Thinking of somewhere else

I crashed tonight after a long day at work.  I was sitting on the couch, watching my son and wife playing.  The next thing I knew, my wife woke me up.  I dragged myself to bed, but I couldn’t sleep.  For some strange, inexpicable reason, I thought about visiting Golden Spike National Historical Site in Promontory, Utah in the fall of 2003.  I was on a business trip to Salt Lake City at the time and had some extra time to explore the Beehive State.  That day, I also visited Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake.  My wife and son were far away, back home in Seattle.  I remember the wide open spaces and subtle desolation of the area.  I saw nary a tree in sight.  Brittle rock formations around Promotory interrupted the landscape, and dried grassy plains blanketed the ground.  Railroad tracks, a meandering, two-lane asphalt highway bordered by electrical poles, and a small memorial center cut a wide swath through the area.  No one was around the day I visited except for briefly an retired couple from Minnesota tooling around in their RV.  We wondered together why no one was manning the visitor’s center.  I vividly recalled the shrill wind hitting my face, thundering in my ears.  The day was bright, the kind that would leave you sunburned without shade or sun screen.
After lying awake for half an hour, I decided to wake up and do some work.  It’s frustrating tossing and turning at night, thinking about all the things you have to do.  Here I am, writing about something that happened almost two-and-a-half years ago, a fleeting memory that I had long since filed away in the recesses in my mind.  Why this memory came to mind tonight, I have no idea.  Perhaps I yearn for a simpler time.  Dear Reader, has this happened to you?

Silencing the Yoduk Story

I am not often openly critical of my host country and try to avoid being overtly political, but I cannot remain silent on this issue.  Organized attempts in Korea to shut down "Yoduk Story" are absolutely appalling.  It is a story that should not be silenced, and it is an affront to free speech if "Yoduk Story" is shut down before it reaches the small stage.  "Yoduk Story" is a musical by North Korean Director Jung Sung San, who defected to South Korea in 1994.  The somber musical chronicles the brutality of life at Yoduk, North Korea’s largest concentration camp.  Although he was never imprisoned at Yoduk, Jung’s life was profoundly impacted by Yoduk.  In 1994 he escaped from North Korea while on his way to the camp, where he was scheduled to serve a 13-year prison term for listening to a South Korean radio broadcast.  Jung also claims that his father was executed in 2002 to punish the family for his own defection.
Attempts to silence this musical are very unfortunate.  The Chosun Ilbo is reporting that significant efforts have been made to keep the musical from opening in order to avoid offending North Korea.  Other than the Chosun Ilbo, not one single newspaper of the Korean media has picked up the story.  The Korean media assiduously reports on virtually anything happening in Korea, yet it is eerily silent on this issue.  When I visited today to see when and where I could attend a performance, I found an HTTP 404 error message indicating the official web site could not be found.  (Dear Reader, can you view this web site from outside Korea?  If so, let me know.)  If you can view it from outside Korea, then very likely it means that Korean Internet service providers have agreed to either censor or shut down the web site, as they occasionally do at the government’s behest.  When I called the "Yoduk Story" phone number (02-569-4483 inside Korea, +82-2-569-4483 outside Korea), I could not reach anyone.   According to the Chosun Ilbo, government officials have invoked Korea’s National Security Law in order to water down the use of North Korean symbolism and propaganda in the production, and half of the musical’s budget has dried up under official pressure.  One theater even pulled out of its commitment to run the show.
This concerted effort to stop "Yoduk Story" from opening in Korean theaters is appalling.  Let Korean audiences decide with their hearts and wallets whether they want to support this musical.  After all, Korea seems to have no trouble airing a Korean version of "The Producers," a Broadway musical that includes Nazi imagery.  Imagine if the French had tried to suppress "Les Miserables" because of its serious theme and dark imagery of the French Revolution.
I plan to find out more about what is happening with "Yoduk Story" and will lend my full support to make sure "Yoduk Story" gets a fair hearing in the Korean court of public opinion.  If you’re interested in lending your support, let me know.  So often, Koreans pay very close attention to the U.S.’ actions and react whenever they disagree.  In this case, Americans are–or should be–concerned about what is happening here to "Yoduk Story."  Take note, Korea.  We noticed.

The Hallyu Effect

When I spoke to a Korean audience last week, the subject of "Hallyu", or the "Korean Wave," came up.  "Hallyu" is a buzzword that describes the spread of Korean media and culture worldwide, primarily through Korean films and television shows (especially dramas).  The person who introduced me noted that I had done a study on the economic impact of the Korean Wave and mentioned that audience members who had questions about it could ask me questions on the subject.  The irony in that offer is that he was inviting Koreans to ask me, a foreigner, about a Korean phenomenon that most Koreans already know well.  What they don’t know is just how significant an economic impact Hallyu has had on the Korean economy.
I did my study on the effects of Hallyu in 2004.  My study is a bit dated but still relevant.  In 2004, "Winter Sonata," a 20-episode drama series by Korean broadcasting company KBS, rocked the Asian world.  The drama made Korean stars Bae Yong Jun and Choi Ji Woo household names in Asia.  The euphoria over "Winter Sonata" has since subsided, but Korean Wave is still rolling.  Korean films and dramas tend to become popular overseas about a year after they are initially released in Korea.  During the past two years, three notable Korean dramas have been extremely popular here and have the potential to become Korea’s next runaway global hit–"Lovers in Paris," "Lovers in Prague," and "My Lovely Samsoon."  Like their American counterparts, Korean producers and directors are  keen to build lucrative franchises ala James Bond and the "Lord of the Rings."  For example, "Winter Sonata" is one of four dramas in the "Seasons" series.  The other three lesser-known dramas in the series are "Summer Scent," "Autumn Tales," and the upcoming "Spring Waltz."  Dramas with variations of the "Lovers" theme also form a quasi-franchise.  I sometimes remark that "Lovers" dramas, which are set in various amorous locations ranging from Harvard to Prague, is a bit like the U.S. show "Survivor," which moves around from destination to destination.  I’m still waiting for "Lovers in Guatamala."  Probably won’t happen.
Here is a summary of my 2004 report on the effects of "Hallyu" on the Korean economy.
What is "Hallyu," or the "Korean Wave"?
The term Hallyu, or "Korean Wave," was created by the Chinese media to describe a “new” Korean media phenomenon.   "Hallyu" is especially popular in East and Southeast Asia and in overseas Asian communities.  Countries that have embraced "Hallyu" include Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.  "Hallyu" is a buzzword for the rising worldwide interest in Korean culture, including:

  • Dramas (soap operas)
  • Movies

  • Popular music

  • Food and drink

  • Traditional culture

  • Tourism

  • Cosmetic surgery

"Hallyu" is not just a teen phenomenon.  In fact, in many places such as Japan, older women are its biggest fans.  It has been actively promoted by the Korean Government through organizations such as the Korean National Tourism Organization.  Korean actors such as Bae Yong Jun, Choi Ji Woo, and Won Bin, singers such as BoA and Bi, and artists and designers such as Andre Kim have helped promote "Hallyu" worldwide.


Hallyu Timeline
Worldwide interest in Korean media and culture grew after the Korean War (1950-53):

  • 1955:  Modern tae kwondo is born

  • 1980s:  Discourses on Korean culture by Yi Gyu-tae and others
  • 1988:  Korea showcased during Summer Olympics
  • 1997:  Hong Kong’s STAR-TV broadcasts Korean drama "Star in My Heart"
  • 2002:  World Cup promotes Korean culture globally
  • 2004:  KNTO launches “Korean Wave 2004” campaign and interest in the Korean Wave skyrockets after "Winter Sonata" is broadcast in Japan

Benefits of "Hallyu"


"Hallyu" significantly benefits Korea and its economy, including:

  • Increasing awareness of Korean culture worldwide
  • Promoting a positive image of Korean culture

  • Providing a new Japanese mania with a Korean (foreign) flavor

  • Depicting Korea as a post-modern center of Confucianism

  • Improving relations between Koreans and other nations, particularly between Korea and Japan

  • Promoting Korean tourism (2004 tourism increased by 47% over 2003)
  • Earning more currency from tourists who spend boatloads of money to relive their favorite "Hallyu" money 

  • Generating increased revenue and exports for Korean companies

The Economic Effect of "Hallyu"


In addition to the benefits listed above, "Hallyu" contributed nearly .35% to 2004 Korean gross domestic product (GDP).  "Winter Sonata" was by far the largest contributor.  Revenues from "Winter Sonata" were more than $2.25 billion in 2004, representing one-quarter of one percent (.25%) of Korea’s 2004 GDP.  In addition, the domestic Korean impact of the "Hallyu" was $866 million in 2004, or .10% of Korean GDP.  Contrast the success of "Winter Sonata" to that of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which brought in $2.91 billion at the box office.  "Winter Sonata" grossed more than the #1 movie of all time, "Titanic," which brought in $1.84 billion.  The single biggest film of all time when measured as dollar purchasing parity, "Gone With the Wind," grossed nearly $200 million in 1939.  It signifcantly impacted the U.S. economy at a time when the country was emerging from the Great Depression and was not yet gearing up for World War II.  "Gone With the Wind" contributed .02% to U.S. GDP in 1939, much less than the .25% contributed by "Winter Sonata."  While .35% of GDP may not sound like much, it is amazing to think that a phenomenon that did not even have a name in 2003 contributed so much to Korea’s bottom line in 2004.