Monday, February 14, 2011

Things I've Learned about Korea by doing the Radio Show

Soundtrack: Press play and start reading.

Haven't done a bliss-out in a while, and you don't know this one is going to be one, until the last minute of the song, when it keeps celebrating, and then ends with about fifteen seconds on an entirely different plane... but like other good bliss-outs, you have to listen to the whole song, or those last fifteen seconds don't have the support to actually launch you into that other place.

I've always liked Stevie Wonder, but those ten seconds at the end of this song made me love him.

So yeah, I've been doing a section of The Evening Show for TBS eFM: the show's hosted by a fella named Mike, whom you can find here @MikeOnTBS.  You can also keep up with what The Evening Show's doing at @TheEveningShow.  Or follow me on twitter @Roboseyo (didn't see that coming, did you?) or friend me on facebook (  I'm a facebook friend whore: I'll totally accept.

The show's been hella fun so far, mostly due to the awesome callers we've had call into the show.  (and you can be one of those callers, readers!)

Anyway, before I turn into a pure pimp, one of the fun things about the show, to me, is this:

Every day I get a new Korea-related topic, and I have to become a fifteen-minute expert in it.  Fifteen-minute expert means not that I spend fifteen minutes researching, and bluff, but that I have to learn enough about a topic to talk about it in an informed way for fifteen minutes.  Every day the topic's different, which means I've learned about all sorts of things since I started the show three weeks ago.

So, here are ten things I've learned about Korea by doing The Evening Show's call-in segment:

1. Korea's actually doing quite well in trying to improve its environmental standing.

Given that Korea has very few energy resources of its own, it's important for Korea to use the oil it imports, or the nuclear energy it generates, as efficiently as possible; Korea's currently the world's fifth largest oil importer.  That's bad news.  The good news: Korea's actually put a LOT of energy and money into environmental initiatives.  Natural gas buses, public transit, bus lanes, Samsung's lithium batteries, smart, efficient buildings (which, I learned, burn more fuel than cars): Korea's working hard.

Now if only the country also took care of its wetlands...

The four rivers' project has become too politically embroiled to get a straight story about it from either side.

2. Korea's traditions of gift-giving for marriage are really interesting... and the richer you were back in the day, the more ridiculously extravagant the gift-giving became.

Chests full of silk, carried by the bride's family, bribed into the groom's house, watches, clothes, three keys (car, office and house) and more: the gift-giving expectations for Korean weddings are mad lengthy, and the higher your position you'd attained, the more your family demanded from your spouse-to-be's family.

3. In recent years, the largest demographic decline in Korea's smoking rate was in middle-aged men.  Young men (20s and 30s) has remained about the same.  Meanwhile, the smoking rate for women is probably waaay under-reported.

4. The secretary general of the Korea smokers' association doesn't like people using the term "smokers" - he prefers "cigarette consumers" because it's less stigmatized.

5. The experts we spoke to think the black market (where food is traded and distributed in North Korea, when the centralized food-distribution system falls short) is good for North Korea, for two different reasons: one because that's where North Koreans learn about how life is in the South - that's where Korean wave illegal DVDs are bought and traded - and the other because a mini-free enterprise system will help North Koreans adjust to living in a free market system, in the event of reunification.

6. North Korea has its own international economic zone, called Rajin-Sonbong.  So far, the main investor there is China.

7. There's a movie called Bangga Bangga about a Korean who pretends to be from Bhutan in order to get a job in a factory.  Sounds super-interesting: I heard about it from Paul Ajosshi, and I hope he has a chance to write about it sometime on his blog.  On that same topic, another reader commented that a farmer he knows started hiring migrant workers not because they were cheaper, but because the Koreans she employed kept stealing from her.

8. I already kind of knew this, but covering it from different angles really brought it home: long working hours, women's workplace rights, the low birthrate, lack of government support for parents, the aging population and the approaching welfare crisis, and the need to give migrant workers a more recognized place in Korean society, all connect to each other in a big, ugly bundle.

9. Pay day loan companies in Korea are very, badly under-regulated, and though it's illegal, some of them charge interest as high as 3000% per annum on their loans.  Yep.  All those zeros are supposed to be there.  The payday loan companies are supposed to be regulated by their gu office, but those offices are too under-staffed to be properly vigilant.

10. Standard versions of language are a kind of expression of cultural hegemony, and the degree of connection between language, culture, identity, and power, are quite inextricable.

More later, readers.

And all the best...



This Is Me Posting said...

Very informative. Very cool. Thanks for this.

As an aside, I'm sure this made the rounds on the blogs a while back, but I've never seen it mentioned and I thought I'd pass it along just in case.

I just watched a really interesting documentary on North Korea called Kimjongilia:


It's not the most ground breaking or completely eye opening film out there, but it's fascinating to hear the stories of North Korea from the POV of North Koreans.

Also, along those lines, a while back I watched the Vice Guide to North Korea:

Some of the footage they got is simply amazing.

Paul Ajosshi said...

Glad to hear the show is going well Rob, I'll try and listen more once I enter gainful unemployment in March and have some time on my hands. That'll also be when I write about Bangga Bangga (which will also be reviewed by me in next month's 10 Magazine)...

Brian said...

I'll tell you what, I don't follow things over there as much as I used to, but this radio show of yours is the most interesting development in the K-blogging community, I think, in the past year. It's a great transition, and a great way to connect with Korean listeners (albeit a relatively small portion of them who know about and listen to TBS). Keep up the good work, Rob.

Unknown said...


Isn't 함 (chests full of gifts) carried by the bridegroom's friends for the bride & bride's family.

There's gift-giving on both sides, but that tradition of 함 is for the bride ^^

Charles Montgomery said...

함 is just what Placeblogger says..

I am the relatively rare whitey to do this (in Kwangju) and it was super fun, though I think some of the elder relatives harumphed at the fact I did it...

Another fun Korean wedding tradition..

Roboseyo said...


my bad. there are so many gifts, going in so many directions, it was hard to keep track of all of them. My memory failed me.

ZenKimchi said...

Speaking as, I guess now, an "alcohol consumer," about nothing to do with alcohol--you'd think part of this green push would include an education campaign that informs drivers that gunning and stopping drains the gas tanks.

fiza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charles Montgomery said...

Whoa.. that's weird... fiza left the same comment on AAK.. and other websites that don't have decent SPAM protection...

(HINT: Move to WordPress)


Anonymous said...

That radio station is a joke.

It's too bad. This country really needs a good English radio station.

Hopefully, TBS will grow.

Sid Kim and Steve Hatherly seem professional. The rest of the lot are just, well college DJ/wannabes.

Ben, with the daily update especially sucks. However, the old K-pop girls on at 12-2 really suck. Koreans change the channel when they come on.

It's ridiculous. Samsung, LG, Doosan, Hyundai, .... and the only English radio we get is shit?