Rape in Korea has become a headline topic recently, though this has received little attention in the American press. In late May, a teacher in a remote island village was eating alone at a restaurant. Fathers of her students pressured her into joining them (culturally impossible to refuse), and drinking with them (which she repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to decline). When she was too drunk to leave the restaurant on her own, they drove her home and gang-raped her.
Although women are not particularly respected in Korea, teachers are, so there was public outcry over this. Furthermore, this teacher was much younger than the rapists (which made it even more culturally impossible for her to avoid them), who conspired after the fact to destroy evidence. The Ministry of Education was called upon to better protect teachers.
The Ministry’s initial response was to float a policy of not sending female teachers to remote areas. Since 75% of Korean teachers are women, that isn’t practical. More to the point, as Yang Lee Hyun-kyung of the Korean Women’s Association United put it:
How can not sending women to so-called dangerous places be the answer to preventing such crimes against women? What the government is supposed to do is to make a safe environment for women and minorities in society.
Anywhere in Korea can be a “dangerous place” for women and girls. For example, Gyeonggi province. In March, a 14-year-old boy lured a 12-year-old schoolmate to a cheap room where he fed her alcohol, and, along with 5 of his friends, gang-raped her.
And then there was Airdre Mattner, an Australian tourist, whose drink was drugged while she was on a pub crawl in Seoul last year. A group of men then abducted her from her group, took her by taxi to a cheap hotel, and raped her. When police finally acted under international pressure, they only prosecuted her rapists for “sexual harassment,” because “she was unconscious and therefore cannot prove she didn’t consent.” Excuse me??!!! Unconsciousness isn’t proof enough?!!
Every country has cultural myths that are accepted as unquestionable truths, even though they sound ludicrous to outsiders. Korea is no exception. Meet fan death (선풍기 – electric fan, 사망설 – death). According to this widespread Korean belief, spending the night in a closed room with a fan blowing on you can be fatal.
People from anywhere else will never have heard of this notion. Could it possibly be true, yet somehow every other country in the world has overlooked it? Korea does have an extreme and somewhat atypical climate that encompasses both ultra-humid monsoon summers and snowy winters.
Experts say the popular explanations for death by fan are not medically founded. The Ask a Korean blog makes a valiant argument on behalf of fans as a contributing factor to deaths under highly specific and theoretical conditions. However, I’m going with snopes and Wikipedia on this one: There is no scientific basis for fan death.
What makes fan death more interesting than other cultural myths is that it’s regarded as factual by Korean fan manufacturers, news media and even government agencies. Korean fans bear warning labels, urging users to crack a window at bedtime. They are equipped with sleep timers, a safety precaution in case you forget. Fatalities with no other obvious cause are reported in the news in utter seriousness as death by fan. MORE…
There’s an interesting fringe benefit to my exploration of Korean culture. It often makes me more conscious of things about my own culture that I never really thought about before.
I suppose this happens to anyone upon contact with an unfamiliar culture, but I suspect the effect is more pronounced for Americans. We have few close neighbors, and one of the largest is culturally very similar to us. We are rarely reminded of the thousands of daily ways another culture can be different from our own.
The experience of suddenly noticing what was always right under my nose hit me all over again when I discovered YouTube artist KoreanBilly. He has made a series of videos contrasting (among other things) the differences between English dialects in different countries. Of course native English speakers are aware that English is spoken differently in other places. I can tell Australian English from British English. But if you asked me to name the differences, how many could I identify?
Probably not as many as KoreanBilly. Perhaps because ALL versions of English are foreign (literally) to him, he has to get very specific in order to reproduce them. Check out this entertaining video, in which he compares American English and English English, displaying an impressively fluent accent in both. Even though I am a native American English speaker, I learned a lot from it!
If you are wondering about KoreanBilly, he did not grow up in the UK. On the contrary (or TO the contrary, as the Brits would say) Billy has lived in Korea all of his life, except for 6 months in England. You can learn more about him in this bio video on his Facebook page.
Remember that poll I posted when the Marriage Contract plot and casting was first announced?
As you can probably tell, I am a bit cynical about plots that capitalize on extreme situations. However, Marriage Contract has earned honestly every tear and smile it has wrung from me, and there have been plenty of both.
With only 3 episodes left, it’s time to revisit the poll.
How Will They Save Her?
MISDIAGNOSIS. She was never sick in the first place.
SPONTANEOUS RECOVERY. It’s a miracle! Love conquers all!
A DONOR APPEARS. A relative she never knew she had!
THEY WON’T. But we’re OK with it, because she becomes a sympathetic ghost watching over her family.
He makes enough money to send her to Duke University for the new treatment that has cured people with terminal brain cancer.
We can throw out the misdiagnosis option. That ship has sailed.
Ditto for the donor solution. Stop laughing at me – how could I know the affected organ was her brain?! The initial announcements weren’t that specific. And even so, if this was a horror drama… But since it’s melodrama, I think brain transplants are out.
As for resolution number 4, 절대! Don’t ever bring that up again.
Most interesting is the final option on the poll, which was not one of my originals, but was added by a viewer. That’s my favorite, though I wouldn’t say no to a spontaneous remission either.
Going to America is a solution for so many things in Kdrama that it’s an awful cliche, but Marriage Contract has successfully overridden many cliches already. I’m sure they could make it stick. And LSJ just spoke English in episode 11, so there you go.
Here’s some old news that is new – and surprising – to me. Japanese megacorporation SoftBank added DramaFever to its lengthy acquisitions roster in 2014. If DF’s Korean-American co-founders noted the inconsistency (not to mention irony) of handing over the promotion of Hallyu to a Japanese company, they didn’t let it get in the way of their $100 million payday. Revenue dropped after the sale, and 16 months later, SoftBank passed DramaFever on to Warner Brothers at a loss.
But wait – there’s more. Before it acquired Soompi last year, Viki had itself been acquired by Rakuten (also a Japanese company). So for awhile there, DramaFever, Viki and Soompi were all Japanese-owned! UPDATE: Four days after posting this article, I received a proposal from “the largest adnetwork group in Japan” to place advertising on mihansa.net. I declined. Clearly KDrama has become a major moneymaker, and if that’s a mark of its quality and worldwide popularity, I congratulate Korea.
However, this site is about a personal journey of cultural exploration and discovery, which has broadened my perspective on many things, and helped me become more conscious of the influence of my own culture. I love exploring and researching things Korean, and writing about them.
It would be great if the blog produced income so I could spend more time on that, but I have yet to encounter a form of “monetization” (a word I hate) that I feel comfortable with. My posts are my sincere and candid perspective on the things I am writing about. I’m sure I get things wrong sometimes, but you never have to worry that I am pushing anyone’s agenda but my own.
Were you wondering what was up with Uee’s hand rubbing as she begged Kim Yong Geon to reconsider in Episode 7 of Marriage Contract? 저도요 (me, too). I researched and here’s what I found.
Rubbing hands up and down with palms pressed together in prayer position is characteristic of 비손, pronounced bee-sohn (not to be confused with the shaggy North American animal in the photo, which is pronounced by-sun). Bison is a Korean folk rite used to pray for a wish to come true, or for a cure for a disease.
It looks as though it may be a woman’s ritual, though that is not clear – check out this explanation from the Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Beliefs (click to enlarge):
As the article explains, the 비 in 비손 is the verb stem of 빌다 (to pray, beg, or imprecate), and 손 is the word for hand.
I’m continuing to find plenty to like in MBC’s new weekend drama, Marriage Contract. And I’m not alone. As of episode 6, broadcast ratings are holding steady or increasing, and the Viki rating has edged up another tenth of a star to 9.7.
Not only do the tireless volunteer subbers English-caption episodes within hours of receiving them (사랑해요, Mother’s Love team!), but subtitles are also available in 13 other languages as well.
I’ve had some problems with the ads on Viki. They break in to the most intense scenes mid-sentence, repeat the same ad 4 times in a row in one commercial break, or hang and crash the flash plugin so that I have to reload. Talk about killing the mood!
I’m grateful that there are sponsors, and I understand how necessary they are, but regular ads are one thing, and having the whole viewing experience disrupted by broken ads is another. Hopefully Viki will get this straightened out soon.
Meanwhile, I’m seeing no ads on DramaFever, but I have to wait until Monday instead of watching over the weekend. TIP: If the new eps don’t appear to be posted yet on DF on a Monday, check the dropdown episode list in the player.
Marriage Contract is checking all of the mandatory KDrama boxes: Romantic wound-tending, piggyback rides and frequent food porn. Today I’ll give propers to some of the supporting characters, who are often unsung.
Initially, I felt some sympathy for 형 (Kim Young Pil). One day, he’s a rich man’s only son. The next, he’s sharing both of his parents with an illegitimate half-brother who’s brighter, more charming, and looks like Lee Seo Jin. Ouch.
But tough as that might be, and mean as his father is, it’s hard to empathize with a 40 year-old man who throws hissy fits like a toddler at naptime. Are we seeing his ugly side because he’s about to do something nasty?
I’m 4 episodes into Marriage Contract, one quarter of the way through the new MBC drama starring Lee Seo Jin and Uee. It was promoted as a melodrama, not my favorite genre, so my hopes weren’t high. I’m happy to report that it is better than I expected.
Uee is new to me, but she has a long history in Kpop, and quite a few dramas under her belt as well. Therefore, I was surprised by her blank, mannikin-like persona during the drama’s press conference. It was hard to picture her as an expressive actress, or even as a real girl.
However, it turns out that there is much more to Kim Yu Jin than meets the eye. She brings a rare dimensionality to the down-on-her-luck-and-desperate spunky heroine. This is even more of an accomplishment when you consider that the upper half of her face is obscured by her hair in many of her most important scenes.
Uee is a devoted mother to Shin Rin Ah, and their scenes together are touching. Although her luck is relentlessly awful, and she has shell-shocked moments when she receives bad news, we never see Uee surrender to the despair that is so often the precursor to a loveless marriage in Kdrama. She puts up with a lot when she must, but she is no martyr. Push her too far, and she pushes back. Whatever others may think about her life, she never doubts her own values or perceptions. In her introverted, understated way, she holds up and keeps moving under unbelievable stresses.
Lee Seo Jin is in his element, in a role that shows off his impressive range. His character is a major jerk from the opening scene,* leaving plenty of room for transformative growth. It’s risky to start off a drama this way. Without depth and complexity, an unpleasant leading man can turn viewers off. Not a problem with LSJ, though. The underlying humanity of his characters always shines through, no matter how badly they behave.
I’m looking forward to learning more of Ji Hoon’s backstory, particularly about his former life as a musician. MORE…
The South Korean government today announced plans to close the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Kaesong, also Romanized as Gaesong, is a city on the southern border of North Korea. Sageuk fans may remember it as the Korean capital during the Koryeo (or Goryeo) dynasty from the 10th-14th centuries, immediately preceding the Joseon era.
These days, Kaesong is home to 124 South Korean factories staffed by North Korean workers. The rather bizarre arrangement just goes to show that mutual greed overrides political principles when ruling elites collide. South Korean factory owners pay the North Korean workers about $74 a month. Minimum wage for South Korean workers is $5 an hour. MORE…
I just ran a link checker on Mihansa.net and was surprised at how many broken links I found. About half of these were to YouTube videos that have since been taken down, or sites that no longer exist, but I fixed the rest. I will monitor links going forward so I’ll be alerted when they go down. You can also report a link problem from any page by scrolling down to the bottom and clicking on “Report Broken Link.”