Tuesday, March 31, 2009

President Lee Myung-bak to expand redesign of Seoul center

A presidential architectural commission yesterday unveiled new plans to redesign downtown Seoul with a variety of cultural charms, green landscape and historic monuments.

The committee also outlined its visions of environmentally-friendly residential towns across the country and adorning the surroundings of the four major rivers - to be restored this year - with parks, convenient facilities and upscale homes.

The Presidential Commission on Architecture Policy reported the plans to President Lee Myung-bak during its first general meeting at Cheong Wa Dae.

The panel, launched in December, is formulating a master plan to build a landmark space symbolic of the nation's history, culture and future at the heart of Seoul.

Last year, the government began revamping the central Gwanghwamun street into a public plaza and a new showcase of Korean arts and culture. The construction will be complete in June.
The commission yesterday proposed extending the project to cover a nearly 7-kilometer stretch leading to a park in the Han River.

Main spots include Gyeongbok Palace, Cheonggye Stream, City Hall, Sungryemun, Seoul Station and Nodeul Island in the Han River.

The street will be complete with public squares, a new national history museum, a national modern art museum, a new large performing arts center and other cultural facilities.

The streets will have more green space and easier access to other cultural heritage and tourist spots, the commission said.

Detailed plans and a time table will be further discussed later, they said.



Monday, March 30, 2009

South Korean Kim Yu-Na wins 2009 women's figure skating championship - shattering the record

The 2009 World Figure Skating Championships concluded with the Ladies Long Program.

It wasn't a competition. It was a coming out party, and all of the other skaters were invited as guests. Korea's Yu Na Kim did not give another skater even a whisper of hope in this competition, and she ran away with the gold medal with a new world record score as well as the largest margin of victory by a lady at the World Championships.

"This has been a dream come true for me," admitted the two-time bronze medalist turned champion. "I have been dreaming of this happening since I was a little girl, and now it came true."

Kim entered the freeskate with an eight-point cushion over Canada's Joannie Rochette, and she left the ice with a 16-point lead over the silver medalist. Her competition total of 207.71 points marks the first time any lady has surpassed the 200 point mark since adopting the code of points.

"I never focused on hitting 200 points," Kim said rather philosophically. "It was more important to take each element at a time, and make sure that I was giving the best performance that I could. I felt that if I could do that, then I might be able to become World Champion. I stayed focused on what I had to do, and won the gold medal."

Kim opened with her trademark triple flip-triple toe loop, and landed a total of five clean triple jumps in her "Sheherazade" program, but the program was not without mistakes. Kim doubled an intended triple salchow in the middle of her program, and had her final combination spin scored as an invalid element earning the champion zero points.

"We changed the spin after the Four Continents to get a level four," Kim explained. "It is my fault that I did not have it checked to make sure that it was correct before I came here."

The ISU rules state that a skater must do three spins in the freeskate; a flying spin, a spin with no change of position, and a combination spin. Kim completed a flying spin and two combination spins, therefore receiving no credit for her final element. Still, it was Kim's night, and the audience at the Staples Center was clearly on her side from the start.

"There were so many Korean fans in the audience tonight," Kim said proudly. "But the American fans also supported me. I felt like I was skating at home, and that made me confident to do my best."

Kim is the first Korean skater to win the World Championships, and now heads into the Olympic season as the clear-cut favorite.

"I have not started thinking about the Olympic season yet," Kim admitted. "I had to focus on doing my best here, and I can start thinking about the Olympics tomorrow."



Sunday, March 29, 2009

Korea’s Fiscal Soundness Ranks 7th in G20

The nation is in a much better position to cope with the ongoing global economic slump than the United States, Britain, Japan, and other advanced economies, thanks to its sound fiscal finance, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Thursday.

The ratio of national debt to gross domestic product (GDP) for Korea is projected to reach 32.9 percent this year, up from 32.7 percent in 2008, ranking the seventh lowest among G20 economies. The G20 average will likely reach 72.5 percent.

Given its relatively low debt-to-GDP-ratio, the nation has more room to pump money into the economy and its fiscal soundness will unlikely suffer much even if it draws up an estimated 30 trillion won surplus budget.

Korea's debt ratio is expected to rise to 33 percent in 2010 but fall back to 29.3 percent by 2014 as the global economy recovers.

The IMF forecast that Japan's debt-to-GDP-ratio will top 217 percent in 2009 as its government continues to spend taxpayers' money to prevent the world's second largest economy from heading further south. The debt ratio for the United States will reach 81.2 percent, followed by Germany with 76.1 percent and France with 72.3 percent.

In particular, Britain is expected to see the debt-to-GDP ratio jump sharply down the road as its government spends more taxpayers' money than other advanced countries to keep the economy afloat. It has been the hardest hit economy by the worldwide financial crisis because the financial industry accounts for a greater portion of its economic output, compared to other economies.

The IMF said the debt-to-GDP ratio for Britain will likely stand at 61 percent this year and continue to rise to 68.7 percent in 2010 and 76.2 percent in 2014. It presented a similar outlook for the Unites States and Japan, with the national debt of the world's largest economy accounting for 99.5 percent of GDP in 2014.

The Washington-based organization said countries will be saddled with snowballing fiscal deficits for the time being as they try to prop up their troubled economies through stimulus steps, but stressed when the economy rebounds, governments around the world should make efforts to restore fiscal responsibility.

The IMF also said they need to overhaul pension schemes and other state-sponsored programs to more effectively improve their fiscal health.


Songdo Sets New Standards for "Green" Cities

The 21st century finds, for the first time in history, a majority of the world's citizens living not in small towns and rural villages, but in cities and other urban places. As the planet becomes increasingly urbanized - and increasingly warmed by human activity - the need for a more environmentally sustainable form of city design, a "green city," has never been greater.

This is shaping up to be a landmark year in the international effort to address climate change as well as a critical opportunity to consider how green cities can be part of the solution.

In December, the world will turn its eyes to Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Known as "Kyoto II," these multinational talks will seek to implement a new international agreement for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

The newly committed engagement of the United States this year bodes well for the international effort but will not by itself be enough to seal the victory. All nations, including the United States, will have to meet their targets and those that fail will face legal consequences.

With the approach of Copenhagen, national planning efforts to curb greenhouse gasses are taking on increased urgency. These efforts focus mainly on restricting emissions, since we know that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to the blanket of greenhouse gasses around the globe. However, we are only just starting to appreciate how land use decisions also contribute to this "fog."

A little-known 2004 study by NASA, the United States National Air and Space Administration, underscored how the shape of our built environment impacts climate change. The study found that land use changes - development, deforestation, farming - have done more to warm the planet than twice the collective carbon output generated by 300 years of industrial activity.

The message is clear: Any serious effort to halt current climate trends must also address land use practices. Fossil fuel reduction is vital, but we also need fundamental change in the landscape and functions of the places where most of the world's population now lives.

Indeed, a significant cause for optimism in the NASA study is its implication that land use changes don't always exacerbate global warming. They can also mitigate it, which brings us to green cities.

The green city
The concept of the sustainable or green city is nothing new. Builders and city planners have long sought to improve upon conventional development standards of their time.

New York City's Rockefeller Center, built in the early 1930s, broke the mold of single-use urban development with a massive (for its time) master-planned project incorporating retail, commercial and residential elements.

Another Manhattan development, Battery Park City, was built in the 1970s on land reclaimed from the Hudson River using 917,000 cubic meters of dirt and rocks excavated in the construction of the World Trade Center and other buildings.

Today, Battery Park City is a 0.4 square-kilometer mixed-use residential and commercial neighborhood, and something of a sustainability laboratory. The Battery Park City Authority, which oversees development in the zone, has published guidelines for the creation of environmentally responsible residential and commercial buildings as part of a healthier, more sustainable community.

Nothing, however, compares to the size and scale of the Republic of Korea's contribution to sustainable urban development, the Songdo International Business District.

A master-planned metropolis rising in Incheon on the west coast of the Korean peninsula, Songdo IBD is poised to be a destination city for global business while at the same time a greener, more livable and more sustainable city than any in modern history.

Its scale is unprecedented. Built on 607 hectares of reclaimed land along Incheon's waterfront, this $35 billion project will include 17 million square meters of office/commercial space, 10 million square feet of residential space, 2.8 million square meters of retail and 2.8 million square meters of public space. When completed in 2015, it is estimated that Songdo IBD will be home to 65,000 people and that some 300,000 will work there.

Its vision of sustainable development is also unprecedented.

In many ways, Songdo IBD City demonstrates what the future of urban development will look like. It addresses environmental needs head-on with an integrated master plan that takes the entire cityscape - from infrastructure to architecture, transportation, utilities, density, open space and parks - into account.

The guiding principles of sustainability include the need to create a city that is better for its inhabitants, better for the region and better for the planet as a whole. As such, sustainability looks at not only the direct environmental impacts of resource use, but the indirect environmental benefits that accrue when a city's design encourages social vibrancy and connectivity, an embrace of culture and a climate of economic activity.

Songdo IBD will do all of this, guided by time-tested, smart-growth principles relating to such issues as density, transit-proximity and availability, environmental preservation and pedestrian-friendly design, that are shown to deliver the highest quality of urban life.

In order to ensure that Songdo IBD truly sets a new standard in green design, the developers, U.S.-based Gale International and Korea's POSCO Engineering and Construction Ltd., made an unprecedented commitment to quantify and benchmark the city's level of sustainability against leading international standards.

The development team is participating in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Neighborhood Development Pilot Program to certify the entire city as being sustainably developed. The USGBC is a nonprofit organization of development industry professionals whose standards are recognized worldwide. Its LEED rating system has long been the benchmark for green construction. The Neighborhood Development Pilot Program takes the concept a step further, integrating smart growth and green building principles into the first of its kind standard for sustainable community design.

All buildings within the developer's control - over 350 major structures - will seek LEED certification or certification under the Korean Green Building Rating System. Buildings in Songdo IBD will feature elevators that are 75 percent more efficient than current systems; they will employ plumbing fixtures that reduce water use by at least 20 percent citywide, and every building will incorporate locally-sourced materials and materials with recycled content.

All buildings will also effectively utilize the most basic natural resources - air, water, and sunlight - in heating and cooling. Even the way the streets are configured will be designed with environmental sensitivity in mind. Forty percent of the city will be green space, delivering a better living environment and an eco-friendly cityscape.

What will all this mean to those who will live and work in Songdo IBD? It will mean a better quality of life and a healthier environment in a city that points the way forward for smarter, healthier and more ecologically-sustainable communities worldwide.

Once completed, annual carbon dioxide emissions of Songdo IBD will be significantly less than those of comparable urban areas. At the same time as giving people an exciting and beautiful place to live and work, Songdo IBD will demonstrate the power of private sector partnerships that cross international boundaries. The American companies and the Korean firms with which they are working are gaining ideas and practices that can influence the design of buildings and cities in the United States, Korea and other parts of the world.

While there is nothing else like Songdo IBD today, its success will ensure that it will be the model for the future. It will meet and even exceed Korea's ambitious goals for a cleaner, healthier environment for its citizens, while showing the world what can be done when good faith combines with talent and commitment.


Disney's Asia Senior VP Sees South Korea as a Priority

Rob Gilby, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Disney-ABC International Television for the Asia Pacific Region, named Korea a "priority growth market" in an interview with The Korea Herald last Thursday.

Here to help launch Disney's mobile VOD deal for full length features - the first to be made outside North America - the 38-year old senior vice president sat down to discuss the company's agreement with SK Telecom, his visions for the Korean market and his views on piracy.

Throughout the interview, Gilby swapped jokes and maintained an upbeat attitude, revealing that he has a red belt with a "black tie" in Taekwondo and that he grew up singing Disney songs.

Citing strong high quality Korean movies and dramas as a reason for Korea's importance, Gilby said: "Korea, as a market, is obviously international. ... It is one of our priority territories globally." "It has tremendous potential. It's a large enough market.

It has a great consumer base, so there are enough people that have high spending power and they are very sophisticated."

The senior vice president cited technology as the second reason behind Korea's prominence.
"The application of technology has been really pioneering in Korea," said Gilby. "If you look at not only broadband penetration, but the broadband speeds in Korea, and then what that leads people to do; if you look at the consumption online of video and of gaming, if you look at the mobile TV market, you know, really pioneering mobile television, globally."

Gilby, however, said that Korea's technological breakthroughs are not why the Walt Disney Company's international TV distribution arm, Disney-ABC International Television (Asia Pacific) is providing SK Telecom's 2G and 3G mobile subscribers with its full length movies and TV series.

"That's not why we did the deal, it just presented the opportunity," Gilby stated.

The deal with SK Telecom means that over 23 million subscribers in South Korea can check out movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl," "National Treasure," and "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" as well as watch TV shows like "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost" and "Alias."

According to Gilby, however, one will not be able to get mobile VOD right away.

"The windowing is that you have a theatrical release first, and then you have a home video, a DVD release date, and then you have video on demand," Gilby explained.

At a time when illegal downloading is quickly becoming a major issue, what incentive, then, do people have to wait, until a legitimate digital copy is available?

"Our research shows most people want to consume legitimately and are willing to pay something to consume, provided they're given the choice to do so," said Gilby.

"I think most people, the majority, are inherently good," Gilby added. "So what we need to do is give them the choice."

According to Gilby, research conducted on consumers in Seoul revealed that choice and flexibility are considered important.

"Flexibility is often ... on timing, but it can also be on location," said Gilby. "That's why a mobile deal is particularly flexible because if you want to watch that movie, you know, you don't need to wait until you are at home to do it."

But when it comes to piracy, Gilby is far from flexible.

"Piracy is an illegal action," he stated. "As an owner of intellectual property, of course I'm going to protect it. ... We will continue to support the action against people who infringe our copyrights."

"But that alone is not going to provide consumers what they want," he added. "We want to create legitimate offerings to consumers."

Gilby predicted that more and more people would search for quick and cost effective ways to provide content to consumers, citing the mobile VOD deal with SK Telecom as "one step towards that."

Currently responsible for all Disney-ABC International Television (Asia Pacific) activities throughout the Asia Pacific Region, Japan excluded, Gilby has been working for Disney for approximately three years and has been senior vice president for about a year.

Disney-ABC International Television (Asia Pacific) licenses films, network television series, ABC News programming, animation and specials to all platforms in the region.


Invest Korea publishes "Guide to Living in Korea 2009"


South Korea Ranks at the Top of Global Innovation Indices

Two recently released reports on global innovation show Korea near the top of the world's most innovative countries. In a report produced jointly by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) of the United States, and the Manufacturing Institute (MI), Korea ranked second among 110 countries in the global innovation index measuring business outcomes of innovation as well as governments' ability to encourage and support innovation through public policy. The report looks at a host of new policy indicators for innovation, including tax incentives and policies for immigration, education and intellectual property.

Among the top 20 countries in terms of GDP, Korea secured the first position in the innovation index, followed by the U.S., Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada. The report cites four critical factors that lead to innovation success ― idea generation, structured processes, leadership, and skilled workers ― and stresses that government must support these efforts through effective policies. The BCG study comprised a survey of more than 1,000 senior executives from leading U.S. companies across all industries and a comparison of the “innovation friendliness” of 110 countries.

Further solidifying South Korea’s place among the world’s innovation leaders, the country jumped from 19th to 6th place overall in the 2008-2009 Global Innovation Index (GII), a study jointly published in late January by global top-five business school INSEAD and the Confederation of Indian Industry. Published for the second year, the GII appraises countries’ level of innovation readiness, focusing on the obstacles preventing governments, businesses and individuals from maximizing the benefits of innovation.

Country rankings in the GII are determined following an analysis of several parameters including human capacity, infrastructure, business sophistication, knowledge, and institutions and policies.

According to the report, among the 130 countries evaluated in the study, South Korea increased its position in the rankings by the largest margin due to new policies put in place by the government to encourage a shift from a labor-intensive manufacturing economy to one based on skills using human resources to catalyze technological change. The study also noted the effect that establishing techno-parks, technology centers and business incubators has had on the country’s drive to become an innovation leader, as well as a government focus on procuring advanced technology products and a high level of spending on R&D in the private sector.

Invest KOREA is Korea’s national investment promotion agency, mandated to support the entry and successful establishment of foreign business into Korea. Invest KOREA provides comprehensive one-stop investment-related services to enable foreign companies to maximize the benefits of Korea’s investment environment through the agency’s headquarters in Seoul and at 39 Korea Business Centers (KBCs) located around the world.

http://www.investkorea.org ◦

Monday, March 23, 2009

Seoul’s urban transformation

Widely known abroad for its tense north-south divide, South Korea is a nation of divisions and contradictions. It’s clearly part of Asia, yet fiercely independent. Culturally conservative, but a successful exporter of its cultural products, like TV soap operas and Korean cuisine. Peaceful and stable, yet still locked in a deep-frozen civil war with its northern half. Seoul, South Korea’s huge capital city of 11 million people, showcases all these contradictory traits and more.

The broad Han River divides Seoul itself into two distinct halves: north and south. As a simple orientation rule for newcomers, north equals ‘old’ and south, ‘new’. The city’s roots are on the northern side, where you’ll find government and diplomats, traditional street markets, arts and culture, mixed together with the offices of sober old bankers, insurance companies and manufacturers. On the southern side, a landscape once dotted with villages and farms is reaping a new harvest of gleaming office towers filled with media start-ups and high-tech companies, all overlooking the trendiest restaurants and nightspots. Most of this urban transformation has occurred within the past 30 years.

Despite the mountains and green hills that break through the gray urban sprawl, smoggy Seoul is not a conventionally beautiful city. The utter devastation of the Korean War, followed by hasty reconstruction and unrestrained growth, means that almost none of the original, traditional architecture survives. The rapidly-built shophouses and tenements of the 1960s now look squat and shabby, while the towering apartment blocks of the ’80s and ’90s are faceless clones, distinguishable primarily by numbers and giant corporate logos. Recent years have seen more forward-thinking initiatives, like the resurrection of the central four-mile-long Cheonggye Stream, which was buried like a sewer beneath grimy expressways during Korea’s headlong industrial growth.

The $300-million redevelopment of Cheonggye Stream into a attractive, popular water park is one sign of a new confidence and maturity in Korean society. However, nothing is quite as effortless as it appears—the original sources that fed the stream are long gone, so the water bubbling over its carefully-placed boulders is now mostly pumped up from downriver. But unconcerned by questions of authenticity, smartly-dressed couples and families happily promenade along the brightly-lit waterside during evenings and weekends. Together with the dazzling shops, cafés and boutiques of the Myeongdong shopping district nearby, it reveals a more lighthearted Korea, quite different from traditions of frugality, dour industry and self-effacing hard work.

Higher incomes, more free time and foreign influences have begun to relax Korea’s outlook. “You never used to see people driving a luxury foreign car like a Porsche or Ferrari here. That’s something that’s changed in recent years”, says Adrian Slater, general manager of the Park Hyatt in the Gangnam District.

Korean professionals, particularly in newer areas like Gangnam, believe in dressing up; if you see a group of office workers heading out for lunch, you could easily make the mistake of guessing they’re headed for a formal affair. Female office workers dress quite formally and are rarely seen without makeup, while men wear suits and ties—fortunately, the weather is usually cool and dry enough to make this comfortable.

Gangnam itself is the heart of modern Seoul’s business and residential zone. More than half of Seoul’s high-status professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, live there. The area hosts many of Korea’s leading high-tech and media companies, as well as local offices of many international firms. There’s also the giant COEX Exhibition Center.

Gangnam has a good selection of trendy malls, nightspots and restaurants, such as the popular The Gaon in busy Apgujeong, near the river. The Gaon serves modern revisions of traditional Korean dishes on three differently-themed floors. Like other newly-developed parts of Seoul, the broad streets can seem rather barren and windswept compared to the lively, older areas of the city.

The former island of Yeouido, in the Han River, is a similar newly-developed area. Yeouido is the new home to Korea’s stock exchange. It is also home to an increasing number of companies in the financial sector, driven out of the old city center by high rents in their traditional offices around Myeongdong. As a tourist destination, Yeouido is dull. If you have free time there during a weekend, check out the park, where hordes of locals rent unfamiliar bicycles for the sheer joy of wobbling their way around—and around—for hours. Alternatively, take a quiet walk along the trails by the river. You can also sample the entire block of new restaurants across the street from the KBS TV station building at the edge of the park.

These new districts have been developed by government and industry, working together in a peculiarly close relationship. “Korea used to be controlled by the government and the army, but now it’s the government and the Chaebols”, says Korean-American entrepreneur, Nicky Kim.

Korea’s Chaebols are giant industrial conglomerates, like Samsung and Hyundai, the two largest. Foreigners are used to seeing names like LG and Samsung stamped on items like electronic gadgets, but in Korea, you’ll also find those familiar brands on a huge range of products and services, such as toothpaste, clothing stores, amusement parks, and gas stations. This emphasizes just how influential these companies are in their home country—Samsung’s revenue exceeds 15 percent of Korea’s GDP.

Despite the country’s reliance on international trade, the general level of English speaking ability in Korea is relatively poor, even in the capital. Most companies dealing with foreigners will have one or two competent English speakers, but don’t depend on ordinary people, such as shop staff or taxi drivers, to understand English—even your attempts at pronouncing a Korean address. Korea also hasn’t quite settled on a way of converting its alphabet to English letters, so be prepared for variations in spelling in street names and the like.

Wherever you find yourself, Seoul provides a huge variety of eating choices, from upscale restaurants to an overwhelming variety of cheap street food. No tipping is expected. You can also find Western cuisine, which is modified to suit local tastes in mass-market restaurants. (It’s generally sweeter, and foreign flavors, like cheese, are milder.)

There are thousands of street stalls offering quick, cheap, delicious food. Korea’s bitter winter weather means you may find these stalls inside canvas tents, or pojangmacha, making it harder to exercise due diligence before you order. But jump in and try local specialties, like hotteok (sweet pancakes), ginseng chicken soup, dolsot bibimbap (a sizzling-hot stone pot filled with rice, topped with vegetables and beef) or bul dak (chicken fried in very spicy sauce). You won’t be able to avoid the kimchi side dish, a national symbol, so you had better learn to enjoy it. And don’t miss Korea’s brilliant innovations in fast food technology, such as the time-saving French fry-encrusted corn dog, which delivers an entire day’s calories in seconds.

While you should probably walk after that, taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, at about $1.20 per mile. The black and yellow deluxe taxis cost twice as much, but are more luxurious, with well-trained drivers. There’s a central call number with English interpretation for deluxe taxis: 3431-5100. The bridges across the Han River are inevitable bottlenecks for road journeys between Seoul’s north and south halves, so allow an extra 20 minutes to cross during rush hours. The city’s excellent, extensive subway system is worth using. It’s quicker than driving during rush hours.



Debts snowball at top 10 chaebol (conglomerates)


Is America ready for Korean food?

Some pictures available at:

Flip open The Korean Table: From Barbecue to Bibimbap 100 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes (Tuttle Publishing, $27.95) and read: "Move over, Thai and Japanese. Korean food is poised to become America's next favorite Asian cuisine." Without a doubt, Korean cuisine has been garnering a following in the United States, especially in Los Angeles and New York, where Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go (a fusion Korean taco truck) and Korean-American chef David Chang of the Momofuku enterprise (an innovative quartet of restaurants that serve up dishes incorporating global culinary flavors and techniques, including that of Korea) are giving bulgogi and kimchi a drastic makeover. But is Korean food truly on the brink of becoming American`s next favorite Asian grub? The Korea Herald interviewed the authors of two recently published Korean cookbooks, The Korean Table and Kye Kim's Modern Korean Cooking (Bookhouse Publishers, 22,000 won), to find out.

"There are food trends in America," said Kye Kim in a phone interview. "There was a Mexican trend, then Chinese, then Japanese sushi. And then, from some point in time, interest in Korean cuisine started to form ... Korean food is practically a trend."

Last October, Kim held a cooking class in Michigan, where she currently resides, for 20 students. Only three were Korean.

Food columnist Kim's second cookbook targets young professionals, second-generation Korean-Americans and non-Koreans. The colorful tome presents recipes in both Korean and English and also has an entire section devoted to kimchi.

"Kimchi is a very popular side dish," wrote Kim, 56, via e-mail.

Debra Samuels, co-author of "The Korean Table," seems to be a fan of the spicy, fermented vegetables herself.

"I just had kimchi jjigae for dinner," said Samuels, 57, over the phone, a dish she recommends American beginners to try their hand at when they pick up "The Korean Table."

Samuels, a food writer and food stylist for "The Boston Globe," collaborated with Tokyo-based Korean expat Taekyung Chung to produce a cookbook for American cooks.

"The Korean Table" provides recipes for the hit trinity of Korean dishes - kimchi, bulgogi and bibimbap. It also brings in popular newcomers: tofu and wraps.

"Americans like wraps - sandwich wraps, burritos and so we thought about this almost like a Korean taco," said Samuels of the traditional dish, gujeolpan, also included in "The Korean Table."

Korean-American chef Roy Choi's Korean barbecue tacos serve as proof of the popularity of the wrap. According to news reports, the taco vendor - founded by Mark Manguera - has been luring crowds of up to 800 at a time with its combination of spiced pork, chicken, tofu, blood sausage and kimchi sauerkraut.

"The lines can be 100 deep; quite an amazing phenomenon," said Samuels.

Samuels also believes that Korean tofu dishes have a future in America: "Tofu is very popular. I would love to see tofu houses come to the east coast ... Once people get to know about making tofu Korean style, it will get popular."

"I think sundubu is very popular," said Kim, who provides a set of tofu recipes in her book.

Yet, when it comes to cooking Korean in the States, finding the ingredients can pose a challenge. To address the problem, Kim, Samuels and Chung went to great lengths to create recipes where most of the ingredients could be purchased from American supermarkets.

Chung, a Tokyo-based Korean food teacher and restaurant consultant, developed modified dishes like potato and basil pancakes and asparagus fritters for "The Korean Table."

"Korean food needs to become globalized," said Chung, 56, over the phone. "But it cannot be done with our ingredients."

Chung spent three weeks in Boston with Samuels, who she first met in a cooking class in Tokyo, visiting supermarkets and finding ways to maintain the flavor and essence of Korean cuisine with produce and ingredients that could be easily found in the States.

Having spent approximately 17 years living in Japan, Chung is experienced at finding substitutes for traditional Korean ingredients: "When I lived in Japan, starting 1975, there were not a lot of ingredients."

Chung has a point. For Korean cuisine to become global, it needs to be adaptable, malleable. Judging from the likes of innovators like David Chang, Korean cuisine is not only flexible, it is compatible with other cuisines.

Another key player in the current and future globalization of Korean food lies in what Samuels calls "soft power."

"I fell in love with 'Daejanggeum (Jewel in the Palace),'" said Samuels, who thinks it would do well on channels like PBS or the Food Network. "I think it would do quite a bit for the popularity of Korean cuisine ... Plain old garden variety Americans have 'Daejanggeum' clubs. They love this program ... I'm now watching 'Le Grand Chef (Sikgaek),' the movie and the series."
Chung agrees with Samuels.

"It used to be that the Japanese thought that all Korean food was barbecue or spicy. But there has been a big change in the Japanese attitude toward Korean food and culture after 'Daejanggeum' was shown in Japan," Chung wrote in an e-mail interview.

"Now they see it as healthy and good for the skin," she said over the phone.

So, is the American palate ready to embrace Korean cuisine?

"I think we've gone beyond the hamburger," answered Samuels. ◦

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"코리아 배우자" 美 MBA '한류'


지난달 미국의 명문 MBA 스쿨인 와튼스쿨의 '비즈니스 정책(business policy)' 강의 시간. 지도 교수인 하워드 팩(Howard Pack) 교수는 갑자기 학생들을 향해 "이 중에 한국에서 온 학생들이 있으면 손들어 보라"고 말했다. 5명이 손을 들었다.

팩 교수는 그중 박상훈 학생에게 "10년 전 한국 외환위기 때 국민들이 어떻게 대응했는지 말해보라"고 시켰다. 박상훈 학생이 "국민들이 금(金) 모으기 운동을 하고 정부 주도의 개혁에도 동참해 고통을 분담했다"고 말하자 팩 교수는 "대단하다"고 칭찬했다. 그는 이어 라틴 아메리카에서 온 학생들에게 "너희 나라 국민들도 위기 때 그렇게 했느냐"고 물었다. "그렇지 않았다"는 답변에 팩 교수는 "한국 국민의 응집력이야말로 위기를 극복할 수 있었던 원동력"이라며 "한국의 은행 개혁 모델, 그리고 공적 자금의 신속한 투입과 효율적 관리는 지금 금융 위기에 처한 미국이 배워야 할 가장 좋은 모델 중 하나"라고 정리했다.

같은 학교의 '기업 전략(corporate strategy)'시간에는 70여명의 학생들이 삼성전자의 반도체 전략을 놓고 한바탕 토론을 벌였다.

"삼성전자의 경쟁력은 품질의 우수성에 있다.""아니다. 압도적인 생산 규모와 가격 경쟁력이다.

중국 반도체 경쟁 업체가 아무리 가격을 깎아도 삼성을 따라오기 힘들 것이다.

"1학년 800명 전원의 필수 과목(core course)인 이 수업의 주제는 삼성의 반도체 경쟁력이다.이 수업을 주관한 에반 롤리 교수는 "중국 업체들이 저가(低價) 제품으로 반도체 시장을 공략해 올 경우 삼성전자가 계속 우위를 유지할 수 있는가"라는 문제를 제기했다. 학생들은 5~6명씩 팀을 이뤄 열띤 토론을 벌였다.

그러나 결론은 한가지였다. 중국 업체가 삼성전자를 따라잡을 것이라고 발표한 팀은 12개 팀 중 한 팀도 없었다. 따라서 수업 후반부에는 삼성 반도체의 경쟁력이 가격인가, 품질인가에 대해서만 학생들이 자리를 나눠 앉아서 서로를 설득했다. 수업 막바지에는 학생들이 삼성의 경쟁력 비결을 최종적으로 결정했는데, '품질 경쟁력'이라고 손을 드는 학생들이 전체 인원의 3분의 2에 달했다.

에반 롤리(Rawley) 교수는 "품질 경쟁력이 전략적 우위에 얼마나 기여하는지 설명하는 데 삼성전자는 가장 좋은 사례"라며 "교수 네 명이 회의를 거쳐 이번 학기부터 삼성전자 사례를 반영했다"고 말했다.

세계 비즈니스 스쿨에 '한국 바람'이 불고 있다. 와튼, 하버드, 컬럼비아, MIT(올해 파이낸셜타임스 비즈니스 스쿨 순위에 따른 순서임)같은 세계적인 비즈니스 스쿨들이 한국 관련 케이스 스터디를 강화하고 있는 것이다. 한국 경제의 다양한 위기 극복 경험이야말로 글로벌 경제 위기 해법에 골몰하는 선진국 MBA 스쿨에 살아 있는 강의 재료이기 때문이다.예를 들어 MIT 비즈니스 스쿨의 '개발도상국 발전 과정' 수업의 경우 1, 2회 수업(합쳐서 3시간) 내용이 모두 한국 경제에 할애됐다. 다른 나라(중국인도를 합쳐서 1시간 30분, 브라질칠레를 합쳐서 1시간 30분)의 4배에 이른다.

MIT 비즈니스 스쿨 학생인 고이티 레니슨(32)씨는 "모국(母國) 아이슬란드가 경제적으로 큰 어려움을 겪고 있다"며 "지난 90년대 말 외환위기를 딛고 일어난 한국의 발전상과 극복 비결이 무척 궁금해 한국을 공부하고 있다"고 말했다.

MBA들의 한국 배우기는 한국 방문으로 이어지고 있다. 3월 한 달만 해도 와튼, 컬럼비아, MIT 비즈니스 스쿨의 학생들이 잇달아 한국을 방문했거나 방문할 예정이다.

불과 3~4년 전만 해도 미국 비즈니스 스쿨에서 아시아 필드트립(수학여행)이라고 하면 당연히 일본이었지만, 지금은 상황이 완전히 달라졌다. 와튼스쿨은 지난 2월 한국 필드트립에 참여할 학생 30명을 모으기 위해 온라인 접수를 받았는데, 1분이 안돼 80명이 등록했다. 방문 비용 중 1000달러를 자비로 부담하는 조건이다.

학생들은 삼성전자현대자동차, 포스코 등 수업에서 다뤄졌던 한국 기업들을 찾아 견학한다. 포스코의 파이넥스 공정, 삼성전자의 반도체 공정 등 한국의 첨단 제조 시설은 이들에게 깊은 인상을 준다.

포드자동차 창업주인 헨리 포드의 5대손 헨리 포드 3세(28)도 다음 주에 한국을 방문할 예정이다. MIT 비즈니스스쿨에 재학 중인 그가 한국 필드트립을 신청했기 때문이다. Weekly BIZ는 동료 학생을 통해 그가 한국 방문을 신청한 이유를 물었다. 헨리 포드 3세는 "1967년 현대자동차가 생길 무렵부터 한국과 포드는 깊은 인연을 맺어왔지만 최근 한국 기업들의 성공은 경이롭고 놀라울 정도"라며 "꼭 직접 확인하고 현대자동차와의 협력 가능성도 가늠해보고 싶었다"고 답했다.

지난 9일 경기도 삼성전자 기흥사업장 본관 회의실. 미국 와튼스쿨에서 경영학 석사(MBA) 과정을 밟는 로리 콘웨이 학생이 손을 들고 질문했다. "최근 부상하는 '클라우드 컴퓨팅(cloud computing)' 추세에 삼성은 어떻게 대처하고 있습니까?"

김수봉 삼성전자 DS부문 기획팀 상무가 몸을 일으켜 설명에 나섰다. 동시에 회의실에 모인 와튼스쿨 학생 30명의 시선이 일제히 집중됐다. 이날 삼성 임직원들과 와튼스쿨 학생들의 만남은 올해로 2회째를 맞은 와튼스쿨 코리안 트립(Korean trip) 일정의 일부로 마련된 것. 올해 코리안 트립은 참가자 폭주로 온라인 접수 개시 후 불과 30초 만에 접수가 끝났다.

지난 10일에는 컬럼비아 비즈니스 스쿨 학생들이 온라인 게임업체 엔씨소프트를 찾아 질문 공세를 벌였다. 세계 시장을 선도하는 한국의 온라인 게임 산업을 공부해 보려는 목적이다. 이들은 국가브랜드위원회와 롯데그룹도 방문했다. 이 학교 동문인 신동빈 롯데 부회장은 이들에게 롯데호텔 무료 숙박을 제공했다.

이 학교 학생 애나 청(28)씨는 "한국은 온라인 분야에서도 미국의 영향력을 벗어나 독자적인 영역을 구축한 드문 사례"라며 "게임과 인터넷 분야의 성공 비결이 궁금했다"고 말했다.

MIT 비즈니스 스쿨의 황야솅(Huang Yasheng) 교수는 방한에 앞서 가진 강의를 통해 이렇게 말했다.

"나는 순간의 주저도 없이 말할 수 있다. 한국은 60년대부터 30여년간 매년 10% 성장해왔다. 한국의 현대차는 1976년 처음 자동차 사업을 시작했지만, 불과 3년 후에 자체 생산한 차를 수출했다. 고부가가치 산업으로 이렇게 빠르게 전환하는 경우는 없었다. 정말 굉장하며 전 세계에서 가장 성공적인 사례이다. 앞으로도 이렇게 짧은 시간 내 고도성장을 이룰 수 있는 나라는 없을 것이다."

이 강의를 듣고 있는 MIT MBA 과정 1학년 박선주씨는 "한국 관련 토론 수업 후엔 한국의 눈부신 경제 성장에 대해 개인적으로 관심을 갖고 물어보는 학생들이 많았다"면서 "최근 미국 경제가 위기에 빠졌는데 이를 먼저 슬기롭게 극복한 모범답안으로 한국을 언급하는 학생들도 많아 놀랐다"고 말했다.세계가 경제 위기에 휩싸인 지금, 미국 비즈니스 스쿨의 교수와 학생들은 한국의 위기 극복과 성장 비결에서 새로운 '해답'을 찾고 있다. 해방 이후부터 최근까지 좌·우 대립, 한국전쟁, 오일쇼크, 외환위기 등 온갖 위기를 넘어서며 고성장을 이뤄낸 한국은 좋은 케이스 스터디 소재이기 때문이다.

이번 학기 MIT 비즈니스 스쿨의 '거시경제학'(macro economics) 강좌에서는 타브닛 수리(Suri) 교수가 한국이 외환위기를 어떻게 극복할 수 있었는지 학생들에게 돌아가면서 의견을 물었다. 또 같은 학교의 '세계 경제의 도전'(global economic challenge) 과목의 경우 크리스틴 포브스(Forbes) 교수가 '아시아의 위기'라는 주제로 강의를 갖고 한국이 어떻게 외환위기를 극복했는지 각종 금융지표를 들어가며 설명했다.

미국, 일본 제치는 한국 기업의 경쟁력은?

MBA들의 한국 연구에는 한국 특유의 국가 전략 연구와 함께 짧은 시간 내에 초일류 기업으로 부상한 한국 기업들에 대한 연구가 양대 축을 이룬다. 특히 '전략'(strategy)과목에서는 한국 기업들의 케이스가 집중적으로 다뤄지고 있다.

컬럼비아 비즈니스 스쿨은 세계적인 온라인 기업들의 영향력이 미치지 않는 사례로 G마켓과 네이버를 비롯한 한국 인터넷 기업들의 사례를 가르친다. 또 다른 수업에서는 미국 뉴욕 한인 타운의 닭 튀김 가게 '본촌 치킨'을 소개하고, 손님들에게 최대한 신속하게 닭을 튀겨주는 한국 특유의 '빨리빨리 모델'을 소개한다. '본촌치킨'은 이 수업의 중간고사 1번 문제로도 등장했다.하버드 비즈니스 스쿨은 1학년 필수 과목인 전략(strategy) 수업에서 삼성전자 반도체 사례를 집중적으로 다루고 있다. 컬럼비아 비즈니스 스쿨 역시 1학년 필수 과목인 '전략 수립'(strategy formulation) 강의에서 삼성전자 반도체 부문의 성공을 분석한다. 중간고사는 삼성전자가 어떻게 경쟁 업체를 계속 따돌릴 수 있는지를 주제로 삼아 치를 예정이다.

와튼스쿨의 크리스토퍼 반덴벌트(Van den Bulte) 교수의 마케팅 수업은 삼성전자의 휴대전화를 주요 사례로 다룬다. 한국 고객들은 브랜드 없이 제품만 고르면 17.7%의 고객이 삼성 휴대전화를 고르지만, 애니콜 브랜드를 알려주면 52.5%의 고객이 고른다는 것. 반덴벌트 교수는 "브랜드 가치의 중요성을 말해주는 가장 적절한 사례"라고 말했다. 또한 와튼스쿨의 '생산 관리' 수업은 LG전자 패널 생산의 효율성이 높은 까닭에 대해 분석했다.

와국에 대한 학생들의 관심 높아져비즈니스 스쿨들이 한국을 집중적으로 다루면서 학생들의 한국에 대한 관심도 자연스럽게 높아지고 있다.

MIT 비즈니스 스쿨에서는 2006년부터 한국 방문 프로그램이 운영되기 시작했는데, 올해 25명 모집 정원에 52명이 지원해 경쟁률이 2대 1이 넘었다. 방문 프로그램 설명회에는 100여명이 몰렸다.

MIT 비즈니스 스쿨 한국 방문 프로그램을 주관하는 양영은(31) 학생은 "까다로운 선정 절차에도 한국이 4년째 매년 MIT 공식 방문지로 빠지지 않고 선정되는 것은 그만큼 한국에 대한 학생들의 관심이 높기 때문"이라고 말했다.

한국 방문 프로그램에 지원한 MIT 비즈니스 스쿨의 알렉산더 스티븐슨 학생은 "어릴 때 태권도를 배웠고, 단군과 원효대사의 정신에 대해 배웠다"며 "한국의 과거 역사뿐 아니라 현재 성공한 기업까지 함께 볼 수 있다는 점에서 한국 방문 프로그램을 지원했다"고 말했다.

미국이나 유럽 기업에 비해 금융위기 타격이 덜한 한국 기업에 취업을 원하는 학생도 늘고 있다. 와튼스쿨에서 공부하는 앤드류 메이위씨는 "첨단 기술을 잇달아 개발해내는 한국 기업에 관심이 많다"며 "삼성의 전략이나 제품 개발 파트에서 일하고 싶다"고 말했다. ◦

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Video: A Korean Cow Dreams of California

If the video doesn't play, try this link:



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

North Korea fully reopens border crossing

North Korea agreed to fully reopen its border crossing Tuesday to South Koreans commuting to jobs at factories in a northern economic zone, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.

The full reopening comes four days after Pyongyang shut down the border last week, stranding hundreds of South Koreans who work in Kaesong but live in South Korea.

North Korean officials let them return home Monday, but refused entry to others seeking to travel to Kaesong. The partial closure meant factories in the industrial zone had no new deliveries of goods for days.

The North Korean military relayed a letter Tuesday saying it would reopen the border to traffic from the south, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said in Seoul. More than 540 South Koreans were expected to cross into the north, while some 300 applied for permission to head south Tuesday afternoon, she said.

North Korea has provided no explanation for the closures, which have unnerved business owners who rely on South Korean managers, expertise and raw materials for factories that employ some 38,000 North Korean workers just across the border.

Pyongyang had criticized Seoul's decision to go ahead with 12 days of joint military exercises with the U.S. last week at a time of heightened tension on the peninsula. As the war games got under way last Monday, the North's military severed the only communications hot line between the Koreas and banned traffic across the border.

Relations between the two Koreas have deteriorated since President Lee Myung-bak took office a year ago with a new, tough policy on Pyongyang. One by one, joint projects developed during the previous era of warming ties have been suspended.

The Kaesong complex, the most prominent of the landmark inter-Korean projects and a lucrative source of hard currency for the impoverished North, has been allowed to operate with a skeleton South Korean staff.

The recent closures, however, left many factories languishing without the goods needed to produce the watches, shoes, electronics equipment and kitchenware churned out from some 100 plants in the complex, the Kaesong business association said Monday.

At least 10 firms halted operations and many more warned they would be forced to suspend production within days if the border restrictions were not eased, the Corporate Council for the Gaesong Industrial Complex said Monday.

North Korea also is locked in a standoff with the international community over its plans to launch a satellite into space next month. Some fear the satellite launch will be a cover for testing its long-range missile technology.

Regional powers have urged Pyongyang to refrain from carrying out any launch, noting that firing a rocket for a satellite or a missile would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution prohibiting the North from ballistic activity.

At the border, activists and defectors released 10 balloons filled with a total of 100,000 anti-North Korea leaflets, some with about $1.30 in North Korean won tucked inside as enticement, in a move bound to further ruffle Pyongyang.

The leaflets urge North Koreans to rise up against autocratic leader Kim Jong Il and contained a taboo subject: Kim's many alleged romantic relationships. Some also accuse the North of holding South Koreans in Kaesong as "hostages," organizer Park Sang-hak said by telephone from the border.

The activists' campaign is a major source of irritation to North Korea, which sees the leaflets as a violation of a 2004 inter-Korean agreement to end decades of propaganda warfare in the Demilitarized Zone. Pyongyang's Minju Joson newspaper condemned the activists Tuesday as "human scum."

Seoul says it cannot stop them, citing freedom of speech, but repeatedly has urged the campaigners to refrain from provoking the North.

Park said the regime warns North Koreans against touching the currency or reading the propaganda.

"'If you pick them up, your hands will rot so pick them up with gloves and give them to the authorities,'" he said the regime tells North Koreans, citing recent accounts from unidentified contacts inside the reclusive country.

The two Koreas technically remain at war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The DMZ dividing the foes is one of the world's most heavily armed.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Kaesong Update - workers return home, but future unclear

Three days after shutting down the border, North Korea partially reopened the crossing Monday to let South Koreans stranded in a northern industrial zone head home.

But North Korea is not yet allowing South Koreans or cargo back across the border to the dozens of factories in Kaesong run by southern business managers, the South's Unification Ministry said.

The seemingly arbitrary border restrictions — the second in a week — have unnerved South Korean business owners who run factories in Kaesong and rely on trucking in raw goods from the South into the impoverished North to produce everything from watches and shoes to kitchenware and electronic goods.
Border closure puts Gaeseong firms at risk
Nine out of 10 South Korean firms operating in a joint industrial complex in the North will be forced to suspend production if Pyongyang maintains its closure of the inter-Korean border, a local survey said yesterday.

North Korea kept the border closed for the third consecutive day amid rising tensions over its planned rocket launch in April.
Cross-border delivery of goods and raw materials has been suspended and hundreds of South Korean workers remain stranded at the Gaeseong industrial complex, located just north of the border, putting South Korean firms there under increasing difficulty.
In a survey of 72 companies operating in Gaeseong, 94 percent, or 68 firms, said they would have to stop production if the closure continued for more than six days from Sunday, due to a limited supply of gas, food and other raw materials, a council of firms in the Gaeseong complex said.
More than 90 South Korean firms operate in the industrial complex, a major symbol of reconciliation and an outcome of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. The current closure is the first the industrial complex has experienced since it opened in 2004.
In a meeting with heads of South Korean companies operating in Gaeseong yesterday, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said the government had "stern" views about North Korea's latest border ban.
He added, however, that Seoul did not want to see the complex disrupted in any way.
"We have stern views toward (the ban), and as unification minister, I feel regretful that such a situation has occurred," Hyun said. Many of the firms have recently expressed mounting concerns about the security and stability of the complex.
The minister said the government remained committed to the principle that the Gaeseong project must be shielded from the political, military and security issues of the Korean Peninsula and continue to be properly developed.
Yoo Chang-keun, CEO of a plastics manufacturing firm in the complex and vice president of an association of businesses running factories in the border city, said that if the closure were extended, "an increasing number of companies could be dealt a heavy blow due to order cancellations amid rising uncertainties."
Production has nearly come to a halt, said Lee Kwang-yong, who manages an electronics company at the industrial park. His firm is counting on a shipment of material supplies by tomorrow.
Yoo expressed regret over North Korea's "holding the border city and workers hostage." He also called for swift action on the part of the Seoul government, saying it should "ensure the protection of nationals' property."
North Korea sealed off the crossing Friday for the second time in a week to protest a joint military exercise by South Korea and the United States.
The North yesterday allowed a South Korean man who suffers from a spinal illness to return South from a joint industrial complex in the North two days after it closed the border again, Seoul officials said.
"North Korea has accepted our request concerning the return of an employee who has been suffering from a spinal illness," an unnamed South Korean official said, adding that the 28-year-old worker would return via train later in the day.
North Korea had allowed one South Korean and four foreign nationals to return to the South on Saturday.
More than 760 South Koreans are working in the North, mostly at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. About 420 of them were scheduled to return on Friday and Saturday.
Analysts believe North Korea has no intention to shut down the Gaeseong complex, which will further discourage foreign investors.
It will likely reopen the border when the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military drill ends, said Hong Ihk-pyo with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul. North Korea views the annual drill as a rehearsal for war, while South Korea and the United States say it is purely defensive.
North Korean media made no mention of the border closure but continued denunciations of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
The Rodong Sinmun, which is the North's main newspaper and is published by the Workers' Party, said it was not a North Korean missile threat but Seoul's conservative government that was responsible for heightened tensions.
"The much ado made by the Lee group about 'threat from the north' is no more than sheer sophism," the paper said in a commentary. "The outbreak of a new war on the peninsula is now becoming a reality due to the puppet warmongers becoming reckless, bereft of any reason."


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seoul's clairvoyants seeing black

Poised to enter a cutthroat job market, college art student Kim Tae-eun showed up for a crucial interview nervous and dressed to the nines.

She wasn't meeting with a job counselor or head hunter—she needed real results. She needed a fortuneteller.

"I can see blue dragons rising behind your back," Jeon Jae-jik, a gymnast turned job prophet, said at a crowded coffeehouse here. " All of your work will be fine, believe me."

In South Korea, a modernized nation that nonetheless keeps in touch with a culture of mysticism, young job seekers hope to peer into the future with a little help from the past.

In a Career poll, nearly 60 percent of job hunters had consulted a fortuneteller or were planning to do so. The biggest reason: The gloomy prospects of a depressed job market call for extraordinary measures, they said.

Seoul has hundreds of fortunetelling cafes. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the industry reportedly flourished, and this recession seems no different.

Paik Woon-san, chairman of the Association of Korean Prophets, said reading fortunes was a recession-proof profession.

"One hundred percent of the people who consult me follow my advice," said Paik, who claims that more than 300,000 fortunetellers are practicing in South Korea.



South Korea: North Korea's border-crossing ban "regrettable"

South Korea expressed regret Sunday over North Korea's move to bar border crossings by workers from a joint industrial park in the North.

Pyongyang first closed the border on March 9 after cutting off the only remaining hot line with the South to protest its ongoing military drills with the United States. The North says the exercises are a rehearsal for an invasion. The two Koreas use the hot line to coordinate the passage of people and goods through their heavily fortified border.

The North reopened the border Tuesday but closed it again Friday, stranding hundreds of people working in the Kaesong complex.

The North's move is "very regrettable," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said at a meeting with South Korean business owners who run factories in the sprawling complex.

South Korea's ruling Grand National Party, meanwhile, urged the North to end the ban.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Tension on the peninsula has intensified in recent weeks after the North announced plans to launch a satellite, which many regional powers suspect is cover for a test of a long-range missile technology.

The border restrictions have caused jitters among South Korean business owners at the complex.

"I have not decided whether I should build more factories ... as the situation keeps deteriorating," said Yoo Byeong-gi, head of television parts maker BK Electronics.

The complex combines Seoul's technology and management expertise with Pyongyang's cheap labor. It has been a key source of much-needed hard currency for the impoverished North.

More than 100 South Korean factories in Kaesong employ about 38,000 North Korean workers.

Nearly 730 South Koreans were stuck in the Kaesong complex Sunday but they were all believed to be safe, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

The North allowed six people — one Australian, three Chinese and two South Koreans — to return to South Korea on Saturday, said ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il inspected a military unit and watched its firing exercise, the official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday without specifying when and where.



Thursday, March 12, 2009

North Korea: Sound and fury; signifying something?

IT CANNOT be said that it failed to warn them, for this week its propaganda organs reached a note of shrillness unusual even by North Korean standards. Charging that traitorous South Korea and the United States were bent on a “second Korean war”, North Korea declared that it would take “every necessary measure” to defend itself. It was a “touch-and-go situation in which nuclear war may break out at any moment”. Kim Jong Il has put his 1m-strong armed forces on a state of high alert, cut the military hot line to the South and, for a day at least, stopped South Korean managers from crossing the border to the Kaesong industrial enclave where North Korea experiments with capitalism.

Yet South Korea and America are far from preparing for war. They are merely conducting annual joint military exercises. These are a little larger than usual, admittedly. But as if to emphasise their defensive nature, the public face of the American armed forces has been a naval officer of unthreatening portliness.

They are, however, watching North Korea closely. It appears to be preparing a long-range Taepodong-2 missile for launch in early April. This would be the first launch since an unsuccessful test in 2006. The regime claims to be sending a satellite into orbit and has notified the International Maritime Organisation of its plan. But the same missile, if carrying a warhead, is capable in theory of reaching Hawaii or Alaska. A launch would breach United Nations sanctions on North Korea. President Barack Obama’s new special envoy for Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has said merely that it would be “ill-advised”.

Not for the first time, Mr Kim appears to be trying to get a new administration’s attention and put his stamp on proceedings early in Mr Obama’s term in office. American policy towards North Korea is not yet set. Mr Bosworth himself is critical of the early hostility of Mr Obama’s predecessor, George Bush, arguing that it quickened the development of Mr Kim’s nuclear programme. Engagement, he believes, offers the only hope of getting the country not only to dismantle its nuclear capability but also to develop the economy. Yet in Washington experts are suggesting everything from accepting North Korea as a nuclear state to bombing its facilities.

Mr Kim’s regime is also livid that South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak has made aid conditional on progress over nuclear issues. A possibly greater flashpoint than the missile launch is a disputed maritime boundary to the west of the Korean peninsula. North Korea has provoked deadly naval skirmishes there before.

The shrillness may disguise disagreement in Pyongyang about how to deal with Mr Lee and Mr Obama. On March 9th the state media announced the results of parliamentary elections. In Constituency 333, every eligible adult cast a vote for the same candidate, one Kim Jong Il. Elsewhere, say Pyongyang-watchers in Seoul, notable hardliners were promoted.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

American "soft power" in Asia

UNTIL this week only one American secretary of state had made his first foreign trip to Asia: Dean Rusk, in 1961. So Hillary Clinton’s decision to start her travels with a tour to Tokyo, Jakarta, Beijing and Seoul surprised even her hosts. The message seems to be that war elsewhere and economic turmoil may be the current preoccupations, but America’s future environment will be shaped in Asia.

Besides, it is always good to go where you are welcome. It is not simply that President Barack Obama’s four childhood years in Indonesia make him a hero there; nor that learners of English have cleaned out the Tokyo bookshops of volumes of his speeches. Rather, despite the damage George Bush did to America’s prestige, in East Asia it remains high.

According to a recent survey of Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, China and Vietnam by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, America’s “soft” power—ie, its ability to influence others through attraction rather than coercion—has actually grown. Everywhere, America ranked ahead of China in terms of soft power, measured as a mix of political, economic and cultural appeal. It ranked first in Japan, South Korea and China. In Indonesia and Vietnam it took second place, to Japan. That China limped in third overall clearly came as a surprise to the Chicago Council, which had roped in a noted China hand, David Shambaugh, to write up the findings.

Yet East Asia was somewhat neglected under Mr Bush, especially in the second term. The cause was partly bureaucratic. After it was launched in 2006, the “strategic economic dialogue” with China came to dominate the bilateral relationship at the expense of broader issues such as security and human rights. At times, it seemed relations were the sole preserve of the former treasury secretary, Hank Paulson.

As for the State Department, its East Asia agenda was consumed by North Korea, which exploded a nuclear device in October 2006. Mr Bush’s assistant secretary of state for the region, Christopher Hill (who accompanied Mrs Clinton), focused on little else. This irked Japan. Not only did the United States appear to be neglecting its biggest Asian ally. Japanese and South Korean warnings against over-hasty deals with North Korea were also ignored.

America took the North off its blacklist of state sponsors of terror last autumn, in return for an oral promise about verification procedures for disabling facilities at its nuclear reactor. The North has since all but disowned the promise at the six-party talks aimed at getting it to disarm. Meanwhile, progress on tackling suspected uranium enrichment, nuclear proliferation and the North’s existing handful of plutonium weapons remains as elusive as ever.

Now North Korea has grown shrill towards South Korea, which under President Lee Myung-bak does not want to give unconditional aid. The North may try to provoke a naval skirmish. Preparations for a long-range missile test appear under way, and another nuclear test cannot be ruled out. North Korea may yet dominate America’s East Asia policy and attempt to drive wedges between America and its friends, as it did under Mr Bush.

In Japan Mrs Clinton had to mend a fence she broke herself. Laying out her stall in Foreign Affairs, a wonkish journal, in late 2007, she almost forgot Japan in her stress on China. There is no surer way to feed Japanese insecurities. Yet in Tokyo she hailed the security alliance with Japan as a cornerstone of American foreign policy. And she invited the prime minister, Taro Aso, to be the first foreign leader to meet Mr Obama, on February 24th (assuming he clings to office that long). Any new bonhomie, however, will be tested when America asks a foot-dragging Japan for more help abroad—for instance, by flying supplies into Afghanistan, now that overland routes from Pakistan are repeatedly subject to Taliban attacks.

Mrs Clinton is visiting Indonesia partly as a proxy for re-engaging with South-East Asia as a whole: the region badly wants continued American engagement as a counterbalance to China’s growing military might. But Indonesia also matters as a huge Muslim nation, where, as the foreign minister, Hassan Wirajuda, put it, “Islam and modernity can go hand-in-hand.”

China, for its part, wants reassurance that not much will change, at a time of rising protectionist pressure in America. It was relieved not to have been demonised during the presidential campaign, and Mrs Clinton’s talk of wishing it to be committed to international norms echoes the language of the Bush administration. China Daily, an official newspaper, has even expressed the hope that military exchanges, suspended last year over American arms sales to Taiwan, might be resumed. But Mrs Clinton’s suggestion that dialogue has been too centred on the economic at the expense of the strategic gives Chinese policymakers the jitters.

In general, Mrs Clinton has appeared to be listening more than speaking. Still, it is possible that the biggest change in America’s Asian diplomacy will be to put global warming near the heart of it. On the trip Mrs Clinton brought her special envoy on climate change, Todd Stern. China, the United States and Indonesia (because of deforestation) are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Japan has perhaps the best clean technology. China has yet to show any readiness to make specific commitments to cut carbon emissions. But if offered technological and other bribes, it might prefer not to be seen as an obstacle to the global agreement on carbon reductions hoped for late 2009. That would be a coup for Mrs Clinton’s Asian diplomacy, though a distant goal for now.



South Korea’s eGov Initiatives Get Global Limelight

One of the key tasks of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MOPAS) is digitalizing administrative work procedures and citizen services through IT applications. Korea has established itself as an ideal e-government model for developing nations and its systems have received global recognition.Park Chan-woo, assistant minister of MOPAS, told The Korea Times that Korea has been able to demonstrate a formidable leadership in e-government on the back of its high rate of Internet connections across the country. About 85 percent of households have access to a fixed line broadband connection.

"As an IT powerhouse, Korea is one of the few countries able to make full use of such highly convenient online infrastructure in conducting government affairs,'' said Park, in introducing the
"On-Nala system'' that has been used by central government agencies to manage state affairs.

"We have plans to expand the system to our local governments.''Any central government employee is able to do his or her work online from planning policies to making decisions and assessing performance. It has reinvented how government employees function on a day-to-day basis for efficiency, accountability and transparency of administrative actions. A key objective of establishing an e-government infrastructure nationwide is to maximize convenience and accessibility of public services. MOPAS has developed G4C (Government for Citizen) at www.G4C.go.kr, an electronic civil petition portal site.

"Currently, there are over 700 out of approximately 5,000 civil documents that can be issued through Internet. Citizens can either visit G4C, or various sites like www.korea.go.kr, www.hometax.go.kr.'' Park also added that the government plans to develop a new conclusive web portal that consolidates the functions of the existing portals like the G4C and many other Web sites by next year, creating a one-stop platform for citizen services.

"Once completed, it will be the first of its kind in the world,'' Park noted.

A visible success model of e-government is the "Information Network Village'' (INVIL) project. The ambitious online enterprise was conceived to provide Internet connection to farming and fishing villages.

The ministry has installed high-speed Internet network in information centers and households free of charge in 338 designated villages. It also runs an online shopping site at www.invil.com, featuring agricultural products from the villages. Almost 2,000 government officials from more than 80 countries have visited Korea to learn about the novel project aimed at eradicating the digital divide and boosting income for farmers.

In recent years, MOPAS has gained global recognition from the UN, OECD and Brown University for its unique and timely e-government initiatives. "We reported the establishment of the On-Nala system and the Government Innovation Index (GII) to the UN. MOPAS was awarded the UN Public Services Award in 2006,'' added Park. MOPAS won similar recognition from the OECD in 2005. In addition, Korea was ranked fifth out of 191 UN member states in 2005 in a UN e-government evaluation report and for two consecutive years starting 2006, U.S. Brown University ranked Korea first it its e-government evaluation.

As a leader in reinventing government through IT applications, Korea is home to the UN Project Office on Governance (UNPOG), the first UN institution in Asia established in 2006 to research the issue of promoting participatory, transparent and effective governance for all UN member states. MOPAS has actively participated in relevant international conferences and signed MOUs with countries such as Vietnam, the UAE, Egypt and others to share its e-government experiences.



Monday, March 09, 2009

Video: The New Hot Cuisine - Korean

The "embed" function is not working, but you can watch "How to make chop chae" (a clear noodle made from sweet potatoes) here:

The New Hot Cuisine: Korean

The noted Chicago eatery Blackbird has kimchi on the menu, and California Pizza Kitchen is developing Korean barbecue beef pizza. In Los Angeles, crowds are lining up for street food from a pair of Korean taco trucks called Kogi. The slightly sour-tasting Korean frozen yogurt served at the Pinkberry and Red Mango chains has inspired many imitators.

Redolent with garlic, sesame oil and red chili peppers, Korean food is suddenly everywhere.

It's even on the packaged-food industry's radar. "Last year, mostly what we saw in our database was Korean food at authentic ethnic places," says Cindy Ayers, vice president of Campbell's Kitchen, which tracks trends for new-product development at Campbell Soup Co. This year, she says, she's seen Korean flavors appearing on both high-end menus and in casual, nonethnic restaurants in cities like Minneapolis and Des Moines, Iowa -- a sign Korean is starting to catch on.

Last fall, a South Korean government minister announced an effort to make Korean one of the world's most-famous cuisines -- and increase export opportunities for the country. The move includes encouraging the renovation of Korean restaurants overseas by making low-interest loans available to restaurant owners and paying consultants' fees. Says Sang Yoon, a French-trained chef who owns the Father's Office gastropubs in the Los Angeles area: "I think everyone's sort of gone through Japanese and Chinese and Vietnamese," he says. "I think we're next."

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

South Korean cinema is Hollywood's latest exploitable import

This week’s release of The Uninvited, an American remake of the intense South Korean gut-twister A Tale of Two Sisters, proves once again that nothing in this world is sacred, least of all an original film.
But instead of exploring capitalism in motion, we’re going to explore the South Korean film culture that spawned A Tale of Two Sisters and many others.
“There is an energy in Korean filmmaking that springs from the many social changes that have taken place in Korea over the past couple decades,” says Darcy Paquet, author of the upcoming book New Korean Cinema and founder of KoreanFilm.org.
“Korea has changed so much in so short a time, and this turmoil and dynamism is reflected in the films.”
American films dominate the screens in most corners of the world, even the “big” film countries like France, but in South Korea, it’s the homegrown industry, known as Chungmuro, that takes precedence at the multiplex. In the last decade, box office shares for Korean films have hovered around 50 percent or higher, going as high as 64 percent in 2006.
“Even in 2008, which was a very bad year, Korean cinema took over 40 percent of the market,” says Paquet. In comparison, European films were responsible for around 25 percent of Europe’s market in the last few years.
The innate fascination with moving pictures has been alive in Korea as long as there has been cinema. The first films were shown in the 1890s, before there was a North and South. In the ’20s, a still-unified Korea would burst into song together at the end of Arirang, one of the many lost pre-war Korean films, to protest Japanese annexation of their land.
The effects of Korea’s split into the communist North and the capitalist South at the end of the Second World War are still developing today, but the strangest film-related advance was the plot – let’s use the word allegedly – by Kim Jong Il to kidnap South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his wife to create a North Korean film industry. Shin gave the world the Godzilla rip-off Pulgasari before he and his wife escaped to America … where he gave us a few Three Ninjas sequels.
Until the mid-1990s, films were heavily censored, first by the Japanese and then by a succession of domestic dictatorships under the Motion Picture Law. By 1996, when most of the avenues for government interference were removed, there was a building wave of budding filmmakers who had the need to scream to the world through cinema, as did the French New Wave in the 1960s and New Hollywood in the 1970s.
History is something of a preoccupation for the Korean film industry, with no topic essayed as much as the North-South split and, to some extent, American involvement in the split, as seen in JSA and Welcome to Dongmakgol. One of the most brutal events, the May 18, 1980, uprising in Gwangju against the military dictator Chun Doo-hwan, is another cornerstone event. It serves as the anchor point for Peppermint Candy and A Petal. The coda of the film May 18 states “207 deaths, 2,392 wounded, and 987 missing people.”
But lately these old standards seem to be stale material in and outside of Korea. Where a few years earlier Im Sang-soo found success (and American distribution) with The President’s Last Bang, about the assassination of Korean President Park Chung-hee by his own head of intelligence, Im’s Gwangju film, The Old Garden, received lukewarm reviews and was ignored at festival time.
It’s not a lack of compelling material to spin new and interesting tales, but a lack of financial vision and willingness, according to Mark Russell, author of Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture and the blog Korea Pop Wars. “There are so many great stories still waiting to be told,” he says. “Like in most places around the world, the bean-counters gradually took control and pounded much of the life out of the industry.”
Chungmuro’s existence was brought along slowly throughout the years with the help of a “screen quota” system. Implemented in the ’60s, the system limited the number of days foreign (American, for example) films could be screened in Korean theaters, thus encouraging local cinema. Korean films had to be shown for 146 days out of the year. The rest of the time American films, or those of any other country, could be shown.
The U.S., however, wasn’t happy about being given limited product placement, and in 2005 President Bush called on South Korea to slash the quota in half, thus giving the U.S. double the theatrical possibility in the country. Rolled into a broader trade agreement with the United States, the quota system for homegrown Korean film was dutifully cut to 73 days per year in 2006, sparking protests from many in the industry, including Oldboy director Park Chan-wook and star Choi Min-sik, who vowed not to appear in films again if it passed. It did, and he hasn’t. Rob Portman, a trade representative for the U.S., said at the time that the deal would “help level the playing field and increase movie choices for Koreans.”
“It was little more than a placebo,” says Russell, asserting that the quota kept Chungmuro from taking a much-needed look in the mirror.
“What’s more striking is when you compare the Korean lineup at the first or second Pusan International Film Festival [with today’s lineups],” he says. “Right now, most of Korea’s top filmmakers are the same guys from eight to 10 years ago.”
“Some quota supporters claimed that the reduction of the homegrown quota would lead to a downturn in investment, but when you actually talk to investors it doesn’t seem to be a significant factor for them,” says Paquet.
It is the cult films that drive Chungmuro’s popularity abroad, however. “Western film fans were on the lookout for the next big thing,” says Russell. “Hong Kong had had its moment in the sun in the early 1990s, but that had passed as the industry there went into decline and the top talent were poached by Hollywood.”
The “extreme” films, like Lady Vengeance and The Isle, the horror flicks Into the Mirror and Memento Mori, and sardonic-sweet romantic comedies like Please Teach Me English, in which the more violent the girl is, the lovelier she seems, make up the face of the Korean wave in the West, and it’s been duly noted by profit-seekers.
And so we’ve become poachers again, but this time it’s less successful. Jun Ji-hyun, coiner of the ever-popular Korean love note, “Do you wanna die?” (the catchphrase from her hit film My Sassy Girl) found no success here, and the remake of Girl starring Elisha Cuthbert went straight to DVD.
There are remakes of Oldboy (Steven Spielberg and Will Smith are in talks as we speak) and The Host (Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski will produce) on deck to add to Mirrors and The Lake House, but they are stuck in development hell.
With any luck, they’ll stay there.


Friday, March 06, 2009

South Korean government warns about heavy drinking in college

Health and Welfare Minister Jeon Jae-hee sent a letter to the student representative body of 348 local colleges last week, urging them to take part in a campaign for responsible drinking, ministry officials said yesterday.

Continued at:

Breaking through glass ceiling in South Korea

Although women remain grossly underrepresented in executive level positions in Korean companies, an increasing number of women are breaking into male-dominated arenas.

According to industry sources, the number of female executives at local firms has increased significantly during the past two years.

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25% of South Koreans feel gender inequality

Despite Korea's dismal ratings by international organizations on gender equality, only one in four people believe it to be a problem here, according to research unveiled by a lawmaker yesterday.

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Do not throw your key away

Taken on Friday, 6 March 2009 (camera date/time stamp is set for USA) on Namsan ("South Mountain" - http://www.lifeinkorea.com/travel2/seoul/1).


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Coming to a Tiny Screen Near You

Will consumers watch movies and TV on their cellphones? South Korea offers some compelling evidence.

Watching TV and movies on cellphones is so common in South Korea, people no longer think twice about it.

Since 2005, South Koreans have been able to buy cellphones and other portable devices that pick up TV broadcasts sent on a special frequency, a system created here and known as digital multimedia broadcasting, or DMB.

And last year, two of the country's three cellphone-service providers upgraded their networks to third-generation, or 3G, technology that enables big improvements to video streaming and downloading services.

The result: an explosion of video usage on cellphones and other mobile gizmos, including car navigation systems and iPod-like portable media devices.

With almost an entire country able to watch video just about anywhere it wants, South Korea's experience can provide valuable lessons for companies in countries still on the threshold of the mobile-video revolution. Among those lessons: what kinds of programs bring in the most viewers, how advertising has had to adapt -- and how difficult it is to make money from the new services.

So far, there is no clear winner among the different technologies being used here. About 14 million devices equipped for DMB signals have been sold, including 6.5 million cellphones. Of some 45 million cellphone subscribers, 15 million or so have upgraded to 3G, and of those, carriers say about two million watch some video via clips they download to their phones.

Room for Two
For the moment, service providers here are betting that the two technologies will coexist for years to come. SK Telecom Co., for one, the nation's largest cellular company by subscribers, offers video in both 3G and DMB. The two complement each other, says Ki Jeong-kuk, a manager in the company's movie and media business-development team. "DMB service provides real-time video content," he says, like the main TV networks, while 3G "will position itself as a video-on-demand provider as it enables interactive two-way service." The company's 3G option includes on-demand service for archived TV shows and 300 movies.

From the beginning, many South Koreans have embraced the possibilities of mobile video. When Han Kyung-san bought a cellphone three years ago, she splurged on a $700 model that could receive then-new DMB signals. (The average cellphone costs about half that much. But models with DMB have come down in price.) She pays about $15 a month in extra fees for 16 channels.
"When I bought the phone, no one had it," says Ms. Han, a 28-year-old secretary in Okcheon, a small town in central South Korea. "I would turn it on and place it on the table just to show off.
These days, many people have it."

In rush hour, any random subway car in Seoul is likely to have a handful of people watching video on their cellphones. Cab drivers can buy systems that combine street navigation with DMB reception of TV signals. At night, it's becoming common to jump into a cab where the screen on the driver's dash contains a split image -- half is a 3-D map of the city and half is a live TV broadcast, usually news or sports.

But so far, mobile video hasn't produced big revenue gains for its providers. The free DMB signals from the country's four main TV broadcasters draw the most viewers, yet none of these ad-supported services is profitable. Nor are the pay services that offer cable-like menus of channels in either DMB or 3G for $10 to $30 a month, nor 3G pay-per-use options, which cost about 35 cents plus data charges -- generally about $10 a day. Some people find early on that those get to be quite expensive and quickly cut back their usage.

Industry observers generally agree that mobile-video services for both 3G and DMB have been financially disappointing. "We are very good at making technology and new services," says Chung Yun-ho, a telecom industry consultant and managing partner of Seoul-based consulting firm Veyond Partners. "But considering the business model wisely is not something we are good at."

At SK Telecom, executives recently told analysts they're willing to accept a short-term decline in a key metric, average revenue per user, because they believe new marketing activities, including joint sales with the company's fixed-line services, will yield gains next year. At KT Freetel Co., South Korea's second-largest wireless carrier, a spokesman noted that revenue from video is substantially higher on the company's 3G system than on earlier networks. The companies didn't comment about the profit outlook.

Cellphone carriers here, as in other countries, spent billions installing their 3G networks, and planned to make that money back with services, like video, that encouraged customers to spend more time on the phone and boost their data usage. But after an initial jump in all data usage after 3G's introduction, growth in data-related fees has slowed. So far, data usage as a percentage of revenue has remained at around 20%.

"The incremental return [on 3G networks] hasn't exceeded the incremental cost of rolling them out," says Matthew Jamieson, head of Asia Pacific telecom-media practice at international credit-rating agency Fitch Ratings.

South Korea isn't the only country with mobile video, but it's ahead of most. Japan has had digital broadcast service for phones and other portable gizmos since late 2004. Germany, Italy and Finland got in the game in 2006. The U.S. has two services available, both of which use 3G: V Cast, from Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, is available in about 50 cities; AT&T Mobile TV, from AT&T Inc., works in about 30 cities.

South Korea got a jump on other countries partly because its small size and dense population made building high-speed wireless networks more affordable. In addition, the country was racing to catch up with efforts in the European Union to establish international standards in digital-television broadcasts. The South Korean communications agency in 2003 introduced DMB, the first standard for making digital video signals work in portable devices. Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Co. created the format, with university and government help. The next year, the agency put a satellite in space to provide nationwide coverage. The country's carriers and TV networks then did the rest.

Since the launch, those companies have learned a lot about the viewing habits of their customers, and have adjusted their offerings accordingly.

For instance, surveys show the typical DMB user watches about 15 minutes of video a day. As a result, advertisers have adjusted by shortening commercials -- which are interspersed throughout programming -- to 15 or 30 seconds from the typical 60-second spot. Commercials are also simpler for a small screen. Tschaik Lee, director of global interactive business at Cheil Worldwide, South Korea's largest ad agency, says that it routinely produces separate versions of TV ads for mobile video systems like DMB and 3G. "The usage behavior and mobility has to be carefully considered when we plan for mobile ad campaigns," Mr. Lee says.

He adds that DMB presents a unique opportunity for advertisers because it takes a few seconds for the receivers to change channels. DMB-equipped cellphones and receivers receive and display a "switching spot ad" when the device is changing channels, he says. "It masks the switching process."

Lots of DMB viewing occurs during rush hours, when commuters on buses and trains watch to pass the time. But the heaviest use starts around 11 p.m. and peaks close to midnight, when people watch in bed before going to sleep. Ms. Han, the secretary in Okcheon, says that's when she tends to watch the most. "It helps me wind down," she says.

The most popular broadcasts are short news updates, live sports and rebroadcasts of serial dramas that aired on the main TV channels a day earlier. "Content is time-critical," says Mr. Chung, the consultant. "News or sports events, or something you are fond of but cannot view at the traditional time."

Waiting for a train in Daejeon recently, Park So-hyeon, a 21-year-old college student, hunched over her DMB phone with a friend to watch a rebroadcast of a comedy show from one of the networks. Ms. Park says she doesn't own a regular TV, relying instead on her computer to watch DVDs and downloaded videos. "When my computer was broken," she says, holding up the phone, "I watched this."



Monday, March 02, 2009

Of language and communication - don't "abolish" it

I’m not one of those tourists who makes fun of the local English-language signs, especially since the average 12-year old Korean’s English is better than my Korean is after studying for 12 years. But still, now and then I can’t help but laugh. I took my six students to my favorite bakery for breakfast. There I learned that that all products are “handmade, baked and abolished everyday.” If the purpose of language is to communicate, mission accomplished.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Video: The Wonder Girls are Everywhere