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.

The agony and antipathy

I submitted our final assignment bid list today.  If you recall, Dear Reader, on January 19 and February 11 I discussed bidding on our next assignment.  Our bid list is (in order of preference):
  1. La Paz, Bolivia
  2. Damascus, Syria
  3. San Salvador, El Salvador
  4. Asuncion, Paraguay
  5. Shenyang, China
  6. Athens, Greece
  7. Montevideo, Uruguay
  8. Quito, Ecuador
  9. Caracas, Venezuela
  10. Kuwait City, Kuwait
  11. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  12. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  13. Panama City, Panama
  14. Managua, Nicaragua
  15. Windhoek, Namibia
  16. San Jose, Costa Rica
  17. Belize City, Belize
  18. Sydney, Australia
  19. Hamilton, Bermuda
  20. Bogota, Colombia

This list is quite different from our initial draft bid list, because some of the most attractive assignments in places such as Beijing, Hong Kong, and London were already assigned to other individuals.  Frankly speaking, we were only left with about 35 possible assignments to bid on based on the jobs available and our own preferences.  I monitored the assignments list today and noted which places are most popular with bidders.  Among the 20 bids I submitted today, 17 are competitive, and 14 are highly competitive.  As expected, Sydney, Damascus, Athens, and Montevideo are wildly popular.  (Note to Tortmaster:  Dude, I am not going to Windhoek.  I would be very lucky to be assigned there.)  While I left them on my list, I deliberately ranked them lower, acknowledging the fact that I have virtually no chance of being assigned to these places.  These assignments will be long gone before my bids are considered.


Only three of the 20 assignments are realistic options for me:  Shenyang, Kuwait, and Managua.  La Paz, San Salvador, and Asuncion are also possible but not likely, because they are much more attractive to bidders.  I don’t mean to spoil the fun, but barring any unforeseen anomalies, we are likely headed to Shenyang, China in 2007.  While not our first choice, we will make the most of the opportunity we are given.  Shenyang is a place with a negative reputation and a reality that is apparently far better than perception.  But we will need to buy some thick parkas for wintertime.  We will know our final assignment in the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, the agony of trying to put together our bid list is over, and the antipathy of second-guessing the outcome lies ahead.

A moment for time

I’ve been very busy lately.  As I drove home tonight, I thought to myself, I wish there were more hours in a day.  Well, why can’t there be more hours in a day?  If there were more hours in a day, wouldn’t time seem to slow down?  Dear Reader, you may think this random musing is an exercise in futility, but consider this.  Time is an artificial construct defined by by society.  For example, this is the month of February.  It has 28 days–fewer than any other month of the Julian calendar.  During Leap Year, February has 29 days.  Still, February is always two or three days shorter than the month of January.  So much of what we do is bound by time constraints that one could surmise that time passes by more quickly in February than it does in January.  Two months that are virtually identical in a calendar year differ in their length of time.  Deadlines in February–from mortgage payments to work assignments–must be met at least a couple days sooner this month than they did in January.  Certainly, work volumes vary from month to month, but given the same amount of work, February feels more hectic than a month like January because it is shorter.
I believe the same is true when subdividing time by hours, minutes, and seconds.  If you varied the rate at which they pass, time would seem to pass by faster or slower.  If your life is constraint by time, this can have profound impact on your life.  I recall reading about efforts during the Industrial Age to adopt digital, or metric time.  In the Nineteenth Century, the French introduced a decimal time system that replaced 86,400 standard seconds in a day with 100,000 seconds.  Here are the conversions from standard time to decimal time:
  • One decimal second is 86400/100000 = 0.864 standard seconds.
  • One decimal minute is 1440/1000 = 1.44 standard minutes, i.e. 1 minute 26.4 seconds.
  • One decimal hour is 24/10 = 2.4 standard hours.
  • A decimal day has 10 hours, and a decimal hour has 100 minutes.  Each decimal minute has 100 seconds.  If we all used decimal time, our day would only be 10 hours long.  Think of the implications!  You might sleep three hours on average (2.4 x 3 = 7.2 standard hours on average) and work for four hours (2.4 x 4 = 9.6 standard hours).  A standard four-hour work day (including lunchtime, of course) would translate into a 9.6 hour workday.  A five-day work week would be 48 hours (9.6 hours/day x 5 days) per week.  You would probably work more and sleep less.

    So what? you might ask.  It means that if we could redefine time to include more hours in a day–say 25, or better yet, 30–a day would not pass by so fast because there would be more time in a day.  Right now, I would love to have 25 hours a day.

    The notorious K.I.D.

    A subtle social barrier exists in Korea than few recognize–the Korean identification number, or KID number.  Each Korean citizen has a unique seven-digit Korean national ID number akin to a Social Security number (SSN).  KID numbers are assigned to individuals based on age, gender, and place of birth.  Usage of the Korean ID is far more prevalent here than the Social Security number is in the United States.  While usage of the SSN has been on the decline in the U.S. because the private sector is moving away from using SSNs, the Korean ID number remains omnipresent in Korea.  It is difficult to integrate into Korean society without a KID.  When you open a Korean bank account, you need to furnish a KID.  When you subscribe to a Korean cell phone plan, you need to give the provider your Korean ID number.  If you want to join Cyworld, the hottest Web site in Korea, you need to give them your KID number.  (If you want to read more about Cyworld, read BusinessWeek’s article about the wildly popular Korean social networking website.  Cyworld is absolutely fascinating.  Unfortunately, you need to read Korean to be a member.)  
    Last weekend my wife and son tried to visit the Children’s Museum at the National Museum of Korea.  My wife was told that she needed to buy tickets online.  When she tried to buy them, the web site asked for her KID.  This happens virtually anytime you visit a Korean website that requires membership.  If you’re an expatriate in Korea who does not have a KID, you are not only hamstrung if you don’t know the Korean language, but you’re also hindered by not having a KID.  It’s very frustrating.  The KID is a useful way to distinguish people with the same name, which is a frequent occurance in Korea.  The surnames Kim, Park, and Lee and related combinations comprise the vast majority of Korean surnames.  The KID is an easy way to distinguish Kim Seunghee 1234567 from Kim Seunghee 7654321.  Unfortunately, the KID can lead to discrimination, as those who do not qualify for KIDs–namely foreigners, must cope with living in Korea without a national ID number.  Of course, if you’re a privacy advocacy, perhaps not having a KID is a good thing.

    Update from the home front

    I haven’t posted an update on our goings-on at home lately.  Life here could best be described as "too busy."  I have a gazillion things to do at work.  It seems as if each action item I complete is supplanted by yet another task.  I really would like to be less busy than I am now.  Granted, I’m not as busy as some people.  On days when work seems overwhelming, I’m reminded of colleagues who left non-stop, fast-paced, highly stressful jobs in Manhattan and the Silicon Valley, and I’m glad I chose this career.  I do feel the constant pressure to perform.  Tomorrow I finish the training course I’ve been teaching since last November.  My students will take their final exam.  We’ll find out how whether they’ll pass the exam.  I hope so, because it’s vital to their careers.  Last Friday I delivered a speech on the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate to a group of 45 Korean students.  The audience was receptive to my speech.  At the same time, I have to begin working on three technical projects–our monthly performance analysis, an in-depth, statistically-significant survey of our customer base, and our information systems portfolio.  Each one in and of itself will be a lot of work, and I’m doing my best to finish tasks that are nearing completion.  The bottom line is that I have too much going on at work, and I need a really big shovel to unbury myself.
    My wife is doing a fabulous job as a manager at the accounting firm she joined last October.  She has many Korean and international clients.  She is also a special matter expert on U.S. accounting practices and English-language financial statements.  She recently started offering free English lessons to her Korean colleagues in order to help them improve their English.  Although she does not work as many hours as her colleagues (thankfully!), I think she uses her time wisely.  Because Korean accounting must be translated into English, she can quickly and efficiently translate it into English .  Her job has also given her an intriguing window into Korean culture.  She is one of the few foreigners in her firm, and she has developed excellent rapport with her Korean colleagues.  Her colleagues have embraced her and have also learned more about other cultures through their interactions with her.  She told me that she is glad she made the decision to go back to work.  Our nanny takes care of our son during the day, and he has gotten used to both of us working full time.  In fact, it has helped my son grow a bit more independent and more reliant on me.
    My son keeps busy playing all day.  Each week he attends a gym class and a music class and goes to the library for storytime.  "Thomas the Tank Engine" is still his favorite children’s series, although he also likes "Bob the Builder" and "The Wiggles."  We love to watch him act out storylines he’s developed in his mind, using his trains and other toys to animate the story.  He loves play dough and sticker books, too.  Lately he hasn’t done much coloring in his myriad coloring books, and he rarely does jigsaw puzzles nowadays–apparently doing puzzles was just a short-lived phase.  My son seems to have a penchant for breaking things, and he always relies on daddy to "fix" it.  Super glue is daddy’s favorite repairing compound. 
    Although we’re usually busy, we try to spend time together as a family.  Family time means staying home, going out and about town, or even getting together with other families.  When we’re not working, my wife and I sometimes go out on dates, like we did on Valentine’s Day.  Sometimes I go out in the evening for meetings, networking events, or an occasional night out, as does my wife.