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LIFE: TV

Television, television, television… Probably mankind’s best creation of entertainment yet the worst form of distraction, television is an indispensable tool here in Korea, or for the matter, in any part of the world. With the variety of programs and genres that each channel, each show offers, it is of no wonder that television has become such a huge impact now.

1. Technology

Samsung, an international company started by Korea, had excelled in the area of generating technology-related products, namely televisions. Their recent invention LEDs, the flattest, of the highest quality in the world, Samsung and its inventions had sought millions of Korean consumers. With the hot wave of LEDs settling in Korea, virtually every family owns a television, once again displaying the deep passion for watching televisions.

2. Weather

Recent turn of weather had seen Koreans opt to stay at home and watch televisions over going outside. Because of the sheer unpredictability of the weather, going out had long been an act of inconvenience and frustration. Though its winter usually ends before March, 2010’s winter in Korea had lasted until the beginning of May, characterizing the marked difference of weather conditions. Since the weather turned hot and humid right after the winter, families have refused to go outside without a valid reason, testifying the sudden rise in television watching.

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SOCIETY: The Role of Men and Women

Sexual discrimination had been omnipresent in the history of mankind–especially in Asia where strict religious and traditional codes of men and women had been defined by law. And to a large extent, such views and practices are kept in most societies, Korea without exception. However, there has been a drastic change in the roles of men and women, and in the emphasis of the females as the head of the family.

1. The Role of Men:

Men had always been viewed by the society as the workers, the money makers that the family’s income and happiness depends on. In Korea too, such views had been highlighted by every individual in the society, to the extent that a man without work is helpless, without abilities and useless.

2. The Role of Women:

The role of women, or more specifically mothers, is a little bit more complicated, however. Mothers are the educators. In thatsense, they are seen as an important member of the family. Generally housewives, these mothers do lead a life more stressful and more occupied than the fathers. Their goal to find the best academies (aka hagwons) in Korea, these mothers take their time in the morning going to various locations, evaluating their education system, the teachers and the academy fee. More often than not, they go in pairs or herds; they are a group, who would share the most vital piece of information they each have about education. Since they are a group, however, rivalry exists between their group and another one, so it really stimulates the parents to compete and find better academies.

Yup… It’s the 60th Anniversary

The Korean War/ Conflict… A devastating event that has shaped what Korea has become today. While some mourn over what-seems-like-eternal separation of a country, others have pointed at the rapid growth South Korea had been able to enjoy in the aftermath of the war.

However we think of the war and Korea’s future fate, interesting occurrences have happened in light of the 60th Anniversary of separation:

1. Weakened Ties

In a series of events, starting with the mysterious sinking of a South Korean ship Cheonanham, there have been constant friction between the two countries, especially in the field of politics and diplomacy. With new evidence suggesting that North Korean torpedo boats had caused the sinking of Cheonanham, tensions have escalated to a new level so high that the media has speculated the outbreak of a war between the two neighbors.

2. Films

Commemorating the Korean War, many dramas and films that are soon coming out have focused on “war” as the central theme. It is definitely not coincidental that such theme is popular, since Korea is known mainly for its romantic dramas. One of such huge projects that is going to be unveiled is 71- Into the Fire. A movie based on a true story, it starts off with a letter from a high school student-turned-soldier to his mother, conveying his fears about the war. When the war did break out in Pohang, 71 students who had no zero experience of the army of war of any sort, had to protect the port city.

SOCIETY: education

A Korean student taking the Scholastic Ability Test

“If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States.” Barack Obama addressed the 19th Legislative Conference of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, lauding the Korean education system. True, the passion of students–more accurately the parents–seems to have no limit as academies a.k.a “hagwon”s are fast becoming the new centers of business. But what exactly is the Korean system like? What is the factor that distinguishes it from other OECD countries’ educations?

The bustling of academies has been a phenomenon that was directly the result of an education fervor. Convinced that only good education would lead to their child’s success, parents began to enroll them into after-school classes. Due to the fact that private teachers could teach in a better environment and yield even better results, every parent in Seoul soon started searching high and low for famous private institutions.

Dubbed the "Hagwon Street," apartment prices had soared after the establishment of many private institutions in Eunma

Had this, however, really benefitted the students? Well, less time for computer games aside, it has had negative social implications. In economics, we learn that rising demand will naturally lead to rising prices. With a sudden, rapid rise in demands for private education, the prices that parents had to pay–and the wages that teachers, institutions would receive–shot up too. In other words, educational consumption per family had taken up a big part of an average family’s spending. With excessive focus on private education, the economical difficulties that many families had to go through is indeed the testimony of the level of importance education is in today’s society.

Ironically, the birth and development of private education has only helped deteriorate public education that is mandatory for all students. Believing that private education would be everything that they need, students had grown a disregard and disrespect for their schools. It is a common knowledge that school time is the only rest time for most high school students. Not to blame the students that are stuck in academies well past dinner time, the educational “reform” that Korea had gone through has left the public system shattered instead.

So, had the greed for education made or ruined the education system here in Korea? No one knows. However, one clear conclusion that can be derived from our educational fever is the open room for development and for students to pursue their passion of learning and scholarship!

LIFE: drama

What is the first thing that comes to a foreigner’s mind when he or she thinks of Korea?

Yes, you got it right. It is drama!

Dae Jang Geum- an all-time great drama that expands on Korean culture and, of course, love

The Korean wave (that means the spread of Korean culture to elsewhere in the world) had been started and is being maintained by the addictive dramas that Korea produces. Probably because they deal mostly with romance or comedy and because of the huge competition drama producers have to deal with, the Korean drama industry has produced hundreds of hit dramas that had enlightened not just Korean women but many others somewhere else in the world. Especially in Asia, the Korean drama fever is unbelievable.

As a child, I had lived 5 years in Singapore. And as a Korean, I had the joy of watching Korean dramas overwhelming shops: there were just too many of them! From Dae Jang Geum to Hwang Jin Yi, they all received special attention from the “aunties” (that is equivalent to “ahjummas” here). Actually, to judge the popularity of any film, we can look at the number of subtitles that it provides; the more the number of avid viewers of a specific film, the more different subtitles it would have to satisfy everyone. For Korean dramas, there are typically English, Taiwanese Chinese, Japanese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Thai.

A closer analysis of Korean dramas reveal one common theme: romance. Whether it is a comedy, adventure or horror, romance is depicted very heavily in virtually every Korean drama. To be more specific, it is the love triangle or even a “love square” that brings anxiety to the viewers and suspense to the whole story. This formation of a conflict of love has become so common among Korean dramas that some have dubbed this theme a textbook theory.

Capture scenes from Winter Sonata. Winter Sonata was, in fact, even more popular in Japan than in Korea.

Simultaneously, with great hits of dramas, comes stardom of the actors in the drama. Choi Ji Woo and Bae Yong Joon from Winter Sonata, Song Hye Gyo from All In and Full House, and Lee Byung Hun from All In and Iris are the idols of many Korean and Asian viewers. Their fame almost hitting the maximum in countries such as Japan and Thailand, these stars are the living proof of the extent of influence dramas wield.

I think that it is no coincidence or luck that Korean dramas had gained the love of many around the globe. The fact that some even wait for the drama to come out in a CD to watch it all at a go shows the addicting powers (Korean) dramas have.

LIFE: World Cup

Woohoo, World Cup!

South Korean fans literally painted the town red

The last time that I had watched a World Cup live at my comfortable home or outside amongst the mad crowd was in 2002–when South Korea beat all expectations. And I still thank God that I was only an Elementary School kid. But at the same time, I ponder upon my bad luck whenever the World Cup draws near. The last World Cup, though the Korean team did not even qualify, I could by no means approach the television. It was the year that I had to take the excruciating Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) back in Singapore. That test was just like the SAT, just that you had to take it in sixth grade and only once. In other words, if you happened to be in a bad condition or was too into the World Cup, your future might change. Telling myself “Just four more years, dude,” I waited patiently and time did fly. And now, I might be telling myself, “Just another four more years, dude.” With APs in May, SAT and school finals in June, etc, I just don’t know…

Whether I get to watch the World Cup or not, there is no discounting the idea that Koreans are really enthusiastic about such international sports meet! From the Vancouver Olympics to the South African World Cup, we see thousands flocking to the respective countries to be immersed in the atmosphere, and we see tens of thousands sitting in front of the televisions, watching our nation’s true heroes.

Especially in 2002, when South Korea had co-hosted the World Cup, stadiums could not satisfy these people who are mad for soccer. In the downtown, squares and pubs, people in red showed up to cheer and celebrate together. In fact, the Red Devils (Korea’s official soccer fan organization) is one of the biggest fan organization in the world. It does remind me of the phrase “to paint the town red” because they really did–with the sheer numbers. Though I had not had the chance to squeeze myself into the crowd, the picture does look pleasing to the senses.

SOCIETY: science and technology

One of the pride that Koreans take is our level of scientific advancement. As the country with the highest percentage of the population using Internet on a regular basis, Korea has progressed so far in this arena, establishing a global brand and creating one of the world’s most wanted products.

Samsung- it is dominating the Korean market

Without doubt, Samsung, Hyundai and other local electronic gadgets companies had astonished the international market. The two companies listed in world’s 100 most affluent companies, their success can neither be undermined nor disputed. Just in Korea, Samsung had branched out from only phones to cars, cards, televisions and many more.

Especially in the local (Korean) market, Samsung and Hyundai are, in fact, almost monopolists. With virtually every Korean customer opting them over more famous international brands like Nokia, it does seem like foreign brands do not stand a chance here. Though Nokia lacks in no aspect as to be shunned by Korean customers, maybe local, internationalized brands are just too appealing to us.

6 months ago, my friend had bought a Samsung Haptic phone (I am in too difficult an economic situation to afford it), which is like Apple’s iPhone. A touch phone too, Samsung Haptic gives variety of functions like playing more games, browsing the Internet, etc. Its price just shocked me. Priced at 1,324,000 won, it was actually higher than iPhone! Though the prices went lower as demand for it began to decrease, the fact that Samsung had priced its phone higher than the iPhone tells us a lot! In addition, I understand Steve Job’s decision when the iPhone entered the Korean market half a year later than it did in most other countries. He and Apple could have easily failed in the Korean market, just like Nokia had.

Samsung Haptic Phone