Why Japan > Korea Part II

The gilf and I just got back from a four-day stay in the skinniest developed country in the world and now we’ve got nothing but admiration for the place.  The purpose of the trip was to atone for certain immigration sins over at the Korean consulate and then have my visa status resurrected three days later.  On the final day when the staff at the Korean consulate handed me back my passport, they made sure to go down the list of latest infractions I’d committed, reminding me that they’d have to go down on my permanent waeg record back in the hive.  I consented and actually smiled a bit inwardly.  They keep dossiers on each of us and mine is beginning to bulge a little.

The thing that struck the gilf and me most was how unimportant English seemed to be to the Japanese.  Maybe it was just shyness, but the Japanese were in no way eager to communicate in any language other than Japanese.  The kids didn’t gawk or assail me with insincere hellos.  No prodding parents.  It was as if English were equal in importance with Swahili and Romansch, i.e., totally unimportant.  In a way, I have more respect for the Japanese for this because they have their own civilization, their own ways of life, their own language and you can conform or get out.  But of course it never came off like this because the Japanese were so consistently, abundantly polite.

Killing with kindness might be a good way to describe how the Japanese deal with any petition for help you might have.  I could write up a few examples of how the gilf and I were helped out by painfully polite strangers, but I won’t.  You probably get the point already.  The Japanese are in a class of their own at the extreme end of the politeness spectrum.  So are Koreans, just at the opposite side of the spectrum.

The Japanese are also remarkably individualistic when it comes to fashion.  The gilf and I noticed that no two Japanese youths dressed exactly alike.  Hairstyles were fucking bizarre.  Eyebrows were optional.  Their footwear was unreal, especially the ladies’.  Middling Japanese beauties clearly knew how to max out their sexual market value through fashion in ways that Korean women just cannot comprehend.  However, we also noticed that Japanese school uniforms were atrocious atavisms from the 60s.  The Koreans have the Japanese beat in this regard.  To liberally hypothesize from this one observation, I’d say that Koreans can out-conform the Japanese to look better en masse, but on an individual level, the Koreans are hopelessly unequipped for the task.

On returning to the Hive on the Han, I also noticed a direct increase in my stress levels the more I was surrounded by Koreans.  The transition from walking among people who understood the concepts of pedestrian fluidity and basic personal space well to walking among those who didn’t was so abrupt that it sent my blood pressure sky-high before we’d even boarded.  Koreans tend not to be able to walk in non-confrontational ways; they can’t line up in non-chaotic ways very well either; nor are they particularly adept at taking turns respectfully.  Living among Koreans is similar to being in a sandbox during recess.

Halfway through our journey back, an ajeossi began barking viciously at the Japanese attendants after they told him the final call for the snack bar had long passed.  I got the gist of that announcement (given in Japanese and Korean) despite having downed two cans of Asahi prior to hearing it and still made it there in time to get a third.  In the process, an ajumma shamelessly cut in front of me but I was saved by one of the Japanese attendants; she saw that I was there first and ignored that bitch until I had been served.  This was a small, nonverbal victory over Korean sandbox norms that the attendant and I shared together, but with every meter we traveled, we were passing further and further beyond the point of no return.  We had won merely a tiny battle in a greater losing war.  The Koreans were reasserting their territory, adjusting the norms to their liking.  Japan might as well have been a distant memory.

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Three Types of Bloggers in Korea

There are three general types of bloggers in Korea: boundary policers, who are more inclined to police the bounds of discourse; boundary pushers, who have more of a devil-may-care attitude towards overstepping boundaries; and the bulk of people in between who usually get nowhere near the boundaries.  Huge overlap for sure, but this generally applies to bloggers in Korea, to bloggers worldwide, and to people in general.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that all three types are necessary.  (Diversity is Strength!)  The constant tension between the policers and pushers is what makes things fun.  It’s a symbiotic love-hate relationship.

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Korean city embarks on 9.5-hour workday experiment

Hwasun’s public sector employees will have their working hours increased while being kept on the same pay in effort to create a healthier, happier and cheaper workforce

A Korean city has embarked on an experiment in increasing the workday to 9.5 hours in an effort to improve profitability.

A section of employees of the municipality of Hwasun will now work an hour more a day than the 8.5 hours customary in the Korean Confucian democracy famed for its work-life balance.

The measure is being self-consciously conceived of as an experiment, with a group of municipal employees working more hours and a control group working regular hours – all on the same pay. The groups’ performances will then be compared.

It is hoped that the experiment will ultimately save money by making employees work more for less.

Chung-man Lee, the city’s deputy mayor, told The Local Hwasun that he hoped “staff members would take fewer sick days and feel better mentally and physically after working longer days”.

Hye-rin Choi, a local journalist and head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation, a think tank for Korean trust-fund adults, welcomed the proposals.

“Longer working hours create a more committed and harmonious workforce,” Ms Choi told The Chosun Ilbo. “There are indications you can make savings by increasing working hours,” she added, citing an experiment in Mongolia where public sector workers were given a one-day weekend.

According to OECD data, there is a correlation between shorter working hours and greater productivity, but officials in Hwasun are looking to challenge this empirical fact.

“We have a unique work culture in Korea,” said Mr. Park, a local businessman in Hwasun who hires mostly foreign workers.  “I am confident that the world will finally pay attention to the Korean way of doing business. Who knows? Maybe we could even export this model one day.”

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People of E-Mart: Spinster Edition

Today a spinster came into my local E-Mart branch with this thing in tow.  Just thought I’d share that little slice of heaven with you.

As always,

Yer Humble Servant


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The Adventures of Captive American – Episode 1

One of the benefits of being a Captive American to groups of Korean adult students is that they give insights into all sorts of schemes that I’d never hear of otherwise.  In these contexts, I’ve found that the English language can loosen Korean tongues just as well as a few bottles of booze can, making me privy to Korea as Koreans often see it.  In today’s episode of Captive American, we’ll descry one unique way in which Koreans milk the minjok for what it’s worth.

A student of mine who’s prego and looking to rake in a bunch of dough from the Korean government told me of her method for milking the gov’s cash-for-babies policy through fraud and misrepresentation.  Her hubby is a public officer and has connections, so he learned that if he registered his home address in Naju, despite actually living in Gwangju, he could exploit a loophole in the provincial government’s system and earn way more money for the birth of his babe.

According to my student, Naju—unlike most normal, competent cities—doesn’t check up on families claiming residency to make sure they actually live there.  It’s a free-for-all with Naju, which is in a catastrophic demographic tailspin, so lots of parents do this and double or triple what they might get if they registered themselves as residents of Gwangju.  The topic of our class was tax evasion (their pick, not mine) and this particular confession came after each of my students lamented having government jobs, which made evading taxes much harder.  To Koreans, paying taxes isn’t seen as investing in democratic society; it’s seen as something only suckers do.  Concept of jeong my ass.


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Damyang Almost Finished Going to Hell in a Hand Basket

Remember that hideous architectural picnic basket being built in Damyang to somehow symbolize that that world was going to hell in a hand basket because of climate change?  Well, check out these tits!



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Organic, Free-Range Children

Hagwons are an increasingly prole way to educate children in Korea, as evidenced by the mothers of the kids I see on Saturdays.  They don’t send their kids to hagwons—even though they can afford to—because hagwons represent mediocre cattle-car cramming and poor ROI.  What’s inferred by their aversion to hagwons is that you can’t raise healthy, organic, free-range children when they’re stacked in same-same Korean educational cages and put on a monotonous diet of robotically regurgitated facts.

I can’t say that I disagree with them.

What they do instead is, in the case of English education, hire native speakers to come to their homes and/or send their kids off to expensive schools where the language of instruction is Engrish.  Some will even completely divorce their children from Korean society all together by sending them abroad.

I can’t say that I disagree with them.

Testing fever is looking more and more low class, too, for the upwardly-mobile parents I’ve come across.  The idea they’re living by is that you can’t raise organic, free-range children in a perpetual rat’s maze.  Smarter Korean parents like these, I presume, realize that genes are largely responsible for how children perform in life.  That means they can let up on their kids a little and give them a bit more of a Finnish educational experience, which won’t keep them from earning high scores later on in life.

I can’t say that I disagree with them.

If my wife were a public officer and I a professor, I wouldn’t be too worried about my kids’ smarts.  Like these parents, I’d have the luxury of knowing that whether I crushed my kids’ little souls in Korean public schools or gave them the comparatively hippie-esque Finnish treatment, they’d probably do alright on standardized tests later on.


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