Monday, October 22, 2012

LTW - China Tensions, Costco Troubles, & DMZ Apologies

1. National

1) Diplomacy with China in action over the death of a Chinese fisherman
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade expressed regrets over the death of a Chinese fisherman killed during a crackdown on illegal fishing off South Korean waters near Mokpo. The fisherman was violently wielding hacksaws against Korean coast guards before he got shot dead by a rubber bullet. About 30 Chinese fishing boats were illegally fishing in Korean waters when the accident occurred. The Korean minister’s prompt show of regrets was to prevent the incident to develop into a full scale diplomatic issue. A Korean coast guard was killed by the Chinese in Dec 2011 in his attempt to arrest illegal fishermen near Incheon.
Why do Chinese fishermen keep coming to Korean seas for more fish even if there is huge sea to catch fish near Chinese borders?  It may be the fish caught near Chinese sea have "Made in China" in their fins?

2) Defense minister apologizes over loose surveillance of DMZ The Minister of Defense made an apology over the defection of a North Korean soldier who was able to pass through the heavily armed border undetected. The military has been much criticized for its failure to detect the North Korean defector on Oct 2, who crossed 4km of DMZ and climbed through barbed wires before he knocked on the door of an army barracks to say he wanted to defect. It is mocked as “knock-knock defection” in Korea. The worse part was that the military initially tried to cover-up, saying their surveillance camera first detected the defector. Five generals are to be disciplined for trying to cover up.

 I was stationed in DMZ for a week in 1981as part of military training in college. We were warned to be vigil all the time at night or North Koreans can creep up any time to cut our throats. No North Koreans showed up, but we had to hear many hours of North Korean propaganda songs blaring out from giant speakers. One of the songs was titled “Pyongyang Style.”

 2. Economy 1) GCF headquarter to be based in Incheon  Incheon city beat Germany's Bonn to host the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a new world body similar to the International Monetary Fund. This is the first time Korea became home to one of the world's major international bodies.  The 190- member GCF was established in 2011 to help reduce greenhouse gases, carbon emissions and slow climate change with 800 billion funds. Incheon made a commitment to provide 15 floors of offices in the newly developed Songdo International Business District and $9million in operating costs. According to an analysis, the GCF headquarter can generate economic effect worth 380billion won ($344 million) a year.  

 Incheon is best known for successful Inchon landing by U.N. forces led by General Douglas MacArthur on Sep 15, 1950, which turned the Korean War upside down in favor of U.N. and South Korean forces.  Millions of bombs were dropped on Incheon occupied by North Korean forces at that time during the landing.  Koreans hope billions of dollars will drop on Incheon from GCF landing this time.

2) Costco in trouble for not following the government policy   Costco is getting retaliatory shots from the government for refusing to comply with Seoul city government's demand to close on Sunday to help mom and pop stores in the city. Seoul City thus deployed officials to three Costco stores in Seoul with a magnifying glass to see if there is any type of violations Costco is making. The officials found 14 violations such as a problem with emergency lighting and a violation of meat safety standards. The Costco stores inspected will be shut down for five days with 30 million won fine because of the violations.  This is typical case of "Goesim Joi."   Hard to explain , but Goesim means “rude; impertinent; outrageous” and Joi means crime. Goesim Joi is committed if a person or an organization of lower position (worker/supplier/private company) irritates those in upper position (boss/OEM/government) by doing things that are perfectly legal or proper.   
Still have hard time to understand Goesim Joi? I asked my wife a few months ago why she has no problem with spending millions of won for many of her Prada and Louis Vuitton hand bags, but gets cranky about my 15,000 won Adidas soccer ball. I had to sleep in a sofa for three days on charges of Goesim Joi after that question.

3. Auto Industry

1) Hyundai outsource workers porters in electric poles
  Two members of Hyundai outsource workers union climbed an electric pole in Ulsan, making their nests at 50meters high from the ground. They are demanding the immediate action to give full regular employee status to the entire outsource workers. They are threatening to jump off the pole if the police try to capture them.   Hundreds of outsource employees gathering under the pone to wage candlelight vigils in support of the two men high above. Hyundai and the police also have sent their forces to the pole to prevent the worst from happening.   
 Union activists tend to wage sit-ins high above the ground to get the attention and publicity. Just a year ago, another union activist staged a sit in protest at the top of a goliath crane for 309 days at Hanjin Heavy Industry in Busan. According to Buddhist theory, there is another life before birth and after death. If the theory is true, the monkeys in the trees have high potential to become union activists when they are reborn.
Regards, H.S.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

LTW - Reading Champs, Psy Does Google Style, & Longer Range Missles

1. National
1) Korean students top in study on reading abilities

According to the recent OECD study titled “Education at a glance,” Korean students ranked top in their reading abilities among those in the 34 OECD nations and 8 non-OECD countries. Korean students scored 504 with mother with low education level, and 555 with mother with high education on OECD’s PISA reading assessment, while the OECD average score was 453 and 520 respectively.  PISA(Programme for International Student Assessment) is administered by the OECD every three years to provide nations of their progress in education by measuring the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in their respective languages.

There are two reasons for Koreans doing so well in reading. The first is that Korean alphabet invented in1443 is so easy to learn that even those with Paris Hilton IQ can read and write Gangnam Style lyrics after four hours of Korean class with me. The second is Korean mothers’ passion to have their children get education much ahead of normal curriculum. Korean babies begin to learn calculus at their mom’s womb.

2) S.Korea gets tentative permission for longer range missiles
It is about 400km from Busan to Seoul. As South Korea can keep missile with max 300km range under current missile range pact with the U.S., the missiles fired in Busan will drop in south of Seoul, like Pyeongtaek, instead of Pyongyang. Korean government thus recently made a strong push to the U.S., and got agreement to extend the range to 800km. Washington so far has objected to the longer range out of concern the ballistic missiles fired in S.Korea may reach China or Japan. With new 800 km limit, the missiles fired in S.Korea can hit targets any location in North Korea, but not Beijing or Tokyo.
Why does Barack Obama so much worry about South Korea’s missile range?  Kim Jong-un in North Korea is toying with missiles inherited from his father that can hit targets in Alaska, and Hu Jintao seems to have no problem with it. 

2. Economy
1) Samsung brand value rated top 10

Samsung ranked 9th in this year’s Best Global Brands by Interbrand, the world’s largest brand consulting company. It was the first time a Korean company got its brand value inside the Top 10. Hyundai Motor went up eight notches from last year to 53rd while its sister Kia ranked 87th, entering into Top 100 for the first time. Samsung’s brand value was estimated at $32.9 billion, while Hyundai and Kia’s were $7.5 billion and $4.1 billion respectively. The No.1 was Coca Cola with $77.8 billion, followed by Apple, IBM, Google and Microsoft. Three aspects are considered for brand value; the financial performance of the products, the role of the brand in consumers’ decision making process, and the overall strength of the brand.
 While Samsung has grown so much from nothing in the 50’s to No.9, it has been criticized for being greedy enough to get into small mom & pop store business. Lee Bu-jin, Samsung owner’s first daughter, founded Artisee Boulangerie, a bakery business, in 2006, but had to pull out grudgingly recently after huge criticism from the public. Imagine Bill Gates’ kids getting into chewing gum business.

2) Google CEO visits Korea
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was in Seoul to introduce Google's first tablet PC, the Nexus 7. Schmidt also visited Samsung's headquarter in Gangnam to meet with Samsung's vice chairman and other top ranking officials. Schmidt did not mention whether he supports Samsung on its patent court battles against Apple, but he commented "one of the worst things has happened because there are so many patents in the mobile world that are overlapping and complicated." As Google’s Android is in most of Samsung’s smart phones, Samsung and Google are thought to be good friends against Apple.
Schmidt failed to meet with Korea’s richest man, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, but that was no problem as he instead met with the most known Korean celebrity, PSY. Instead of hours of stressful money talk with Chairman Lee, Schmidt chose to spend leisurely time to learn how to horse dance to "Oppan Gangnam style!"

3. Auto Industry
1) Hyundai employees get the best salaries

According to a survey by, a conglomerate research firm, Hyundai Motor is offering the highest salary to its employees of 193 listed firms affiliated to the top 30 conglomerates by paying an average annual salary of $89.34 million won ($79,767) last year. This was the first time a company in manufacturing sector took the No.l spot. The average annual salary at the 30 conglomerates were at 63.49 million won ($56,687). Samsung Life Insurance ranked 2nd with 89.1 million won followed by SK Securities (85.1 million) and Kia Motors (84.9 million). World brand value No.9 Samsung Electronics came 11th with 77.6 million won.

It is good to see Hyundai pays the best salary in Korea as Hyundai is doing very well. It is, however, a bit frustrating that the employees at most of Hyundai suppliers are getting less than one third of what Hyundai workers get, even though their work intensity can be much harsher. Well, the world is not fair, I guess. Usain Bolt make millions of dollars after running less than10 seconds, while an Olympic marathon winner can earn only fraction of it after running over two hours.