Xenophobia in Korea

May 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

The issue of race and ethnicity in predominantly homogeneous societies is an issue that has come up in my political science class, Politics of East Asia, time and time again. Korea and Japan both heavily subscribe to the “one blood” idea–that they are a people of one race, descended from a union between godly/otherworldly beings way back when. (I would argue that this is something China wants to do but has not succeeded in doing to the extent Korea and Japan have, given that China is home to over 13 distinct ethnic groups [not including Koreans living there] while Korea is home to Koreans and a small population of Chinese and Japan is home to the Japanese and a minority of Koreans and Chinese.) 

As the number of mixed-race marriages increases, however, Korea is now having to adjust to the presence of “multiethnic families (다문화 가족, or 다가족)” and figure out how to integrate them into society. (More on the challenges facing multiethnic families and their children here, here and here.) Yet there are many obstacles, one of which being Korea’s historical and present xenophobia and exclusivity. More on this issue from Korea Joongang Daily, “Giving Up On Xenophobia“:

Thousands of nonnative Koreans now live among us because of interracial marriages, jobs or for education purposes, yet Korea’s understanding and tolerance of other ethnic groups remain far below the global standard. In a survey on acceptability of a multiethnic society by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which was conducted on 2,500 people aged 19 to 74 nationwide, only 36 percent was positive about changes that make our society more diverse in terms of race, religion and culture. 

That’s less than half the average 74 percent approval rate in 18 European countries. The results of the survey suggest that many immigrants from different cultural backgrounds could be suffering from various forms of discrimination and prejudice in Korea due to their skin color or mother tongue.

Our evolution toward a multiethnic society is inevitable. We must remake our laws in various fields to support a society that accepts differences. We also should welcome foreign talents to raise our international competitiveness. We feel proud of the success stories of ethnic Koreans overseas even though they are no longer Korean citizens. We should encourage foreign residents to be successful members of our society.


Wired Seoul

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s hard to imagine how tech-savvy, dependent on tech, high-tech, tech-based (you get the picture) Seoul is until you actually go there. I remember climbing the hill behind Yonsei’s campus and surveying the horizon–imagine my surprise when I saw at least twenty brightly lit LCD TV screens dotting the landscape! This medium of advertising is so prevalent, I bet Korean consumers (living in Seoul) are exposed to… oh, perhaps double? the amount of advertising that American consumers are exposed to, given that running commercials on TV screens are everywhere. I’m learning in my consumer behavior class about the decision-making cycle and how there are different methods advertisers/marketers use to get inside your head at each step–I’m started to think advertising is a field made for evil-minded geniuses. Good marketing is genius, yes–but so subtle and insidious as well. O_O I’ll write more specifically about what I’m learning in another post, but until then, and relevant to this topic, is:

a nice set of photographs from Time and

an article from Time, Asia’s Latest Miracle

Creative Marketing at Its Best: Let Busy Korean Consumers Shop for Groceries in the Subway

January 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is from 2011, but is SO AWESOME that it deserves to be blogged about again 🙂

Tesco’s supermarket chain in Korea, known as HomePlus, wasn’t doing very well compared to its competitors. One of their setbacks was the number of stores they owned, so in order to reach more customers without increasing the number of locations they brought in a (very cool) marketing campaign that brought the supermarket to the Korean consumer. Putting up advertisements in the subway that were pictures of the actual store shelves of HomePlus locations, people waiting in line at the subway could snap pictures of the QR codes below each product and get their groceries delivered to them–without ever stepping into the actual store.

I wish something this awesome could come to America as well, but there’s a few reasons why I think this could only have been such a success in Korea:

  1. Delivery service is amazing in Seoul. I used to joke with a friend that even if I ordered dinner, late, while at a Buddhist temple in the middle of the mountains, my jjigae (broad term referring to Korean spicy stew) would still find its way to me. Delivery in America, on the other hand? Depends on the city, and depends on the restaurant/bakery… and isn’t nearly as cultural a fixture.
  2. The subway is a very important part of almost every Seoulite’s life. Thus the exposure that HomePlus was getting was concentrated and large-scale–whereas America only has a few subway systems, so reach is less far. Also, most subway advertisements (large ones, at least) that I’ve seen in San Francisco and Boston are on the far end of the wall, across the tracks. So unless the ads were closer, or in/on the subway cars themselves, people have no way of getting close enough to scan the QR codes or peruse the 2D snack aisle.
  3. Korea is technologically very advanced, so the majority of people who have phones have sophisticated ones that are smart and have QR code scanners built-in. Smartphones aren’t nearly as widespread in America.

Regardless, this is a very cool example of culturally relevant and innovative marketing/branding/advertising. Check out the short and well-explained video!


Read more:

Digital Marketing Strategies: What’s Next in Consumer Marketing

Tesco builds virtual shops for Korean commuters


The style of The North Face apparel one wears makes you either a loser, a gangster, or head honcho–at least in Korean elementary and middle schools

January 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I can’t remember if this kind of posturing happened on such a scale while I was in elementary or junior high, but I did go to school in Utah so one could say I wasn’t exposed to the American average. Nevertheless, this CNNGo article gives a nice summary of what I’d previously only heard through the grapevine (aka my mom): The North Face jackets are in high demand among Korean grade-schoolers, and depending on what version they wear, their social lives and status are either happenin’… or stolen from them.

(No mention in the article of what happens to those who don’t even own a jacket, not even the “bottom” style, Nuptse 2. Are they “losers” too, only… tier 2?…)

Anyway, it is apparent that Korea’s intense materialist culture and need to save face via consumerism has reached the young and younger customer market by attaching social significance to poofy, feathery (and American! Most important) outdoor wear. However, my questions are

A) How and when did this trend start? and

B) Did The North Face’s branding/marketing/advertising have anything to do with it?

Also, the article never differentiates between boys and girls. Are girls wearing down jackets and getting bullied for it too? Somehow I doubt it… and that makes me go on to wonder if there is an equally vicious game among female students that isn’t as violent or obvious as the male one.

Korea’s love for American goods is definitely variable (beef, anyone?) but overall American brands are very popular and seem to have caught on well (i.e. Starbucks, Nike, TOMS, UGGS, Forever 21 etc.). But I’ve never heard of a foreign good being such a delineated consumer status symbol for school kids–and by feature, no less, not even by brand. And that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of analogous examples elsewhere in the world; but this kind of fad seems to have surprised everyone (reddit responses, hiexpat.com’s opinion, a tumblr blog post on the subject. Renewed violence over these jackets in the Korean news.)

In addition… it’s not like these jackets come in kid-size. I’m imagining black marshmallows with heads and legs sticking out, swaggering around the school…

How Korean Food is Perceived in America

January 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

While I adore Korean food and would be content eating it for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner, I know that I’m not the most objective person to ask since I am also Korean American. 🙂 I would credit the integral role of kimchi as being one of the reasons why it has taken so long for Korean cuisine to come into the public consciousness… but then again, cheese and curry (both which are smelly) are both delectable and can even be refined, so maybe there’s still hope yet.

And according to the Chosonilbo’s article Korean Cuisine Takes Bigger Bite Out of ‘Big Apple’, it’s not just me after all:

One out of three New Yorkers give Korean cuisine the thumbs up, according to a survey by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

One example of the food’s growing popularity is the bibimbap burgers created by one of the Big Apple’s leading chefs, Angelo Sosa, who sells them at his own restaurant, Social Eats. Sosa claimed first place in the latest Greatest Burger in America competition, which was hosted in May by Eater.com, a U.S. website that specialized in food and restaurants. « Read the rest of this entry »

Saturday Night Live… in South Korea!

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

SNL in Korea?! Is the American brand of comedy and satire translatable into the Korean context?

While it’s only a few episodes in, viewer ratings have been pretty solid so far, although general consensus is that the first show was good, the second show… not as good.

If you’ve seen the show, what do you think? And if you haven’t… do you think it will be a success?

I haven’t seen an episode yet but will loop back here and post my thoughts if I do.

Saturday Night Live Korea

Picture taken from here.

Read more:

WSJ “Live from Seoul! It’s Saturday…Really…”

Dramabeans’ Summary of Episode One

AllKPop’s Editorial of Episode One


1.16.2010 Add: Pictures of past SNL Korea hosts and this week’s new host

The Reason Why Koreans Are So Tired

December 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ever wonder why your Korean friend (or at least his/her parents) firmly believe in the ‘all work, no play’ mentality? It’s probably because the whole nation is obsessed with studying, and that’s never been as clearly summarized as in the following picture. I laughed so hard when I found out about this! This picture has been circulating in Korean cyberspace for a few weeks now, of five titles (all translation is mine) that have been collected to show that “The reason why Koreans are so tired is not because of the liver” (picture from 한국인이 피곤한 이유, 간 때문이 아니다):

In order from left to right are the following titles:

10대 꿈을 위해 공부에 미쳐라: In your teens, study like crazy to reach your dreams

20대 공부에 미쳐라: In your 20s, study like crazy

30대, 다시 공부에 미쳐라: In your 30s, study like crazy again

40대 공부 다시 시작하라: In your 40s, start studying again

공부하다 죽어라 : Study until death

As demonstrated by the above titles (they’re not part of series, although it seems like they could be, right?)… studying and being crazy while doing it is often recommended, and lauded in Korea culture. The Korean people’s passion for education and their dedication to studying is not new; however, this picture delineates the obsession in a way that is more clear (and funny) than before. I don’t read that many Korean books but I hope there are some out there to counter these titles with something like “In your 20s, try new things” and “In your 40s, adopt a new hobby”.