drills without explanation.  Koreans have been taught in this way for too long, and it has resulted in the waste of precious time.

The internet, of course, can be a powerful learning tool.  The Lost Seoul has questioned whether or not Twitter is helpful in learning English.  There is no doubt that the internet should be an invaluable resource for learning English.  However, this exercise isn't, until there are reasons given addressing why the original sentences are wrong.

Yoon Hye-Rin Wins Actress of the Year Again. Wait...Who???

In today's English edition of the Chosun Ilbo, it was reported that Yoon Hye-Rin won actress of the year for the second year running.  Who the heck is Yoon Hye-Rin?  Seen in the "President" in the past year (which I thought was lame), she also played Mishil in the very-popular The Great Queen Seondeok (여왕선떡) a couple of years ago.

You need to be middle-aged, or a Korean drama fanatic (I used to be and downloaded this drama on the internet), in order to know that Ko Hyun-jung was Yoon Hye-Rin in the K-drama classic The Sandglass (모래시계).  A trailblazer, The Sandglass recorded the highest ratings ratings ever, higher than East of Eden, IRIS, Jumong and gasp, even higher than Boys Over Flowers (blech, don't get me started

Of course, Ko Hyun-jung is can now be seen almost everywhere in Korean advertisements, after coming out of retirement.  She has won the hearts and souls of Koreans not only for her beauty (formerly a Miss Korea winner), but also for her personal story as the ex-wife of a chaebol executive.  

So while Korea is full of 20-something models and actresses, it is interesting to note the continued fame and success of Ms. Ko over such a long time.  Many decades from now, she may be known as one of the original Hallyu (what is Hallyu?) stars. 

Pardon the interruption:  the Seoul Gyopo Guide will now return to its normally-scheduled program....

Monday, December 27, 2010

Korea Should Tax Soju to Fund the NPF

The Seoul Gyopo Guide Thanks Everyone for Their Support
First, a huge "thank you" to the readers around the world.  In three short months, many thousands of visitors from every continent, and over 60 countries around the world have visited the Seoul Gyopo Guide.  The Lost Seoul has tried to share its perspective from both a foreigner's and a Korean's point of view.  These points of view have been established by many years of education and practical experience.  The bottom line is that people around the world don't know much about South Korea, and are totally unaware that a city like Seoul has grown into the world's 5th largest metropolis.  While the views of The Lost Seoul are hardly unbiased, they are views which are being offered as fairly as possible.

Korea Needs to Avoid the Japanese and U.S. Example

It is a well-known fact that the National Pension Fund of Korea faces many challenges.  Investment returns have been, overall, more than acceptable.  The National Pension Fund is a well-respected investor around the world.  Nevertheless, the demographic fact is that the average age of a Korean residing in Korea is increasing.  As a result the needs of the elderly will increase through time.  There are other countries around the world where this is an issue.  The U.S. and Japan are two prime examples.  It can easily be said that one of Japan's largest problems is that the aging population is restricting economic growth, and its future indebtedness will only grow, and potentially result in a third "lost decade," when there is limited economic growth, and limited asset price growth.  In the U.S., the Social Security system is in tatters.  While much of this may be the result of the lower tax receipts as a result of a stagnant economy, the underlying fact is this:  in the past there were 8 payors into the Social Security system for every recipient of benefits, and today that number is...3.  Korea is smaller and cannot withstand these shocks.  Various attempts to increase the birth rate have failed, to put it mildly.  In 2009, Korea had the world's lowest birthrate.   Let's put aside the other problems this causes, such as no future demand for real estate, and lack of people to populate the army.  The biggest problem of this low birthrate is that personal income taxes collected by the government will inevitably decline.  That is a certainty unless tax rates increase by an amount to compensate for the loss of payors.

Tax Soju Directly, and Remit the Funds to the National Pension Fund Directly  

Soju is the national alcoholic drink of Korea.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide proposes a 200 KRW tax on every bottle of soju, and that every won is sent to the NPF directly.  A bottle of soju at 7-Eleven or GS24 costs 1,100 KRW.  That is less than USD $1.  Now, we could enter into a whole discussion about how consumer goods are strangely priced in Korea, but don't get me started (a phrase that The Lost Seoul has taught in a previous "Slang of the Day.")  Let's just stop at a couple of examples:  a bottle of Coca-Cola, or orange juice, and a bottle of water are all (or can be) more expensive than a bottle of soju.  Drinking is a well-known problem in Korea.  In fact, there is a even a weblog dedicated to displaying drunk, passed-out Koreans on the street.  A 200KRW tax can then serve two purposes.  First, it can be used to discourage excessive drinking.  Second, it can also be used to finance the impending stress on the National Pension. 

The Potential Objections No Longer Apply

This tax has been proposed in the past.  During the Korea-IMF crisis (known in Korea as IMF 시대), a similar proposal was suggested to fund South Korea's debt to the International Monetary Fund.  At that time, there were many, many makeshift food stands on the road (포장마차) where unemployed men and women would basically sell food in temporary restaurants.  Jinro, the largest soju brand in Korea at the time, went bankrupt (it has now been re-established).  There were complaints that soju was the one of the only respites from the economic turmoil in Korea.  In addition, there was the notion that men and their sons shared soju as a rite of sorts, a tradition between men and their sons which would be jeopardized as a result of this tax.  Well, times have changed, and the prices of essentially every other beverage in Korea has continued to rise, with the exception of soju. If we need a bottle of soju, then KRW200 is a small price to pay.

In the U.S., taxes (and tobacco such as cigarettes) is a called a sin tax.  That is, if you want to drink or smoke, then you are charged for it.  In the U.S. a pack of cigarettes is at least $5.50, or over KRW6000 (and don't ask Manhattanites how much a pack costs).  In Korea, a pack of cigarettes is KRW2500.  A KRW200 tax to fund the NPF is not only justifiable, but it goes to solve an inevitable, long-term problem.

A very important aspect of this proposal is the direct remission of all receipts to the National Pension Fund.  This avoids pointless political wrangling.  Usually, when there are budgetary changes, there is a lot of wasteful, politically-driven debate about where the funds would be used.  A direct deposit to the NPF would avoid all of that.  Politicians that object would be easily identifiable to be those against a proposal that would unequivocally help Korea in the long run.  In other words, if Koreans wanted to know who to vote out of office, this could easily be determined.  While identifying selfish politicians is not the main objective of this proposal, it would be a welcome, needed side effect.   

Things Change, and Korea Must Adjust

The demographic dynamics can change, but the benefits of a tax on every bottle of soju would remain.  The birthrate of Korea could increase.  Koreans may stop drinking (doubtful).  A higher corporate tax rate might result in massive over-funding off the NPF.  The Lost Seoul highly doubts that any of these will occur.  It is potentially the case that a tax on every bottle of soju sold will result in a great deal of revenue to be remitted to the NPF.  That would only result in positive side effects.  For example, if there were a large surplus, then the NPF could increase disbursements to aid aimed at the poor and homeless.  It could invest in infrastructure projects to reduce Korea's dependence on foreign sources of energy.  The elephant in the room is the need to plan for a much, much larger, non tax-paying population, if North and South Korea were suddenly united once again.  In short, a 200KRW tax on every bottle of soju would help solve inevitable long-term issues, and potentially help if certain, sudden events occurred in the short run.

The concept of a "sin tax" is common, and in this case, Korea can learn from other nations.  There are other examples where Korea can follow positive examples to upgrade its practices and laws.  For example, the Seoul Gyopo Guide will begin, in 2011, a new series to focus on Korea's backwardness with respect to international Family Law, as evidenced by Korea's non-participation in the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.  As Korea's economy advances well into the world's highest echelon, its social and legal structure must meet the responsibilities that accompany that progress.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Annoying Things About Korea #4: Lack of Consumers' Rights

Did You Eat Some Christmas Cake This Year? Hopefully...not.

If you go to Paris Baguette today or anytime during the past week, you would have seen hundreds and hundreds of Christmas Cakes, which have pretty designs and sometimes fruit on top.  Well, a brief newsclip that aired on SBS news yesterday pointed out something that is painfully obvious.  You, the consumer/eater of the cake, cannot believe the labels.  The labels are supposed to put the date until which it is okay to eat the cake.  The fact that you cannot believe the label, and that the makers of the cake are not held responsible if the cake is too old to eat, is just one out of literally thousands examples of how Korea does not defend consumer rights.

In other countries, once the "Good Until" date has passed, good are placed on sale.  In some cases in Korea, this is also true.  However, the SBS news clip showed that these labels were actually removed and replaced with new ones.

It is difficult to say which is more disturbing, the fact that labels are removed and replaced, or whether or not there isn't greater uproar over this practice.  Korean society has become immune to cases like this.  Consumers feel powerless against companies, that the individual has no power to complain.  There are many levels of Korean society in which this exists.  It is the Seoul Gyopo Guide's main thesis:  Korea is a first-world country economically, but its social and legal structure are behind many of the other countries in this same class.  As the economy grows, there will social ills that accompany the growth.  Individuals need to be protected against inadvertent mistakes that harm consumers as well as "errors" that are actually shortcuts in order to improve profitability that could result in harm to individuals.

The problem here is that Korean society doesn't believe in consumer rights because the legal system doesn't punish offenses harshly.  There is almost no doubt that Paris Baguette and other smaller franchises serving Christmas Cakes which are too old to be safely eaten will not be punished.  Perhaps that is why there the facts on SBS (an informative news item) will probably, sadly, be pushed aside.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Annoying Things About Korea #3: No Eating Potato Chips on the Street

Drinking Soju, Vomiting and Fist-Fighting on the Street are Fine, but...

If the Seoul Gyopo Guide listed Annoying Things About Korea in proper order, this might be #1.  If you are in Seoul (and other cities) in Korea, then you will easily find people drinking soju while sitting on steps of stores, or company employees vomiting after eating and drinking.  On many street corners, you can find people eating fried food which has been prepared in oil that has been sitting for hours (if not longer).

However, you will not find Koreans eating food and simultaneously walking on the street.  In fact, if you would like to definitely reveal yourself as a foreigner, eat a candy bar while walking to the subway stop.  If you are not of Korean descent, then people already know that you are not from Korea.  If you are of Korean descent and you eat a bag of potato chips while walking, then everyone on the street will identify you as a Gyopo, and in some cases, look at you as if you are from Mars.

Given that Seoul is a city of 15 million people, and that people, especially students (hilarious clip), are racing to and fro to survive, isn't this habit just a wee-bit old-fashioned?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

S. Korea Takes a Step Backwards by Levying a Tax on Foreigners' Bond Holdings

South Korea Needs to Decide:  Developing or Developed? 
The primary challenge facing South Korea is, in fact, an identity crisis of sorts.  Subjugated by larger nations in the past, Korea has fought and won its war versus nationwide poverty.  No longer is South Korea one of the world's poorest nations. No longer is South Korea a war-torn nation whose children had to forgo their education while escaping artillery fire.  Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Hyundai Motors, Posco (Pohang Steel):  these are globally-recognized leaders now, all originating from a country of only 50mm people with limited natural resources.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide has been created to foster one central theme:  Korea has deserved its place among a very few privileged nations, but its social and legal structure must match its fully-developed economy.  This is the critical step necessary in order to be fully recognized by the other leaders of the free world. This is not an easy task, and will not happen overnight.

New Proposals for a Tax on Bonds is Totally Wrong and a Huge Step Backwards
When there are steps taken backwards, then they must be pointed out.  Recently, the Korean parliament re-introduced the notion of a levy on fixed-income investments on KRW-denominated bonds.  This is the type of knee-jerk reaction that Korea has often displayed when there is a foreign influx of capital.  The very point of capital movement is the idea that money goes away from unattractive opportunities to attractive opportunities.  In order to be considered a long-term investment opportunity, however, the laws should not change quickly back and forth depending upon market conditions.  Prices of investments should change due to the market conditions, not laws.  In fact, it is not the tax itself which is the problem.  Many other nations have had similar measures in place.  It is the notion that the law is subject to change on the whim of parliament due to market pressure or political opinion that is the problem.
One might counter-argue that the Bank of Korea changes its mind frequently by changing policies.  The answer to this counterargument is that when the Bank of Korea changes interest rates, then that is a market price.  That is the standard global practice, and the Bank of Korea is fulfilling its duties.  However, when the BOK changes the rules or capital inflows, that is a different matter entirely.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide has criticized the BOK when it has announced that it is considering such steps.

Korea's Changing Policies Confuse Long-Term Investors
Korea has been guilty of this practice on the international stage in the past.  One of the Seoul Gyopo Guide's favorite examples was the Lone Star - KEB debacle.  The Korean government approved, and then attempted to nullify a private equity's buyout of the then-paralyzed Korea Exchange Bank.  One interesting point:  Japan had the exact same situation when Ripplewood Holdings, a U.S. private equity firm bought the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, and eventually renamed it as Shinsei Bank.  While the case gained a lot of attention, legal barriers were not instantly erected by the Japanese Diet (parliament) to block that takeover.  Therein lies the problem:  Korea's legal structure and its whimsical policies confuses long-term investors, who can be dissuaded from investing in Korea over the long haul.  As a result, foreigners who are interested in investing in Korea have almost no other choice than to invest in liquid markets, where investors can change their mind rapidly.

Even at Home, Koreans Are Confused
Korea has been guilty of this practice in its own domestic market as well.  It is a well-known fact in Korea that the taxation of residential real-estate has fluctuated from administration to administration, and sometimes within a single presidential administration.  In fact, current thoughts are to weaken the real-estate taxation laws in Korea, because the market has been relatively weak compared to other financial assets.  The lagging real estate market is a drag on consumer sentiment, and thus, consumer demand for products is lower than it would otherwise be.  It is another example of how changing policies confuse investors, even Koreans residing inside Korea.  It is no wonder that foreign investors are confused.

Korea Isn't Brazil, nor China
The counterargument against the Seoul Gyopo Guide's claims above could be that other "emerging" economies, like Brazil's or China's also have a similar set of ever-changing rules.  While those countries do have changing rules, it is clear that foreign investors could invest even more if those nations' legal structure were more stable.  In addition, Brazil and China have two natural advantages that South Korea does not enjoy, natural resources (Brazil) and an enormous population (China).  Therefore, those two countries have the luxury of being able to say to the rest of the world, "Take it or leave it."  Korea does not enjoy these luxuries, and as a result, the changing rules in Korea are more likely to result in the choice, "leave it."  By that same token, Korea is no danger of being compared to Russia, who intentionally, selectively didn't pay foreign borrowers on its national debt.  Korea isn't and shouldn't be compared to this almost-unbelievable example.

Other Aspects of Life are Affected by Korea's Legal Structure
Other, lesser known, aspects exist in which Korea does not adhere to international standards of law.  For example, Korea has not adhered to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction in the past.  That has only recently changed.  Eighty-one other nations around the world had signed this agreement before Korea adopted it.  There have been many well-publicized stories regarding this type of controversy in Korea.

Conclusions: Global In Name Only?
Perhaps the most over-used word in Korea is the word "global."  Global this, global that.  Its companies have produced and delivered products around the world.  There is zero doubt about that, and it has occurred at breakneck speed, relatively speaking.  A plot of land (a huge amount of money then) on the large Tehran-no (street name in the Gangnam district of Seoul) at the end of the Korean War in the 1950s which was worth around $10,000 would be worth no less than $300,000,000 today (with building, obviously).  Its laws have not changed at the same pace:  there are justifiable reasons for that.  Nevertheless, the laws and the procedures need to evolve so that Korea can take even further steps to cement its position in the first world.  The "developing world," or "emerging market" labels no longer fit Korea.  Other countries are considering new withholding tax measures as well.   However, those other countries are Indonesia and Thailand.  Those two countries' economic development are not anywhere close to South Korea's.  They are not valid comparisons, and yet even the influential Financial Times mentions South Korea and those two other nations in the same vein.  If the laws are reliable, stable, and can be understood to be so by foreigners, then and only then will Korea be global. The recently-considered tax on foreign holdings of KRW-denominated bonds is a definite step backward towards this end.

Annoying Things About Korea #2: Those Blinking Ads on the Internet

Blinking Lights on Christmas Trees is Fine.  On the Internet?  No.

When you see Seoul at night, you see nothing but lights, lights, and more lights.  Stunning really.

However, why Korean shopping websites believe that the blinking will encourage shoppers is another matter altogether.  I completed a search on a very well-known Korean shopping site and this is what you get.
I could not hit the "back" button on my browser fast enough.  A piece of advice: don't allow pop-ups when you visit a Korean website.  It gets worse.  Much worse.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gift That Keeps on Giving (to Korea): The Strong JPY

This Holiday Season, the Korean Economy's Cheer Comes From...Japan
The Seoul Gyopo Guide has posted several times regarding the Japanese Yen's strength, compared to the Korean Won, and the resulting excellent financial results being enjoyed by Korean corporations (chaebol).

Three months later, these observations have continued, and now results are are being made public, as Korea's unemployment rate has declined to a 6-month low.  Korea's unemployment rate now stands at 3.2%, compared the United States' 9.8%.  Admittedly, underemployment remains high in South Korea, which remains a longer-term, structural problem resulting from a small population, and the fact that manufacturing of many goods has moved abroad in order to take advantage of lower wages in foreign countries, and to avoid foreign countries' scrutiny of Korean trade practices.

In Japan, Economic Conditions Are Not Really Improving
The widely-followed Tankan survey of  large corporations dropped in the most recent poll.  The Japanese government is facing a large number of problems, including high debt levels and an aging population which is stunting personal consumption, despite continued government stimulus programs (The Seoul Gyopo Guide has advised Korean students to stop studying Japanese in favor of Mandarin or English due to the continued Japanese economic malaise).  After two decades, there doesn't seem to be any end in sight.  

The Bank of Korea's Juggling Act
The Bank of Korea (BOK) will face continued pressure to increase interest rates in order to quell domestic inflation.  The BOK has resisted rapid interest rate increases, and this behavior continued in December's monthly meeting.  How long this resistance will continue is unknown.  Korean household debt remains alarmingly high.  Credit-card companies in Korea have already experienced widespread failures within the past decade as a result of unpaid consumer debt.  In addition, the residential real estate market has struggled, even as other risky assets, such as equities and fixed income, have soared in value.  In short, the fact is the Bank of Korea faces a huge conflict on many fronts.

What Can Be Done? 
The Lost Seoul believes that a great deal of these difficulties result from the fact that Korean employees do not benefit from the improved financial results of Korean corporations.  Korean employees are not paid using shares of stock.  Bonuses are given in cash.  In most cases, this is preferred by employees, and for good reason.  However, the issue is that Korean employees are not participating in the financial asset price inflation that is occurring as a result of the strength of the KOSPI.  This would have allowed Korean employees to increase their wealth, increase their job ownership and loyalty, and improve Korean corporation efficiency.  This is not a short-term fix.  This is a structural change to Korean corporate practices which would help the needs of Korean employees and give the Bank of Korea the flexibility to determine the most appropriate policy.  Until structural changes are made, the Bank of Korea will need to continue to juggle conflicting goals with delicacy and deftness.  This holiday season, Japan's continued economic problems are providing Korea's economy with tidings, and providing the Bank of Korea with some needed flexibility.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Year in Review: Is Lee Myung-Bak the President of the Year?

South Korea Has Accumulated Impressive Gains During 2010
As native Koreans would be glad to share with foreigners, Korea is far from perfect.  Nevertheless, the branches of government have navigated exceptionally difficult conditions very well during 2010.

Here is a partial list:
a.  Korea's economic growth was the greatest amongst OECD members during the 2nd Quarter 2010.
b.  Korea's official unemployment rate has steady at a low 3.7%.
c.  Foreign exchange reserves, the world's sixth largest, are near an all-time high at $290.23 Billion.

Circumstances Have Favored South Korea
Many of the positive things that have happened to the Korean economy are the result of circumstances alone.  Here is a partial list of those circumstances which has benefited Korea.
a.  Governments around the world have stimulated their economies which has resulted in continued economic demand for Korean-made products.
b.  The strength of the Japanese Yen has made Korean-made products cheaper, which has greatly helped Korean corporations (chaebol). 
c.  China, the world's most populous nation, has continued its torrid economic growth.

It has been a nearly-ideal situation for Korea:  its largest trade partners are relentlessly attempting to avoid Japan-like deflation by continually stimulating their economies with monetary and fiscal measures.  Korea's largest potential market, China, continues to grow unabated as the Chinese government is trying to develop China into a modern economy.  Japan, the nation with the majority of direct competitors to Korean corporations, are saddled with sagging domestic demand and a currency which has made their products expensive relative to Korea's in international markets.

The South Korean Government Has Acted to Strengthen Its Hand
While it may be suggested that South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has merely been in the right place at the right time, there is little doubt that the President Lee and other governmental agencies have taken steps to provide for Korea's citizens, as well as to improve Korea's stature on the world stage.
a.  Korea has only gradually reduced its fiscal stimulus programs because it has remained cautious regarding the sustainability of the global economic recovery.
b.  Korea and the U.S., finally, have agreed on a Free Trade Agreement, which should improve the quality of life in Korea, and reduce inflation for Koreans.
c.  The Bank of Korea has acted to keep the Korean Won relatively cheap in order to keep its export growth strong.  While this has longer-term risks, this has helped Korean corporations in the short run.
d.  Korea's emergence on the international stage was made obvious by its hosting of the G20 Seoul Summit in November. Even if you do no believe that much was accomplished, the fact that the meeting was hosted in Korea demonstrates its continuing importance on the world stage.

Korea Still Faces Fundamental Challenges
While Korea has enjoyed, as a nation, economic conditions which are superior to almost all other OECD nations, fundamental problems exist which cannot be solved overnight.  In addition, only dramatic policy changes would have any effect, and the side-effects may be undesirable to many.  Here are just a few lingering issues.  Each issue itself is worth a post, which you will be able to find here at in the future. 
a.  The value of real estate continues to disappoint owners.  The value of real estate has actually declined in Seoul over the past two years, whereas in Hong Kong and Tokyo, prices have entirely recovered (Hong Kong) or are still recovering.  This is not occurring in Korea.  That is a problem because people's belief about their wealth is tied to the value of their homes.  Real estate represents a greater percentage of a Korean's net worth than most other countries in the OECD.  One reason the Bank of Korea is reluctant to increase interest rates?  Increased interest rates leads to lower real estate prices, something that could lead to less consumer spending in Korea.
b.  The increasing average age of the Korean population may weigh on social programs.  Many Koreans do not believe that the Korean National Pension Service will be able to help those who currently work, when they retire.  Assuming that Koreans want the Korean Pension Service to survive, the choices seem to be either higher taxes, or lower entitlements.  Fundamental changes to the structure of the Korean pension system may be more feasible in Korea when compared to the U.S., where the system has been in place for a much longer period of time.
c.  Underployment will continue to be a problem, as has been posted here.  The bottom line is that Korea is over-educated, given the number of skilled workers needed in a nation of only 50mm.   Comparisons among Korean workers are drawn using increasingly irrelevent criteria.  How to resolve this will be the topic of a decades-long debate.
d.  The private tutor (hagwon) system threatens the Korean family and the Korean economy.  It isn't the goal of this article to discuss whether or not Korean students should study so hard, or if Korean parents should attempt to send their children to multiple hagwons per day.  What is clear, however, is that the average Korean family spends too much of its disposable income on the private tutor system in Korea.  That means less consumer spending and increased stress on the Korean family.
For those that have studied economics, a dollar spent on the hagwon system does not have the same multiplier effect on the Korean economy that other consumer spending has.  For example, if a student spends $200 a month on a hagwon, that money is used to pay the rent and  the teacher of the hagwon.  However, that same $200, if spent on a consumer good, such as food, then the entire support system (e.g. a restaurant, its workers, the farmers of ingredients, etc) is far larger.  In short, the money used in hagwons has a definite "dead end" to where the money goes.  Money used elsewhere, The Lost Seoul contends, would have a greater, wider economic impact.
The hagwon system has been criticized for encouraging a greater separation among people of different economic classes.  The government has publicly raised this concern.  Recent attempts to try to standardize the questions for the college entrance exam in Korea have been widely (and justifiably) criticized due to the lack of thorough planning and poor execution of implementing the new system.  However, the fact that the government is attempting to do so is a step in the right direction.  Hopefully, these types of measures will be ultimately successful.
d.  Inflation.  Currently, inflation is much higher than is being reported in governmental figures.  Everyday Koreans will tell you this.  Being energy and resource poor, Korea will be face increasing inflationary pressure as a result of the demand for resources because China's demand will not fade.  Currently, the Lee administration has acted in some way to accelerate Free Trade Agreements.  However, as long as the Korean Won is held lower than is justified on international markets, import prices in Korea will remain very high, contributing to higher inflation. 

Conclusion:  Korea Needs the Next Generation of Leaders
Korea is resembling the United States more everyday: complaining about the government has become a national hobby.  At some level, the government has failed for one reason or another.  However, when compared to its counterparts in other nations, the Lee Administration has performed admirably.  The question now is how to solve the longer-term problems, without upsetting the delicate balance that currently exists.  In order for the younger generation of Koreans to take the reins, careers in government and public service must be more prestigious and frankly, better compensated.  It is no coincidence that another widely-commended Asian government, Singapore's, attracts some of the brightest from the best universities in Singapore.  Singaporean officials are among the most well-compensated officials in the world.  Korea must cultivate those in their 30s and 40s to prepare to become the policymakers for the future.  If Korea can do this, then it can solidify the hard-won gains since the end of the Korean War.
While President Lee's early years were difficult due to the global financial crisis, the fact is that Korea, and President Lee has deftly dealt with the situation.  It can be said that Korea's position in the world economic order has improved quite a great deal since the onset of the crisis.  As stated above, some of that is the result of favorable circumstances.  Nevertheless, it is a fact that when things go well, the leader is given a great deal of the credit.  In this case, President Lee and the Korean government deserve many of those accolades.

영어 Slang of the Day #9: "Don't get me started." Indeed.

If you have a strong opinion about something, and someone asks you about it, you may respond by using the phrase, "don't get me started."  The reason that you would say "don't get me started" is because if you started, then the full explanation could take a very long time, because you have many, many reasons.

Frequently, this situation occurs when a person unintentionally introduces a new topic.  The listener may have a very strong opinion on that topic, but the original speaker may not have known that this was the case.

Jae Ho:  Sometimes, I think that Korean society can be unfair.
Young-Ah:  Don't get me started.  I am a woman that works in a chaebol.

In the above example, Jae Ho has introduced the topic of Korean society being unfair.  Young-Ah, a woman, has a very strong opinion on the topic, and if she fully explained herself, it would take a very long time, because she has many reasons.  So, she said "don't get me started."

Note:  this language is very casual.  It is usually used among people that you know quite well.  Therefore, it is not appropriate in formal speaking or writing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #8: It is "The elephant in the room." Huh?

When you are trying to describe something which is the most important factor but that factor is being openly avoided by the parties involved, then you can call it "the elephant in the room.

As you can see in the image above, the elephant is obvious to the man and the woman.  Despite the fact that both of them know that the elephant is there, they are ignoring it.  The obvious fact?  There is an elephant in the room.

There can be many reasons that there is an "elephant in the room."  For example, the important fact may be difficult to discuss.  In the picture above, the man and woman may be avoiding the most important topic.

Man:  "I think that we need a new carpet.  That will make the room seem nicer."
Woman:  "I think the curtains are too old.  We bought them twenty years ago."

In the dialogue above, the man and the woman are not discussing the fact that the two people think the room would be better if there was not an elephant sitting on the sofa.  Both the man and the woman may be thinking the same thing, but are unwilling to say that to each other.  The fact that there is a large zoo animal on the living couch is the "elephant in the room."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #7: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Good idea.

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" is a phrase that is used when talking about someone/people that look for the negative when he/she/they receive an unexpected positive.

To the people that normally over-examine the motivation of the person/party that is providing the surprise, or to the people that look for the flaws when receiving an unexpected surprise, you can say "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."  The analogy is that the receiver, who has received a horse as a present, starts examining the small details, like the condition of the horse's gums and teeth, instead of being grateful for receiving the horse in the first place.

When something good occurs, and you did not expect it, then you may wonder why this has happened, or suspect that there was something wrong in some way.  If you receive a present from someone, you may suspect that the person who gave you the present has a sinister motive.

In addition, you could have been lucky, and due to circumstance, you may have been in the right place at the right time.  That may have resulted in good fortune for you, or your company.  Again, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" may be used.  Japan is having difficulty, and the Korean economy is benefiting.  Perhaps, Korea shouldn't look a "gift horse in the mouth."

So this holiday season, if you receive an unexpected present, then The Lost Seoul advises that you not look for ulterior motives. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." 

Merry Christmas...or is it Happy Christmas?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The American Envy of the Korean Education System (Part 4): Why Do Koreans Stop Studying?

Note:  This is Part 4 of a series.  Parts 1-3 can be found here.

Why Do Koreans Stop Studying When Entering University?

There are many, many possible explanations.  If you go to Seoul National University or nearby Yonsei University in Seoul, as well as the subway stations that surround the various universities in Korea, you will find the identical scene everywhere you go.  Lights, lights, and more lights which are illuminating shopping, restaurants, and PC rooms.  What do you not see?  Tired students carrying books.  If you go to the top universities in the U.S. (except Stanford which The Lost Seoul still contends is like fantasy-land), you cannot find those scenes.  That is quite remarkable:  even New York University, right in the middle of Manhattan, is strikingly quiet except on one street (8th Street).  In England, Oxford is deadly silent.  Why the striking difference?  In Korea, the students are PLAYING, not studying.  This part of The American Envy of the Korean Education System looks for a partial explanation.

Possibility 1.  Korean students are burned out.  It is true that the average student that has entered a college in Korea has studied much more than a student that has entered the same-caliber college in the U.S.  An American student has endured 3-4 years of high pressure, high-intensity preparation.  In Korea, that student has been doing this since the 6th grade, at the minimum.  That means 2-3 extra years of high-intensity studying.  

Possibility 2.  No Hagwons Means No Need to Study.  Korean students have been used to the hagwon system for more than 10 years each.  All of a sudden, there is no hagwon drill master wtching the performance of a Korean student.  There are no drills which supplement classroom lessons. 
It is a fact that many top hagwons are more difficult than the school a student attends.  It is no wonder that a Korean student may feel liberated when entering college, and uses that freedom anything else except study.

Possibility 3.  There is no "next step" in Korea. For American students, the path to a top graduate school, like Harvard Law, or the University of Chicago MBA program, will require very good grades while in college.  If you want to become a medical doctor in the U.S., not only do you need good grades, but you need to be involved in extra-curricular activities like laboratory work or volunteer work.  Importantly, there are separate, high-competitive entrance exams such as the GMAT and LSAT to enter graduate programs in the U.S.
In Korea, you apply to a college which may automatically qualify a student to the graduate school.  For example, a student can apply to Catholic Medical School in Korea at the age of 19 before entering university.  That means that there is no additional pressure to perform in college for Korean students.  Now, this system is currently under review.  For example, entry into law school in Korea is being transitioned to a system similar to the U.S., which means that a person needs to graduate from college first, and then apply to law school separately.  Whether this system becomes universally accepted in Korea is yet to be determined.  In short, the lack of a "next step" with a new application process in Korea may lessen the need for Korean students to perform at the undergraduate level.

Possibility 4.  Males are "Preparing" for Military Service.  The Lost Seoul believes that the mandatory military service, while it may be necessary, services as a barrier to progress in other areas for certain males.  That is not to say that the military is not valuable.  Korean men form unbreakable bonds with one another by collectively going through the difficult times during their military service.  Certain men, who lacked personal responsibility traits, can mature and gain those traits during military service.  Nevertheless, other males, who already possess these qualities, could use their time more productively by pursuing their personal and professional goals, at the very time in life when both physical and mental capacities are at their height.  Knowing that military service awaits, one reason that Korean men don't study during college is because they all know that their freedom will soon be suspended for 2 1/2 years.

Possibility 5.  The "Mrs." Degree.  There is no doubt that this is fading away in Korea, and quickly.  Given the fact that there is no mandatory military service, the fact is that the women of Korea can use this time to develop themselves personally and professionally.  However, certain schools such as Ewha Women's University (이대) still have that lingering reputation as being a wife-preparation college.  In the past, perhaps this was true, but now, The Lost Seoul doubts that this is a serious reason for the lack of studying by college-age students in Korea.

Final Answer?  The Lost Seoul's best guess is that it is Possibility #1 and Possibility #2 explain most of the reason.  Korean students have already studied for 3 extra years when compared to American students in order to enter into a highly competitive university.  No hagwons are available to apply additional pressure upon students.  Some of this is changing now, as hagwons also exist at universities.  Nevertheless, these hagwons are not nearly as prevalent at college as they are during a Korean students' high school years.  These two possibilities also explain Korean students' relative failure at Ivy League schools, after graduating from Korean high schools.  Perhaps some of this is due to English, but there are other foreign students from other countries that do not have the same failure rate at American universities. 

Conclusions.  Korea caters to the mean, while the U.S. caters to the extremes.  While the average student in Korea may test better, the top students in the U.S. have almost unlimited resources at their disposal.  This is largely explained by the need for Korea to elevate an entire nation since it has many limitations:  lack of geographical size, lack of energy/natural resources, history of subjugation.  The U.S. knows none of these limitations.  The U.S. has the resources to attempt the extreme, and champions individual rights.  In general, Korea does not know these concepts.  This may change as Korea has risen from one of the world's poorest nations to one of the richest.  We cannot know this.  We also cannot suggest changing Korea to mimic the U.S. would be a positive for Korea as a whole.  It would be convenient to pick and choose the best aspects of each system, but each system, its strengths and its weaknesses, reflect the nation's history and political influences.  In short, there are small aspects in which the Korean system can and should be emulated, but the entire system cannot be duplicated.
However, there is no doubt that students in the U.S. would perform better if not ingrained with attitudes such as "I am no good at math" as if that was a blessing or gift:  Korean students know and have proven that just practicing more diligently will largely compensate for any slight differences in natural ability.  American students give up well before they will ever know if they could have attained any goals. 
On the other hand, Korean students need to learn the American saying "It is not how you begin, but how you finish."  Those Korean natives who know this are currently trailblazers in their fields.  Hopefully, Korean students will learn from their example in the future.

Monday, December 6, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #6: Merry Chirstmas or Happy Christmas? Which one is right?

Both "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Christmas" are used.

In the United States, "Merry Christmas" is common, but in England, "Happy Christmas" is by far the dominant phrase.  Why is this the case?  The reason is that in England, the word "merry" implies being drunk on alcohol (술에 취해있다).  Therefore, if you say "Merry Christmas" in England, then you are basically wishing someone a...Drunken Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all, or maybe I should say Happy Christmas....  (if you are legally allowed to drink alcohol, that is).

Amazing! Logic Reigns, The S. Korea - US (KORUS) FTA Finally Resolved

Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, At Last
A few hours after the Seoul Gyopo Guide's third post regarding the necessity of the S. Korea - US (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement, an agreement was reached, as the impasse regarding auto tariffs was resolved.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide has argued, on multiple occasions, that the FTA would benefit Korean citizens who are suffering due to inflationary pressures in Korea.  Any extra measure to reduce this pressure would be welcome.

Korean Government Acted Wisely by Conceding Insignificant Points
Korea's concessions were proper in the larger context, given that the country is suffering from a higher cost of living than is necessary, due to tariffs on all types of imports.  In addition, it was refreshing that Korea's delegation properly pointed out that there are many levels and stages of international cooperation.  Korea rightly gave concessions in on the very smallest points in the interest of its people as a whole.  If you want to iterate with cooperation, then give-and-take is necessary.  

Time to Remove the Fakers
Now, it is time for the politicians in Korea and the U.S. to pass the FTA in their respective legislatures.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide will identify all those in either country who oppose the passing of the KORUS FTA.  It is quite simple, really.  For those that oppose, the citizens can return that legislator to the private sector.  In other words, both Americans and Koreans can, and should, vote any legislator that opposes the KORUS FTA out of office The voting records of legislators in both countries are a matter of public record.  Citizens of both countries should make it very clear to those legislators that their futures in public office depend on their vote of the KORUS FTA.  You will be able to find those that cater to special interests instead of the well-being of their constituents as a whole.  This is especially true for Korean legislators: members of the General Assembly should vote unanimously.  Korean citizens should watch the General Assembly carefully.  Protesters and activists who suggest that the KORUS FTA should not be ratified will be revealing themselves as narrow-minded parties that are looking for publicity only, and not to serve the Korean citizens.

Ignore the Korean Press Coverage Regarding Protests
In the coming months, there will be the inevitable protests, and potentially, there will be news on the internet reporting that Korea (or Koreans) do not approve of the KORUS FTA.  That is fiction created by those who want greater viewership or sponsorship.  Everyday Koreans understand that they will want to purchase American-made products as soon as they are available in Korea.  Many, many of the American brand names that are popular in Korea will be affordable to everyday Koreans, as opposed to only the privileged. In the coming days, the Seoul Gyopo Guide will explain that there will be some resistance for the KORUS FTA, but that will be from the largest deluxe department stores, like Shinsaegae and Hyundai Department Store, because the "designer" boutiques of American brands will be revealed to be massively over-priced. The pictures and footage of Korean protesters is entertaining, maybe, but will not reflect the sentiment of the Korean population. Do not be led to believe otherwise.

The Sooner, The Better
For the suffering Americans in the midst of an anemic economic recovery, and to everyday Koreans where inflation is high (and rising rapidly in many areas), the KORUS FTA cannot be passed soon enough.  The Lost Seoul hopes that both sides can proceed quickly and finally ratify the agreement.  Delays are unwarranted and those causing delays should be punished by voters at their next possible opportunity (i.e. election).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #5: "Bigger fish to fry" is a VERY useful phrase

When there are more important matters to consider, then you can use the phrase "Bigger fish to fry."

The phrase "Bigger fish to fry" is one of the most useful, most simple to use, and most easily understood slang phrases in English.  When there is something that is more important, but when time is being used to think, discuss, or debate other less important matters, you can use the phrase "bigger fish to fry."

The analogy being used is to the preparation of the fish for eating.  When you fry fish, there may be many fish, and not just one.  When there are many fish, and you are frying the small ones, without frying the largest one, then you may be using your time unwisely by focusing your attention on the small fish. 

For example,
A.  "I think that we should use the steel chopsticks, not the wood ones."
B.  "We have bigger fish to fry.  We don't even know where we are serving."

The phrase "bigger fish to fry" is slang and would not be appropriate in formal settings.

Subtle point:
The meaning of "bigger fish to fry" is quite simple.  However, it must be understood that this is very casual language, and that it may contain a very subtle insult.  The implication of the phrase is that someone else is using time and/or attention incorrectly.  In the example above, person B is subtly criticizing person A.  Person B is gently telling Person A that he is wasting time.

Another example:
A.  "Let's focus on this.  We have bigger fish to fry."
B.  "Are you saying that I have been wasting our time?"
A.  "Well, yes." 

If you are not close to the listener, then you can see that the listener can misunderstand the speaker.  For that reason, the phrase "we have bigger fish to fry" should be used carefully.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Korea is Right on the FTA Impasse, But the Bigger Picture is More Important

The Seoul Gyopo Guide has pointed out the importance of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) to the Korean population here, and pointed out that the lack of a ratified agreement victimizes the Korean people.  The KORUS FTA  was an agreement reached many years ago, and there was anticipation that Presidents Obama and Lee would have used the G20 Seoul Summit in order to be a place where they would announce a final agreement which could be ratified by both legislatures.  Wrong.  No final agreement has yet been reached.

In today's Wall Street Journal, it is reported that tariffs on the auto industry is the only remaining sticking point.  Korea objects to the phasing out of the existing tariffs over a five-year period.  Instead, Korea wants to have the tariff removed immediately.  It is perfectly reasonable that Korea would attempt to get this concession from the U.S., given that the other matters have been resolved, and that Korean auto manufacturers have invested heavily in the U.S. and employ a large number of Americans.  Hyundai Motors, in particular, is well-known to have manufacturing plants in Alabama and Georgia.

Even though it will hurt Hyundai Motors and Kia Motors on the margin, the fact is that the overall agreement will help the Korean population.  Given that inflation is the most difficult domestic economic challenge faced by everyday Koreans, the Korean government must consider this first, and do everything that it can in order to lessen the burden of the increased cost of living in Korea.  It should ratify the KORUS FTA as soon as possible.  Korea should not attempt hold up the agreement on this minor point, so that the general Korean population can benefit immediately.  Korea is the U.S. 7th largest trade partner, and there will be additional negotiations in the future.  The notion of not setting a negative precedent must be weighed against the notion of reasonableness and cooperation.  Since those two basically cancel each other out, the benefits to the Korean people should be the deciding factor.  Hopefully, the Korean government fully understands this.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #4: What is a "Monday Morning Quarterback"

In the U.S., American football is, by far, the dominant sport
Perhaps the fact that Samsung is the official TV of the National Football League (NFL) may the largest single signal of Korea's economic advancement to the world.  The quarterback is the most important position on a football team.  On sports channels, like ESPN, the decisions that the quarterback makes are scrutinized from every angle.  The actual games traditionally occur on Sunday (일요일).  The analysis traditionally occurs on Mondays.

From that background, you can understand what "Monday morning quarterback" means.  It means that people, with the benefit of hindsight, freely criticize decisions, without actually being there at the time.  The term "Monday morning quarterback" is used to describe those people who may or may not have the expertise to criticize, but do so anyway.  You can use the phrase for any topic, not only American football.

(o)  That analyst is just being a Monday morning quarterback.  He has never even played golf, and that putt was more difficult than it seemed.
(o)  It is easy for you to say:  you are a Monday morning quarterback.  Everyone is an expert after the result is known.

This phrase is usually not used in writing.  It is quite informal.
You can say "Monday morning quarterbacking" as a noun, but it is not strictly correct.  For example, you can say "There is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on in the newspapers this morning after last night's incident."  However, "quarterbacking" isn't really a noun that is widely used in any other ways.

What Did You Expect? Wikileaks strikes South Korea.

What Did You Expect?  Wikileaks strikes South Korea.
Over the past few days, WikiLeaks has revealed embarrassing facts about South Korean diplomats, and South Korean diplomacy.  Among the embarrassing facts, name-calling of Chinese diplomats is probably the worst, especially given the fact that China is a necessary participant in calming the current North-South Korean situation.  Although the Seoul Gyopo Guide believes that the Korea Herald article overstates the idea of panic among South Korean governmental officials, it is true that Korean diplomacy will need to adapt to the idea that it will be scrutinized to a far higher degree in the future.

New Position, New Responsibilities
The reason that Korea must adapt to a higher level of scrutiny?  Its higher position the global pecking order among nations.  Asia clearly is a focal point of the global economy, with China being the obvious center.  South Korea plays a critical role because for the economic links between the two countries.  Korea was able to secure its position as the host of the G20 Summit.  Goldman Sachs has postulated that South Korea could have the largest per-capita GDP in the world in the decades to come. 
The themes are not new.  South Korea has not behaved with consistency in many areas.  If Korea wants to receive global respect, then it must behave with the same set of rules that apply to the other global leaders.  It will need to accept the same scrutiny that Japan, the U.S., and the EC receive.
The press will also need to behave responsibly.  To characterize the South Korean government's reaction as panic is an overreaction, and makes it appear to readers that the South Korean government is incompetent.  The reaction of President Lee has been very competent under very difficult circumstances.  South Korea has everything to lose and nothing to gain from increased geopolitical tensions. It must remain wary of North Korea's "puncher's chance" if there were a military conflict.  There are 25 million South Koreans well within a 90 minute tank ride from the DMZ.  Yet, the Korean President must protect the nation's citizens, and the world will support any nation that defends the physical well-being of its people.   

The rules are difficult but it runs both ways.  Korea's greater stature in the world will be accompanied by greater scrutiny.  All parties will need to adjust to this new set of rules and quickly, in order to keep pace with the quality of Korean-made products and companies on the global stage.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

영어 Hint of the Day (비지너스) #11: "At the end of the day" is a phrase that is easy to understand and easy to use. BUT...

"At the end of the day" is a phrase that is easy to understand, and easy to use.  But...

"At the end of the day" is usually used when drawing a conclusion among a number of factors.  For example, you may be a soccer (football) expert, and believe that Barcelona FC is the world's best after evaluating the strikers, midfielders and the goaltender.  You can say:

(o) At the end of the day, Barcelona FC is the best soccer club in the world.

a.  The phrase is most commonly found at the very beginning of a sentence, and not at the end.
b.  This phrase is NOT usually used when writing.  It would not be considered to be appropriate for writing academic papers or essays.  It would not be considered to be appropriate for use in professional, written business reports.
c.  This phrase is frequently used in speaking by analysts of every type.  In fact, it has become so popular in the past number of years that many are becoming tired of it.  They believe that it is overused.  The Lost Seoul doesn't necessarily think so:  the phrase is convenient for Korean native speakers that want to draw a conclusion (or make a "key point") when trying to persuade others.  In addition, all native English speakers will easily understand what this means.  This is of course the most important goal: to make others understand what you are saying.

At the end of the day, use the phrase "At the end of the day," but do not use it excessively.

Monday, November 29, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #3: "Take a pill." 약 먹아야 되? 아니....

영어 Slang of the Day #3: "Take a pill."  약 먹아야 되?  아니....

This phrase means "you need to calm down" when there is some type of misunderstanding, or when the other person is overreacting to a situation.  For example, if you say something, and the other person reacts violently, when your comment wasn't serious, then "Take a pill" can be used.  You can also say "Take a chill pill."

Here are a few examples.
A.  I cannot believe that you just said that!  I am so angry right now!
B.  (o)  Calm down, you need to take a pill.
B.  (o)  Take a chill pill.
B.  (o)  You have misunderstood me.  Take a pill, man.

Given that this is slang, it is not appropriate for use in a business setting. 

Why Korean Women Dominate Women's Golf

Numbers do not lie:  Korean women occupy 22 (23 if you count Michelle Wie, my favorite) out of the top 50 in the latest Rolex Rankings which is the globally accepted women's ranking system.  Perhaps you would think that the rest of the world would have changed its practice routines, techniques, etc to adapt to the 5-year dominance by a country with only 50MM people.  In addition to being proud of these achievements, The Lost Seoul believes that this dominance as a group will continue.  Understanding how this came to pass provides valuable hints for people that want to understand Korea (and Koreans) as a whole.

Instruction is Available Everywhere
Korea has multiple golf channels on cable TV, which provide practical instruction to golfers of all levels.  I have taught both tennis and golf to people as a personal favor.  The fact is that English-language golf shows, and magazines, give largely irrelevant golf instruction.  The 15 handicapper doesn't require an article about how to hit 4 types of chips/pitches with 3 wedges.  He needs to master 2 chips/pitches (one high trajectory, one low trajectory) and probably with 2 wedges at most.  After watching shows in Korea, the amount of relevant instruction available and usable by most golfers is impressive.  Perhaps this is because U.S. golf instruction is dominated by "stars": Leadbetter, Harmon, et al, and of course, the top golf pros.  And while there is zero doubt that many of this instruction is great and correct, the point of this post is that a common person with average coordination/talent, only has the time or budget to remember 2 or 3 key points.  In Korea, the instruction does a better job of focusing on these points than in the U.S.

Koreans Study and Practice Habits Translate Perfectly into Golf
It is the institutionalized Korean study and practice habit routine which separates Korea from the rest of the world.  Koreans have learned from a very young age to practice, practice, practice.  Children attend study centers until 8-10pm from a young age.  Most of this is practicing problems or drills of some sort.  Taekwondo is a sport where form is all-important.  If I can show slow motion video of a proper golf swing, a Korean has already learned how to replicate the motion almost perfectly.  If you go to a driving range in Korea (including in the middle of Seoul), you would be SHOCKED at how many golfers have the club set properly on the plane at the top of the backswing.  My personal opinion is that number is probably something like 60%.  It isn't an exaggeration.  Since golf is a game of building a reliable, repeatable swing, by the time a Korean woman becomes a pro, the swing is almost completely built from a technical viewpoint.
It is true that access to golf courses is limited for middle-class Koreans.  However, access to driving ranges and now golf simulators (called Screen Golf in Korea), is easy:  they are everywhere.  In certain neighborhoods in Seoul, you can easily find 5-10 Screen Golf centers within a 10-15 minute driving radius.  While they do not simulate the lie (and weather) correctly, these simulators are very accurate with respect to distance.  So, a Korean golfer can know, in the middle of winter, that his/her 5 iron travels 180 yards.

Teamwork is a Secondary Goal
Korean history is not a story of groups of people who collectively overcome obstacles and achieve greatness.  Instead, it is filled of individual heroes/heroines.  King Sejong, Lee Kun-Hee, the list goes on and on:  the focus is on individual achievement.  What sport (along with tennis) is more individualistic than golf?  Certainly, trailblazers have created the inspiration for the current generation of Korean women golfers.  Pak Se Ri and Grace Park have instilled the notion that a Korean golfer can conquer the world.  This has been the case in other sports in the past as well. Sweden's Bjorn Borg success mobilized a country of less than 7mm people to create the world's dominant nation in men's tennis during the 1980s.  Pak Se Ri and Grace Park have done the same for Korea, when golf was not a popular sport.  The two transformed Korea into a golf-crazed nation.

Korean-Americans Have Joined The Korean Golf Wave
Second-generation Koreans, born in Korea or the U.S., have also begun to make their imprint on the golf world.  This year, a Korean-American won the U.S. Women's Amateur.  Young Koreans have also advanced very far into the U.S. men's amateur.  Korean-Americans Michelle Wie and Anthony Kim are two of golf's brightest stars.  It may be the fact that being brought up by native Koreans, with the study/practice routines mentioned above, may have been instilled in this group.

Why Have Korean Men Not Made the Same Impact as a Group?
Certainly, there are outstanding Korean men professional golfers on the global stage:  KJ Choi and YE Yang are well-known to golf fans.  YE Yang was Asia's first major winner, and perhaps more famously, the first to defeat Tiger Woods in a major when Tiger Woods led after three rounds.  There are three reasons that Korean men do not, as a group, have the same stature as Korean men.  First, men's golf has far deeper competition than the women's tour.  On a given day, the 50th ranked men's golfer can win a major championship.  This is rarely the case on the women's tour, i.e. a "suprise" winner of a women's major is usually the stage used to announce a new star to the tour who will last near the top of the rankings for years.  Second, physical size and strength in men's golf is a factor.  Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson can drive the ball 300 yards in the air.  "Stupid long" is how Tiger Woods has described Dustin Johnson.  Third, The Lost Seoul believes that the mandatory military service serves to stop the progress of male Korean golfers.  As males mature physically, and mentally, Korean men have to go to the military for 2 1/2 years at the age of 23-26 (approximately).  Well, that is precisely the time that men develop and mature in athletics (and in every other way).  The study/practice routine is interrupted, and when American/European young men are pursuing their dreams of joining their professional tours, Korean men are in the army.  That serves as a barrier that almost cannot be overcome, except in a very limited number of cases.  It is unlikely, then, that we will witness a Korean wave of men that dominate on the PGA or European Tour.

If You Understand How Korean Women Have Done This, Then You Can Understand Korea
None of the information above is a secret.  They are facts that can easily be confirmed by going to Korea, and stepping inside a driving range.  The attention to practice and repetition, along with an understanding of the importance of form, has been combined with availability of relevant instruction.  In addition, the recent advent of Screen Golf (which is run via PC) will also favor the development of Korean golf.  That is not to say that putting, touch, etc are not important.  Of course they are.  You could make the argument that if Michelle Wie was better from 100 yards and in (including putting) that she would be even higher in the world rankings.  That doesn't mean that Korean women will win multiple major championships.  In fact, Korean women have underperformed their rankings in majors.  You could claim that while the repetition has made Koreans consistent contenders, that winning championships is still something that must be learned, and that has not been mastered by Korean women.  However, as a group, Korean women will stay among the most well-represented on the Rolex Rankings. 

About the Seoul Gyopo Guide
This blog is dedicated to those Koreans that want to learn about how the world outside Korea works (which includes the English langugage).  It is also meant to help foreigners to understand Korea and Koreans.  Korea is a fascinating combination of old and new, and occupies a critical position within the global economy.   Visit the Seoul Gyopo Guide for posts on the Korean economy and society:  its quirks, its brilliance, and amazing vitality.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #2: He has "a puncher's chance." What?

영어 Slang of the Day #2:  He has "a puncher's chance."  What?

A "puncher's chance" means that a person (or group), while not probably successful, still has the opportunity to be successful, albeit a slim one.  Perhaps this is best illustrated through example.

(o)  Korea has a puncher's chance against Brazil in football.
This means that while Korea is not likely to defeat Brazil in football (soccer), Korea could still win by taking large risks.

The idea of a "puncher" refers to boxing.  In boxing, a person could swing wildly, and even if less skilled than his opponent, he could still win if he were to hit his opponent with a single, stunning blow to the head.  Thus, the slang term of a "puncher's chance" exists.

Final note:  the correct article used before "puncher's chance" is the word "a."  The word "the" is incorrect.  The correct of use of articles is particularly challenging for native Korean speakers and requires a great deal additional studying.

화이팅!  Pun intended.

Annoying Things About Korea #1: The Price of Electronics is Stupidly High

Annoying Things About Korea #1:  The Price of Electronics is Stupidly High

Korea is the home of two of the most advanced consumer electronics products companies in the world, LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics.  A long time ago (30 years ago), these products made by LG and Samsung were relegated to discount stores in the U.S.  LG was called GoldStar at that time.  Both brands were regarded as lower priced, lower quality brands.  Well, that has changed indeed.  As a result of global competition, the prices that LG and Samsung charge in foreign markets are limited by the fact that there are other capable consumer electronics companies:  Apple, IBM, Sony, Dell, and now Chinese-made Haier is making progress on the international stage.  Perhaps you would believe that the competitive pricing that exists in other countries would also exist in Korea.  Nope.

The Seoul Gyopo Guide vehemently disagrees with the Korean companies that charge excessive prices for products without the most updated features to Korean citizens.  When considering laptop computers, it makes absolutely no sense to buy a Korean companies' laptop computer in Korea.

Laptop computer price example
In the U.S.,
Dell Inspiron N4010 Laptop:  $575, i.e. less than 700,000 KRW.
Intel i3 Processor
14.1 Inch Screen
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit

In Korea, the equivalent computer costs:  1,150,000 KRW i.e. $1000.
This computer has 2GB RAM, and a 250GB HDD.  It has the same processor and the same size screen.  In addition, the Windows 7 version is the 32-Bit version.

In other words, the computer in Korea costs over 50% more than a computer with greater capability and storage size.  There is no reason for Koreans to tolerate this.  It is perfectly legal to go to another country, and buy a laptop.  You may say that there is the cost of Windows 7 and keyboard issue.  Both can be easily overcome in Korea for minimal cost.  Even if you purchase a legal copy of Windows 7, that would cost less than $150.  The keyboard issue?  Go to Link-O and buy the stickers for 2,000 KRW.

If Korea did not have the technology to produce these final products, that would be one thing.  However, these computers are designed and either manufactured in Korea or nearby Asian countries.  There is no reason that the price of more advanced computers shouldn't be lower, not higher, than in the U.S.  The victims of this price-gouging by LG Electronics and Samsung?  Everyday Koreans, many of them students.  So the irony here is that Korean companies are making the cost of educating Korean citizens higher, when many Koreans cannot afford to pay for all of the hagwons that they must attend.

The Seoul Gyopo Guide finds this as one of the most Annoying Things About Korea.  There are others, which will follow.  Some will be controversial, and others will be obvious.  This over-pricing of laptop computers is painfully obvious.  Many Koreans travel overseas or to other countries these days.  My suggestion?  Go to a local electronics store in the foreign country and buy the laptop there, and save yourself the 300,000 KRW.

Political Science Experts Are Frothing at the Mouth: The Korean Conflict Takes Center Stage

Political Science Experts Are Frothing at the Mouth:  The Korean Conflict Takes Center Stage

It has been the opinion of the Seoul Gyopo Guide that war on the Korean peninsula was, is, and will be highly unlikely.  The bottom line is that Korea isn't the appropriate forum for a war, given South Korea's position in the world economy:  it is the U.S.' 7th largest trade partner, and China relies on South Korea for the technology transfer necessary in a large number of industries in order to continue the economic development of the world's most populous nation.  Nevertheless, it is still a fact that anything can happen, and this post examines some of those scenarios.

Is this China's handiwork?
Although this is unlikely, it has been suggested by some that China is behind the North Korean provocations.  If in fact this were the case, then the chance that this is actually a precursor to an all-out military conflict drops to nearly zero.  The reason?  China relies on South Korea in two ways.  First, China is a large exporter of consumer goods to South Korea.  The products range from agricultural products, seafood products, to everyday goods.  Second, Korean companies are enormous investors in China.  If you go to Beijing, you will see that all of the largest conglomerates (e.g. Samsung, LG, SK) have satellite headquarters there.  Hyundai Motors has joint ventures in China, where Chinese companies are "learning" from their Korean counterparts.  In short, the idea that China would support a military conflict would jeopardize, in part, Chinese economic development.  While the idea that the Chinese military is provoking skirmishes throughout the region in order to flex its muscles may be true, the Seoul Gyopo Guide believes that these priorities are subordinate to the importance of economic development.  In November 30th's UK newspapers The Financial Times and The Guardian, it has been reported via Wikileaks that the PRC has been frustrated with North Korea, and not in collaboration with it.

Does the North Korean Military Approve of Kim Jong-Un? 
It is well-known that military conflicts have occurred throughout history when the parties misunderstand the rules of engagement.  Now, rules of engagement means all of the different levels of engagement, i.e. political, economic and military.  One could postulate that as the transition of power in North Korea occurs, that some party, like the North Korean military, could choose to take matters into its own hands, and ignite a military conflict.  This is the one scenario which could actually be realized and must be closely monitored.  Surely, leaders of all parties are aware of global history, and are watching this transition of power carefully.  A great deal of resources have been used by NATO during the Cold War in order to prevent an "accidental war" resulting either from misunderstanding at any level.  The reason?  During the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent release of documents from the Kremlin, it is clear to us now that the world was much closer to the brink of a catastrophe than originally thought.  That history does not repeat itself must be the highest priority on the Korean peninsula.

Greater Leverage During Negotiations?  Most Probably.
There were supposed to be new negotiations amongst parties regarding the North Korean nuclear weapons program.   At the same time, a new nuclear facility in North Korea has been revealed.  To make each of these matters worse, there is no sign of respite from the seemingly endless economic decline of North Korea.  The bottom line is that North Korea needs more leverage when sitting at a negotiation table.  With little else to offer, North Korea has had almost no other choice than to use provocation in order to wrench concessions from South Korea and the U.S.  Its economy needs help, and needs it 20 years ago.  Knowing that South Korea has too much to lose should there be a war, North Korea can squeeze aid and other concessions.  As long as the North Korean nuclear program does not include the sale of sensitive nuclear technology to others, then it is political reality that at this point, there is little that can be done to dissuade North Korea from this path, given its dire economic needs.  The North Korean ideological bluster and other manouvers?  Most probably a smokescreen to increase its leverage to receive financial assistance, while maintaining its public stance to the world, and perhaps most importantly, its kool-aid drunken citizens.

But Still, Anything Can Happen...
While the Seoul Gyopo Guide continues to dismiss the ideas that war is anything other than a very low-probability event, it is true that anything can happen.  It can happen by error.  It can happen by miscalculation.  It can happen even if the best intentions exist.  So unfortunately, all parties will need to use financial and political resources that could be otherwise deployed.  Given the economic and social problems that originally existed, and remain, that may be the largest price being paid at the moment (aside from the 2 South Koreans that were part of the South Korean Navy, and the innocents on Yeonpyong Island).  The Seoul Gyopo Guide mourns their senseless loss.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

영어 Slang of the Day #1: What is an "Ugly American?"

영어 Slang of the Day #1:  What is an "Ugly American?"

The term "ugly American" is meant as an insult.  It is used by Americans and non-Americans alike.  It refers to something that points out that Americans are ignorant regarding the rest of the world.  Some of that may be because Americans are poorly educated, and some of that may be because Americans believe that the U.S. is the only important nation in the world, and is disrespectful of other nations, their habits and their customs. 

Thanks to YouTube, you can easily find examples.
Poorly-educated ugly American:  This is one of YouTube's most famous videos.  It has been watched more than 47,000,000 times!  This is from a Miss Teen USA beauty pageant, and the contestant, Miss South Carolina, barely makes any sense as she used incorrect facts along with incorrect grammar the entire time.

Sarah Palin.   The ex-governor of Alaska, and former vice presidential candidate, has mistakenly referred to North Korea as a U.S. ally.  Now, I would like to make a few excuses on her behalf, but it is difficult.  This occurred a few days ago, during an interview about the most recent military clash.

While it is true that the term "ugly American" may be overdone, there are reasons that the term exists, and thanks to the internet, there is evidence regarding why the term exists for all to see.  Now, remember that there are approximately 310,000,000 people in the U.S., so to choose a couple examples may be a bit unfair.

영어 Hint of the Day #25: Buy vs acquire. Trickier than it seems

영어 Hint of the Day #25: Buy vs acquire.  Trickier than it seems

The other day on, I saw a question and responded to it.  The question was, "What is the difference between buy and acquire?"

You can buy something with money or in a barter/trade.
You can acquire something in the same way, but in addition, you can acquire something abstract.  You cannot buy something that is abstract (like wisdom).

(o)  I am going to buy a new mobile phone for 500,000 won.
(o)  I am going to acquire a new mobile phone.
(o)  I have acquired wisdom through my hard work and dedication.
(x)  I have bought wisdom through my hard work and dedication.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Korea's Embarrassing Behavior Regarding the KEB Sale is Now Finally Over

Today, Reuters reported that Hana Bank, with potential financial backing from Goldman Sachs, Carlyle Group, and KKR, will purchase KEB from the the U.S.-based private equity firm Lone Star.  This potentially removes the black eye that has scarred Korea's reputation on the global financial stage.

The positive?  The courts ultimately used proper law and economics principles to uphold the lawful sale.  It was refreshing to see that the Korean legal system actually used financial principles in denying the appeals to the eventual sale of KEB to Lone Star.  As The Lost Seoul has stated here, the fact is that there were NO other buyers for KEB's assets at that time.  As a result, the concept of "fair value," especially when a company is under extreme financial distress, was almost impossible to ascertain. It doesn't really matter if you believe that your used car is worth $5000 if the only willing buyer is willing to pay $2000.  The "fair price" is...$2000.  For the appeal to suggest that there was manipulation of what the "fair price" was is totally irrelevant.  The Korean legal system has upheld this basic economic principle. 

The negative?  This entire process exposed the relative infantile nature of Korean corporate and societal behavior to the world.  If KEB failed in 2005, after KEB had been sold to a foreign buyer, would Lone Star have a case if it tried to negate the sale after the fact?  No.  In the U.S., private equity firms tried to buy very large stakes in Washington Mutual during the financial crisis.  There was no public uproar which sympathized with the buyers.  It is especially the case after the deal had been completed, and approved by governmental officials.  If Korea wishes to jon the first world at the level equivalent to the world-class products that it produces, then it must follow internationally-accepted (and logical) rules of international trade.  Financial transactions are different than when a person buys a new car.  In that case, the car may have production defects.  Those defects are guaranteed to be fixed by the manufacturer.  However, the price of the car is up to the buyer to determine, i.e. if the buyer believes the car is too expensive, he/she buys a different model.  In the future, Korean governmental officials must make sure that it has the appropriate measures to approve financial transactions, and the government must uphold its own decisions, even if politically unpopular.  Not doing so has made Korea look silly on the international stage.  Let's hope that this does not occur in the future as Korea continues its march to the upper echelon of the global economy.