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 http://www.twitter.com/, 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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

영어 Hint of the Day #24: RT @Fr33S0ul: "건성으로 듣다. I listen to someone in an absent sort of way." Wrong.

Recently, I read this on Twitter.
RT @Fr33S0ul:  건성으로 듣다. I listen to someone in an absent sort of way.

This is a gramatically incorrect sentence.  As has been posted here, and here, learning English via Twitter doesn't always work.  That is particularly true when the teacher is not fluent.

Correct translations of "건성으로 듣다" would be:
(o)  I am only partially paying attention to what is being said.
(o)  I am only partially listening.

The reason that the sentence "I listen to someone in an absent sort of way" is that the word "absent" is an adjective which only describes nouns.  However "건성으로 듣다" requires a description of the word "listen," which is a verb.  In order to describe a verb, the word must be an adverb, not an adjective.  Therefore, the use of the word "absent" in the translation, "I listen to someone in an absent sort of way" cannot be correct. 

As usual, you can expect loud tirades (with no reasoning attached ) in response to this blog entry.  The Lost Seoul's response?
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."  -W. Shakespeare

The Real Victims of KORUS FTA Failure? Korean Citizens

The G20 Seoul Summit Was Anti-Climatic in Many Ways....

Before the G20 Seoul Summit, there was great preparation, great anxiety, and not-so-great anticipation of a final agreement to ratify the KORUS (Korea-U.S.) Free Trade Agreement.  At best, the G20 delivered on one out of the three.  Perhaps the only certain outcome?  Continuing inflation in South Korea to the detriment of Korean citizens.

War of Words Among the Largest
In a strange twist, Ben Bernanke was the target of most of the verbal attacks by foreign leaders around the world.  As a result of QE2 (Quantitative Easing 2), which is a program where the US Federal Reserve Bank will purchase between USD $500-750 Billion in U.S. government bonds, foreign central bankers roundly criticized "Helicopter Ben."  Of course, this is somewhat ironic, given that governments around the world have also propped up their domestic economies in various ways.  The EU, Japan, China, and yes, South Korea have embarked on massive government spending programs in order to prevent deflation and the resulting loss of consumer confidence.  That, in turn, would start a spiral in which consumers don't spend, which creates another round of economic duress.  In South Korea, the Bak administration has spent a great amount of money in buying vacant apartments outside of Seoul (신도시) to avoid further losses by Korean construction companies.  In Europe, the ECB has purchased government bonds of Greece and now, Ireland is next in line to received direct financial aid.  Countries are trying to preserve their domestic economies but the result is artificial currency depreciation.  For global leaders to point at Helicopter Ben is irony at its height.

No KORUS FTA = Increasing Inflation for Koreans
The bottom line is that both the U.S. and Korean governments are being foolish by not reaching final agreement on the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement.  Beef and autos continue to the main points of contention.  However, the fact that many other common goods would be imported into Korea at much lower prices would have created downward pressure on inflation.  That is very important to the average working Korean, where food inflation is rampant to the point where even cabbage used in making kimchi has become unaffordable to many.  Now, The Lost Seoul isn't stating that final ratification of the KORUS FTA would result in instaneous downward pressure on all prices, but the fact is that greater competition due to lower tariffs on many goods can do nothing other than help mitigate the increasing pressure on the cost of living in Korea.  So while special interest groups are delaying ratification of the KORUS FTA, the victims are Korean citizens who are struggling to make ends meet.  The Bak administration would do well to attempt to break the impasse, or pressure will increase on the Bank of Korea to increase interest rates to strengthen the Won.  Doing so would jeopardize the competitiveness of Korean products on the international marketplace.  That is a vicious cycle that may be difficult to stop, at precisely the wrong time if the global economic recovvery continues to be painfully slow.  Korea has difficult choices in its immediate future:  pressing the U.S. to finally ratify the KORUS FTA should be a top priority.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Korea-US FTA: Why Hasn't This Passed Yet? Both Sides Are Being Equally Ridiculous

The leaders of the largest 20 economies in the world are going to gather in Seoul this week.  Presidents Lee (South Korea) and Obama (United States) have been trying, at various speeds over the past 3 years, to ratify the the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement.  Apparently, according to Reuters, there are two areas where disagreements still exist: autos and beef. 

It's hard to decide whether South Korea or the U.S. is being more ridiculous in this 3-year delay:  let's just call it a draw.

Ford took out a full page advertisement against the KORUS FTA late last week, with claims that Korean manufacturers would be allowed to ship 52 cars to Korea for every American manufacturer.  This advertisement has received a fair amount of publicity in the United States' press, including from think tanks, and via newspaper coverage.
Most people in the United States are well-aware of Ford Motor Company's dramatic strides.  It declined government aid during the financial crisis and bankrupcies of both General Motors and Chysler; now Ford is generally-considered to be the best managed U.S. auto manufacturer.  Equity investors have been handsomely rewarded as well:  Ford stock has risen by 62.1% in the past 52 weeks alone.  Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Senator, has also voiced concerns to support his contituency.  American complaints against the  KORUS FTA concern tariffs, and adherence to emissions standards.  Not only are both areas without merit, but neither addresses the fundamental problem:  Korean consumers won't buy a Ford passenger car in large numbers anytime soon.

This is a quote from the Reuters' article,
"Levin and others had advocated the United States phase out the 2.5 percent U.S. auto tariff over at least 15 years, but allow for a quicker elimination if sales of American cars to South Korea hit certain levels." 
Linking the elimination of U.S. tariffs to the level of American car sales to Korean consumers?  Let's be frank and honest here:  the U.S. auto manufacturers are worried about the increasing market share of Hyundai and Kia in the U.S.  That's it.  GM is silent, which is being interpreted as neutral.  Do you know why?  In Korea, GM owns Daewoo Motor, which failed as a result of the Daewoo Group's enormous debt, coupled with the Asian currency crisis.  So GM, if it complained a la Ford, GM would be criticizing itself. 
For its part, Korea should also drop any price barriers, and let Korean consumers decide.  Ford would have a long, long way to go:  it has no dealer network, no maintenance facilities, and most importantly:  what Koreans would buy a Ford Focus instead of Hyundai Elantra for essentially the same price?  There will be some, of course, that want to buy as a result of being different.  That would be the extent of it. Until a foreign-made product is unquestionably superior, everyday Koreans won't buy it.  One day, take a Korean Air flight from Seoul to the U.S.  Do you see all the Koreans onboard?  They pay, easily 10% higher prices for a ticket on Korean Air than on United Airlines or Delta Airlines.  Nevertheless, those seats do not go unfilled.  Long gone are the days when Korean-made products are objectively inferior to American counterparts.  When you add this simple fact to everyday Koreans' affinity for domestically-made products, Ford has a long uphill battle.  It knows this and that is why it wants to tie the phasing out of the 2.5% U.S. auto tariff to the level of American car sales. 
On emissions standards, the complaints of American manufacturers are easily answered by one simple statement.  Lexus, Honda, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz all comply with Korean emissions standards.  We can have all sorts of other discussions about the inequity of Korean emissions standards, etc.  None of them matter in the least.  Other, foreign-based automanufacturers know the laws, and comply. 
In short, the U.S. objections do not make a lot of sense.  They reveal two worries: the loss of domestic market share, and the inevitable failure to gain a foothold in Korea.

Koreans love the idea of conspiracy, and do not quite understand the power of the fear of litigation.   There is good reason for this.  The large conglomerates (chaebol) have dominated almst every facet of Korean life for as long as anyone can remember.  When there is a production problem in some area which causes illness, there is little recourse for a consumer to complain, or sue.  A couple of years ago, it was found that some lunches prepared for schools was defective.  There was little press coverage, and no report of compensation to the students. 

The nature of the complaints against U.S. beef, in The Lost Seoul's view, are tied to this lack of belief in consumers' rights.  There would not nearly be the "fear" of BSE (mad cow disease) if Korean citizens fundamentally believed in the concept of consumers' rights.   Think about U.S. corporations' actions.  If you think about the recent over-the-counter drug epidsode, the manufacturers pull everything off their shelves immediately.  Why?  The public good?  Yes, you can make that claim, and the companies certainly state that.  However, it is a fact that there are HUGE legal liabilities that need to be avoided.  To everyday Koreans, this is not a part of the psyche. 

The fact is that Americans eat beef of all ages, without knowing the age, and without asking any questions.  If there was a problem that was known by the company responsible, the legal consequences would be severe to the point of potential extinction of the company. Have any Americans asked at a restaurant, "How old is the beef that is being served in this dish?"  Nope. 
There is the issue of wagyu, which is similar to Japanese kobe beef.  It is indeed tender, and expensive (although not as pricey as kobe).  Korean objections to American imports as a result of potential are also pointless:  the number of Koreans that insist on buying, or choosing restaurants because wagyu is being served are relatively few, and they won't change their consumption of wagyu because of the fact that there is filet mignon available. The downside of the tariffs on U.S. beef?  Inflation on existing products.  Food inflation is a major problem in Korea.  Any Korean complaints against the import of U.S. beef are outweighed easily by the benefits that everyday Koreans will enjoy due to greater supply, and lower price inflation.  Even if this benefit were small, the average Korean household would benefit. 

Not suprisingly, special interest groups are blocking the passage of the KORUS FTA.  They do so without merit, and at the cost to both American and Korean consumers. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

영어 Hint of the Day #23: Don't use the word "because" to start a sentence unless you are an expert

영어 Hint of the Day #23: Don't use the word "because" to start a sentence unless you are an expert

Today, I read this on http://www.twitter.com/.  It is a common error, and can be corrected easily.

(x)  Because the test is an important step to make my life happy.

Sentences should not begin with the word "because."  Why is that?  Read the sentence above again.  There is no subject or verb.  The word "because" is the first word of a clause, which answers the question "why?"  In verbal (spoken) English, it is common to begin a sentence with the word "because."

For example, this is in spoken English.
Question:  Why do you think that Shin Min-a is pretty?
Answer:   Because she has large dimples.

Strictly speaking, the answer is grammatically incorrect (even if factually correct).  In this case, the person giving the answer has shortened the sentence.  If the person giving the answer spoke correctly, it would've been this:

Answer:  She is pretty because she has large dimples.

If you are an advanced English speaker or writer, there is a correct way of beginning a sentence with the word "because."

(o)  Because she has large dimples, Shin Min-a is pretty.
(o)  Because I am ugly and have bad breath, I don't have a girlfriend.

In these cases, there are subjects and verbs, and therefore, the sentences are grammatically correct.  Remember that The Lost Seoul is trying to advise native Korean speakers to use simple sentence structure correctly first, and then make it more complicated after you have mastered the simple cases.  One way to make it easy and correct:  don't use the word "because" as the first word in a sentence, especially in written English.

일본어 왜 공부하고 싶습니까? 일본어가 상관없을 것 같습니다.

Don't waste your time (and money) in learning Japanese (일본어).  Japan is in PERMANENT decline.

Japanese is easy for native Koreans to learn.  You have heard from your friends, or you know it for yourself, that native Koreans can learn competent Japanese within one year.  That is not a good reason to learn Japanese.   Japan is in PERMANENT decline.  Its influence in the world has peaked long ago.  Here is why.

1.  Japan's population is old.  It is a well-known fact that the Japanese live longer than the global average.  Some say it is due to the large amount of seafood consumed there.  It doesn't really matter why.  The point is that the average age of the Japanese population is far greater than other countries in the Asia, and the world.  Why does this matter?  Young people drive innovation, old people do not.  Companies target younger buyers for a reason:  they spend more money than older people.  One very good reason that Korea has caught up to, and in many cases, surpassed Japanese consumer electronic companies?  The younger, more demanding population of Korea has made LG, Samsung, and others to continue to make changes to consumer products continuously.  Think about Korea for a moment.  When there is a new product that falls behind, does it ever catch up?  Look at LG Electronics now in 휴대폰.  Remember the Chocolate?  It is now long forgotten due to the iPhone and Samsung android smartphones.  10 years ago, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Hitachi were signifcant consumer electronics brands in the U.S.  Now?  All but gone, and surpassed by LG and Samsung TVs.

2.  Japan is debt-ridden.  The size of the governmental debt is enormous.  One reason for the economic decline of Japan, and the failure of the Japanese government to stimulate the economy is because it cannot afford it.  Coupled with a declining population, who will be able to repay this debt?  There are fewer taxpayers to pay, and less profitable Japanese companies to pay corporate taxes as well.

3.  China, China, China.  Koreans are aware that China and Japan have a long history of animosity.  More than that, China's enormous population and natural resource needs will dominate the attention of people and companies on a global basis.  In the U.S., there is almost no mention of Japan as a target market.  China, and to a lesser extent, India are far more important to the future of corporations.

This is only a partial list.  Japanese is, no doubt, easier for native Koreans to learn.  Nevertheless, English is, and will continue to be, the universally accept language of business.  Since Korea must focus on business on a global basis, English is far more important.  Chinese is of course important due to the fact that it is close to Korea, and the world's most populous nation.    Japan, and Japanese, are in decline, and will continue to be for the forseeable future.  So, unless you are working at a job that is focused on Japanese tourists or tourism to Japan, studying Japanese will continue to be less important to Koreans.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Canada Blocks BHP's Bid for Potash Corp., Protectionism is Alive and Well, and Korea Should Learn the Rules

Canada Blocks BHP's Bid for Potash Corp., Protectionism is Alive and Well, and Korea Should Learn the Rules

A few hours ago, Canada prohibited Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd's bid for Canada-based Potash Corporation.  To some, this is a sign of protectionism against a foreign buyer of a "national treasure."  To some, this will come as a suprise.  The Lost Seoul doesn't think this is suprising, and that the international community's response to this decision will be muted. 

This type of ruling has a long list of precedents, from a variety of different countries. In France, then Finance Minister Sarkozy publicly stated that investors could forget about trying to take over Alstom, the maker of high-speed and subway trains. In China, Coca-Cola had to cancel its plans to buy Huiyuan Juice after the Chinese commerce ministry blocked the deal on anti-trust grounds. In Canada, there was a point in time when it was speculated that jet-maker Bombardier was for sale but that Canada would not approve. In other words, blocking an M&A transaction due to the "national interest" is hardly a new concept.

In Korea, the most famous case involves Korea Exchange Bank (KEB). It was sold to a U.S.-based private equity firm Lone Star. However, once the economic recovery in the early 2000s took hold, Koreans complained about the sale to a foreign investor, and the court system attempted to block the transaction after it had been agreed upon by both the buyer and seller. In addition, it had cleared all regulatory scrutiny. It was only after the uproar occured that the legal challenges to this particular began.

There are two points here. First, the concept of protectionism in the "national interest" has superceded the rights of shareholders in the past. It has been done before, and it will certainly occur again in the future, particularly if the company is involved in the procurement of natural resources. Every nation is wary of China's increased economic power and its natural resource needs. Second, protectionism, even though it has a very unfavorable implication, does not result in an international halt of trade. It is most likely the case you have never heard of the Alstom or Bombardier cases.

Nevertheless, the Korean case stands out because the attempted blockage of this particular cross-border M&A transaction occurred after the approval had already been granted by governmental authorities. That is what has given Korea the "black eye" in that case, and if Korea would like to exercise its "national interest" rights in the future, Korea needs to do so in advance of final approval by the authorities, as has occured in Canada. Interestingly, there was another US private equity firm that extracted far better terms for the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan.  However, Japan did not try to formally block the deal.  When Korea matches the global standard in financial transactions, then its arrival among leading economic powers will begin to take shape.  Until international players believe that they understand the rules that Korea follows, there will remain the lack of respect that still exists as a result of the KEB situation.  At least Canada announced its protectionist policy in advance.  Like it or not, the world will have to tolerate Canada's decision, and soon it will be forgotten because it has blocked BHP's bid.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Fed Had A Shot to Get it Right By Mimicking Korea: Facing a Total Economic Collapse, KAMCO Saved Korea

Last week, this article appeared in the New York Times/Reuters Global Business Section which was suggesting that China follow Korea's path in order to increase the per capita GDP.  It was quite complimentary regarding Korea's reaction to the economic crisis of 1997-1998..  It does point out that the linkages among the different subsidiaries within a single chaebol were indeed broken, and that led to a path where a sustained economic recovery could ensue.

Here is the quote:
South Korea, though, after nearly defaulting on its debts at the end of 1997, pulled itself together and resumed its march up the value chain.
The key reason is that Seoul embarked on far-reaching market changes. In particular, the government reduced the power of the chaebol, the sprawling debt-heavy conglomerates whose links to the state created the impression that they were too big to fail.

Close, but not quite.
There is no doubt that the tangled web of the related companies of the large conglomerates was larely unwoven.  However, the conclusion that the government reduced the power of the chaebol isn't quite accurate.  There are a number of reasons that this is an inadequate description of what actually occurred.

First, and by far the most important, fact is that bad assets, whose value was only worth a few percentage points of reported book value, were cordoned off into the Korea Asset Management Corporation.  This included assets such as real estate, failed banks, and distressed companies.  Those assets were then correctly valued by the marketplace (although in the Goldstar/KEB case, this has been a very long, drawn-out process), and sold in a controlled fashion.  The analogy to KAMCO was the "good bank/bad bank" proposal that surfaced, and ultimately rejected, in the US during 2008. 

Second, the untangling of the cross-holdings of the debt issued by the related companies of the chaebol was absolutely key.  It wasn't that the influence of the chaebol was diminished per se.  It was that the financial viability of performing assets was more indentifiable by the market and that capital naturally flowed to the most desirable, and now relatively tangle-free, companies.  The best example of this was the Hyundai Group.  Perhaps more important than Hyundai Auto, which was already well-known to the world at that time, was the fact that Hyundai Heavy, the largest Korean shipbuilder had an extremely complicated financial relationship with Hyundai Group.  As a result, an investor of any sort, whether a lender or a shareholder, didn't quite know to where capital was allocated.  Once the tangled web was unwoven, then capital correctly chose the "winners" and the market let the "losers" fail.  Now, it did so with obvious governmental support at that time, but it did so nonetheless.

Third, the effect on Korean banks was that they too could report more accurately their exposure to specific Korean entities. This cannot be understated.  In the Korean language, there is a saying which is loosely translated to "money turning around makes more money."  In English we would say "you need to spend money to make money," or something like that.  The cleansing of the balance sheets of Korean banks made it possible for lending to resume, and importantly, to resume to entities without the spectre of a debt and stock cross-holding nightmare. 

Fourth, the article seems to minimize the dominance of the largest Korean chaebol.  Perhaps that is the view of a foreigner who has not spent a long time in Korea with Korean natives.  There have been, of course, gradual changes.  Nevertheless, the dominance of the largest Chaebol remains.  A viable explanation for the lack of a Korean "Steve Jobs" leader is that even if a pioneer had a vision, and a product that reflected that vision, that the business execution of that vision is made almost impossible because a chaebol would either buy that business before it grew into its own individual entity, or a chaebol would effectively crowd out the potential new competitor due to the dominant links to the retail chain, or that the visionary would thrown in the towel under the weight of potential competition and sell his/her idea too early to a large chaebol group.  Currently, a very compelling argument can be made that the underemployment of the very highly-educated Korean college graduate population is the result of lack of entrepreneurship opportunities which are effectively squealched by the chaebol.  Instead, Korean college graduates, faced with increased competition for few cherished jobs at the chaebol, instead opt for yet another degree to try to prove their worth to these dominant corporations.  Whether that is intentional or not is not the issue:  that it occurs is a fact.  That creates a viscious circle where the next student wants to obtain yet another, more advanced degree.  The result:  enormous structural underemployment. 

In short, yes, the NYT is accurate in that there have been large reforms in Korea since 1997-1998.  However, the nature of those changes, and how they supported the Korean economic revival, are slightly off the mark.  When history is written on Japan (over the past two decades), China, and the US during this period immediately following the financial crisis of 2007-2008, The Lost Seoul believes that sub-optimal growth occuring is because an opportunity was missed.  Korea seized that opportunity by cleaning its own balance sheets as much as they could have been, and creating KAMCO.  Then and only then could the improved global competitiveness of Korean products be fully recognized. 

The Lost Seoul

Aye, There's the Rub: Korean Inflation Hits 20 Month High While the US, Europe, and Japan Fight Deflation

One week ago, Korea reported 3rd Quarter GDP which exhibited a slowdown on a quarter-over-quarter basis.  On that basis, the Bank of Korea has resisted calls and predictions of raising domestic interest rates.  The result has been a Korean Won which has been weaker than would have otherwise been expected.  The Lost Seoul has reported that the weak Korean Won, particularly when compared to the Japanese Yen, has greatly helped the performance of the largest Korean corporations.

As posted here, The Lost Seoul has suggested that while the KOSPI has risen to three-year highs, and unemployment is the lowest of all OECD nations, the average Korean isn't happy, largely because of rising inflation, particularly of food prices.  Weather has been particularly unkind to Korean farmers this year:  even cabbage which is used to make the most famous Korean food, kimchi, has been in short supply.  Today, that anecdotal evidence was confirmed:  Bloomberg reported that Korean inflation is the highest it has been in 20 months.  This makes the Bank of Korea's job more difficult.  As was posted previously, The Lost Seoul described how the "wealth" effect, was not being shared among average Koreans.  Inflation, in all forms, usually increases prices of all goods, relatively speaking.  That is not the case in Korea, however, and thus, the average Korean does not feel wealthier, which leads to less consumption.

First, wage inflation is kept low by the ongoing underemployment (described here), particularly among young people in their early 20s.  Second, the real estate market has remained subdued, at best.  Third, employee participation in Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) is low.  Why does this matter?  It matters because the largest Korean companies are the largest, by far, employers.  As the KOSPI has risen to 3-year highs, the wealth effect due to increases in equity prices are not being shared by the employees.  As a result, the employees' purchasing power has risen to meet inflation.  Perhaps you could suggest that this is the case in the United States as well, except there exist far more developed pension plans, which are some of the most important equity owners of US equities.  As a result, employees at US corporations can actually see financial statements in which the value of their equity holdings will increase as the stock market rises.  The same cannot be said about Korea, so the "wealth" effect is small, and almost non-existent.

For the Bank of Korea, the spectre of stagflation has now appeared.  Stagnant economic growth coupled with inflation equals stagflation.  The global imbalances, if they persist, continue to make the outlook for the Korean economy shaky in the short-term, despite hard-fought gains made in quality and global competitiveness.  The Bank of Korea may have its most delicate balancing act in the months ahead.  No wonder it has not made violent moves in either direction, which would only increase the instability.  Small countries like Korea must wait and see what the effects of these global imbalances on Korean corporations, and as an extension, the Korean economy.

The Lost Seoul

영어 선생 Hall of Shame Entry #4: "It's not a slang but shortened used for chatting." Wrong.

영어 선생 Hall of Shame Entry #4:  "It's not a slang but shortened used for chatting."  Wrong.

Yesterday, a person on twitter.com asked the question, "What's lotta?"
The Lost Seoul's answer:  "lotta = lots of.  it is slang"

The recipient of the 영어 선생  Hall of Shame Entry #4 responded:
"It's not a slang but shortened used for chatting."

This response is wrong for two reasons.
First, it is grammatically incorrect in two ways. 
(x)  It's not a slang but shortened used for chatting."
(o) It's not slang but shortened to be used for chatting."
There were plenty of characters left, so there can be no excuse.

Second, the response is factually incorrect.
For example, a simple look at the Macmillan Dictionary has the definition of "lotta" as
"a way of writing lot of that shows how it sounds in informal conversation
In addition, if you look at "lotta love" on http://www.google.com/, you will find not one, not two, but multiple songs that use the phrase "lotta love."  If it were the case that "lotta" was for the internet only, then how did the term make it into those songs, two of which existed before the internet did?
Once again, user #Fr33S0uL on http://www.twitter.com/, you are the recipient of a place on the 영어 선생 Hall of Shame.
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."The Lost Seoul

Monday, November 1, 2010

영어 Hint of the Day #22: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." 그 말이 아시겠십니까? 참 재미있어요.

영어 Hint of the Day #22:  "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."  그 말이 아시겠십니까?  참 재미있어요. 

From Wilkopedia.com:
The quotation "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, scene II. The phrase has come to mean that one can "insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying."
The phrase is often misquoted as "Methinks the lady doth protest too much." and is commonly used in the second person as "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

The phrase means that when someone insists or complains about a statement excessively, the statement itself is probably true. 

For example, in response to the 영어 선생 Hall of Shame Entry #3, the recipient of the award sent 17 insults to The Lost Seoul.  It is a perfect example of when this phrase is applicable.  If the statements were not true, would it really be suitable for 17 responses to be written?  The lady doth protest too much, methinks.  Indeed.

By the way, "Konglish" is when English words are translated using 한글.  During that process, the sounds are not exactly alike.  That makes the pronunciation difficult to understand by native English speakers.  The point of the pronunciation hints are to help your spoken words to be understood by fluent English speakers.  If that is NOT your goal when speaking in English, i.e. to be understood by native English speakers, then feel free to ignore The Lost Seoul's suggestions.  It is of course your right to reject the opinion expressed in the Seoul Gyopo Guide.  Even better:  leave a comment on the website if you do not agree.

For those of you that have sent me messages of support, thank you.  You have joined readers from over 45 countries around the world in the two months since the inception of the Seoul Gyopo Guide.

The Lost Seoul

영어 Hint of the Day #21: It's been one of those days. I got stood up from my tutee. Almost correct, but...

영어 Hint of the Day #21: "It's been one of those days. I got stood up from my tutee."  Almost correct, but...

Today, on me2day.net, I found the following comment, which is almost correct.
"It's been one of those days. I got stood up from my tutee."

The word "tutee" isn't common.  It may have been that the person making the comment was the teacher, and the "tutee" was the student.  If that was the case, then the correct word would have been "student," and not "tutee."  "Tutee" isn't a widely used word.  Remember, The Lost Seoul believes that native Korean speakers do not need to emphasize vocabulary.  Just concentrating on widely-used words, and use them correctly.

The correct way to use "stood up" is through the word "by."
(x)  I got stood up from 신미나.
(o)  I got stood up by 신미나. 

Note:  the phrase "stood up" may have the implied meaning of something that was done out of rudeness.  While it does not necessarily imply rudeness, more neutral ways exist to express this.
(o)  My student didn't show up at the agreed time.
(o)  I may have miscommunicated with my student.  He/she didn't show up.

The Lost Seoul