Wednesday, April 30, 2008

China striking back

Having had enough of criticism, the Chinese are finally biting back! About 6,000 Chinese people, mostly students, took to the streets in Seoul earlier this week and physically confronted anti-Chinese protesters and riot police during the Olympics torch relay. According to the Korean media, they beat up a Korean citizen with a flag pole and threw stones and bottles at the police.

And there was a New York Times story today about how Chinese college students in the U.S. are speaking up for their home country, becoming increasingly hostile toward the Western media which they think are blatantly biased against China. That sentiment is expressed well in this poem cited in the story.

"When we have a billion people, you said we were destroying the planet./ When we tried limiting our numbers, you said it is human rights abuse."When we were poor, you thought we were dogs./ When we loan you cash, you blame us for your debts./ When we build our industries, you called us polluters./ When we sell you goods, you blame us for global warming."

Well, they may have a point. The world is blaming so many things on China, but certainly, China isn't the only country is the world doing those things. And it shouldn't feel good to get so much negative attention.

But we are talking about China here, a country with a billion people. Yes, that many people can destroy the planet, if they keep doing horrible things, and if that many people build industries freely, it'll pollute the environment like hell. There are ways to keep the billion people without doing too much harm to the planet and there are ways to control the population without abusing people's basic rights. There are ways to build the economy more cleanly.

As its economy grows, China is having greater impact on the world, and it needs to learn to act more responsibily and openly as a member of the global community. And yet, China is going backward, which is why people are getting angry.

I read that China is basically kicking out foreign students by not extending their visas until the Olympics is over, while restricting visa issues for foreigners as a way to deal with growing criticism overseas. Who are they holding the Olympics for after all? That kind of paranoia certainly won't help bolster China's image, nor will hysteric responses the Chinese have shown elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Living with Murdoch

It's happening exactly as everyone had expected. The Rupert Murdoch reign has begun to transform the Wall Street Journal, one of the most prestigious daily newspapers in the world, into a News Corp. product.

Marcus Brauchli, the managing editor of the Journal, said he'll resign from the post, and Murdoch will install one of his people in the position. Prior to Brauchli's departure, Murdoch had already replaced the paper's publisher with Robert Thomson, former top editor of the Times.

Changes Murdoch is trying to make are rattling nerves, because he's basically trying to destroy the tradition of the paper by making it appealing to a wider range of readers. He wants shorter stories and more general news coverage, shifting away from the current heavy emphasis on smart, in-depth business and financial news coverage. By doing that, the paper may gain more readership, but it will certainly lose its prestigious status as the world's finest business paper.

Murdoch agreed to keep the Journal's editorial independence, but he's the same Murdoch, and he'll have his way regardless, as the early changes show. The question is how far he will go in breaking the paper apart.

And News Corp. won't stop there and may go far beyond that. Murdoch has just got himself a seat on the AP's board directors, and he's now trying to buy Newsday, the 10th largest paper in the U.S. in terms of circulation. A sad fact of life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Samsung executives indicted

Samsung Group's executives, including Chairman Lee Kun-hee, were indicted for several charges, including breach of trust and tax evasion. But will they ever be thrown into jail? I don't know. To begin with, none of them was detained.

According to the media, a member of the independent panel investigating the case said there is a "discrepancy" between the law and reality when it comes to prosecuting the conglomerates, or chaebols, given Korea's "unique business practices." So it already looks like these people will likely get away with the charges, like other chaebol executives have in the past.

The dilema is obvious: the whole economy depends on these companies, and it won't do much good for the country to screw them, but there's this thing called justice. Which one should be more valued? I don't know.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


We had parliamentary elections today. Because I've been overseas most of the time since I became eligible to vote at 20 or something, I hadn't got a chance to vote, but I finally did my first voting today. Honestely, I wasn't even sure if I should vote, since I had no idea who were running and what their pledges were. But my parents almost dragged me to the polling place, and I voted for a candidate who seemed to be a liberal. Oh well, at least I exercised my right to vote, unlike nearly half the eligible voters who didn't even bother - the media said turnout was only about 50%, a record low.

Street campaigning during elections - be it parlimentary or presidential - is quite a scene. Candidates make speeches on the back of trucks or in street corners with their entourage, often including celebrities, standing behind them. Their supporters, clad in colors symbolizing their parties, do choreographed dancing, with their supporting songs in full blast.


But often, I feel like the candidates' messages get buried. I tried to find out what the candidate I voted for today had been pledging, but she didn't seem to go beyond saying "I'll make this neighborhood a better place."

If not, they talk about such tired topics as the economy and education, especially English.

I think the Korean economy has been doing pretty well since the Asian financial crisis, and you can actually see a lot of improvement here, but the way politicians talk about the economy hasn't changed much. They always say Korea's still a poor country, and Koreans should try harder to make Korea an advanced country, a mentality that almost seems like an inferiority complex.

Similiary, Koreans have a complex about their English, and the amount of efforts and money they put into English education is ridiculous. The new president even considered banning schools from teaching in Korean, which could've been a cultural suicide. He later backed out, only because of criticism that the idea isn't realistic, rather than concerns about preserving Korean culture.

At the end of the day, I'm afraid this country is only trying to be a copycat of other countries. It wants to be like the U.S., Japan, Singapore, while no one is raising fundamental questions about what good it will do for the people. And people are growing tired of hearing the same bullshit over and over again, with nothing being done for them, as the low turnout today shows.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

New Korean elitism

In the photo is Jungwook Hong, who's now running for parliament. He wrote his autobiography in the early 1990's right after he finished college, mainly about his experience in U.S. elite schools. Inspired by John F. Kennedy, he went to the same high school as Kennedy and went to Harvard. The first edition of the book sold more than a million copies in Korea, and I also own a copy, which I read twice when I was in junior high. I don't know why other people went crazy over his book, but to me, it was one of the most inspirational books I'd ever read at that time. Back then, he was one of rare Koreans who went to an Ivy League school, an achievement great enough to make me admire him as a teenage kid.

Then everyone, including me, forgot about him for a while before he came out with the second edition of his book a few years ago. The new edition has additional chapters about what he had been up to after college, where he majored in East Asian study. He went to Beijing University to do a master's degree, but only to be disappointed at the quality of education there, so he dropped out. Instead, he decided to go to law school in the states, and went to Stanford law school. After law school, he took the same path as many elite Americans, working at Wall Street investment banks, including Lehman Brothers, specializing in corporate M&A.

And he came back to Korea and took over a media company publishing a major English-language newspaper, which many people saw as a stepping stone to become a politician. The English-language newspaper market in Korea is small - circulation is about 50,000 at the most. To make the company profitable, he launched a Korean-language business paper, which, however, has big tabloid-style entertainment coverage. And he resigned as the CEO of the company this year to run for parliament as a member of the conservative ruling party.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised at his career path. I naively admired him for what I thought was a pure passion for literature and history, and the last thing I expected of him was to be an investment banker. Regardless, it'd be still interesting to see how high he can move up the political ladder in Korea. His background is unprecendented in the old, close-knit Korean political scene, and his entry to it may open up the door for many other foreign educated Koreans later, who, I think, collectively will be a key part of new elites in Korea in the near future, given the number of Koreans studying overseas now. I'm not so sure if it'll be a good thing or bad thing, but it'll be an interesting change.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Back for one last time

So I'm back here, back to exactly where I was two years ago, except I now have two years of work experience under my belt, while I could've been done with the army thing and been a free man by now - is this going to be a worthwhile tradeoff? I don't know, I guess only time will tell.

Right now, I don't feel anything. I don't think much - I'm just trying do whatever I can put my mind to. I've been keeping myself busy unpacking and settling in, but now that I'm done with it all, reality seems about to set in.

I read an interesting article on Yahoo the other day. The Korean government is now trying to encourage more young people to have overseas work experience, and one thing they are thinking about is to exempt people doing certain volunteering work overseas or even just working overseas from the military service. And the same people called me in, forcing me to give up my noble overseas job. What an irony.