Thursday, March 27, 2014

L2W - PGH in Europe, DJ Oops, '90 Bride Shortage, & Cadet Vices

1. National
1) President Park Geun-hye visits Europe
Park Geun-hye left for Europe on Sunday, to attend the biennial Nuclear Security Summit Meeting in Hague on Mar 25-26, and to visit Germany afterwards. She plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss on how to have Kim Jong-un back to nuke talks, and to have meeting with Japanese PM Abe Shinjo with Barrack Obama in the middle. It would be Park’s first meting with Abe after her election win 15 months ago. She will have a summit meeting with Angela Merkel in Berlin, and is expected to make a key announcement over unification with North Korea in Dresden.

Park Geun-hye’s direct flight to Europe in Korean Air Force One can be compared to her father’s flight to West Germany to borrow money 50 years ago in 1964. South Korea being so poor, her father, Park Jung-hee, had to hop on a commercial flight from Tokyo to Bonn that had 8 stopovers like Hongkong and Bangkok, in a 28 hours flight to Berlin. Park Jung-hee never knew the money he borrowed from West Germany would turn out to be the money well spent that made his daughter’s comfy flight possible 50 years later.

2) A foot-in-the mouth joke costs a radio host’s job
Park Kyung-rim, a famous radio show host, had to resign after her joke over Korean civil defense exercise. Her radio show was delayed by 20 minutes because of the defense exercise broadcasting, and she joked “Who can give me compensation for the loss of 20 minutes of my show?” The homepage of her show got paralyzed by the criticism from the listeners who blamed Park for not realizing the fact South Korea is under constant threat from North Korea. South Korea has been holding civil defense exercise the 15th day of each month since 1972 in which all the vehicles have to pull over, and all the outdoor activities stop during the 20 minute exercise.

Ryan Garko, a former hitter from Cleveland Indians now playing for Samsung Lions, became a laughing stock during the exercise. When the exercise siren went off, Garko asked his Korean teammates rushing to dugout what is happening. His teammates said it was an air attack from North Korea, and Garko got panicky and called his wife in Daegu, home of Samsung Lions, to tell her escape. Knowing the truth afterwards, Garko suddenly began to swagger and vowed he would rush to Camp Walker, a U.S. military base in Daegu, and get an M-16 rifle to fight against the North Korean Army if was real.

2. Economy
1) Lack of brides for those born in 1990
Lack of spouse for men born in 1990 became real 24 years later. The year 1990 was when the ratio of baby boys was the highest with 116 boys for every 100 girls while normal rate is 103 to 107 boys. The reason stems from a superstition that girls born in the year of White Horse are stubborn and will face a tough life, and the year 1990 was the very year of White Horse. With ultrasound available at that time, there was high chance of more abortions in that year. The year 2002 was another horse year, but it was around the time the traditional preference for boys was on the wane, thus leaving 1990 as the year with the biggest imbalance due to superstition.
Just a little plug. My first son serving in South Sudan as a U.N. Peace Keeping Force was born in 1990. While a marriage can be his problem in the near future because of 1990, he is facing an immediate problem. He has completed junior in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, and is looking for an internship to start after he retires from the army in June this year. He says it is a prerequisite these days to have an intern experience before graduation. If you happen to know someone or a company who can hire an intern, please let me or him know. (

2) Drinking, smoking and dating relaxed for cadets
The Korea Military Academy, Korean version of West Point, announced it will allow its cadets to drink, smoke and date outside the school, breaking the ban that has been in place from 1952. Under current rules, the cadets can not smoke at all, may drink only under the blessing of superiors, and can not engage in any sexual relationship even outside school. The new rules will allow the cadets to drink or smoke as long as they are not engaged in official duties or attending official events outside the school. They can also have sexual relationship outside the school unless it causes social and moral issues. The rules had to be relaxed after a recent court ruling that a cadet who got dismissed from the KMA in 2012 because he slept with his fiancée outside the school be allowed to return to school.
What would have happened to West Point established in 1802 if it had the same rules as KMA’s over drinking, smoking and dating? It would have closed in 1802.

3. Auto Industry
1) A Canadian bonus for Korean car makers
Korea and Canada reached terms for FTA after 8 years of negotiation. Canada will become Korea’s 12th FTA partner, and Korea Canada’s first East Asian FTA nation. As automobile accounts for 43% of Korea’s export to Canada, Korean car makers are expected to be the biggest winners as Canada will scrap its 6.1% duty within 2 years. A loser would be Korean farmers as they are to compete against Canadian beef with free duty around 2030. The FTA with Canada will go into effect early next year after ratification by lawmakers in both nations.
 Canada comes as both good and bad memories to Hyundai. Good memories as Hyundai got confident about U.S. market penetration after successful launch of its Pony in Canada in 1982. So successful that Pony became the most sold import model in the first year of launch, and Hyundai had no qualms about selling its Excel in the U.S. from 1986. Bad memories because its Bromont plant in Quebec had to be closed in 1993 only after 5 years of operation. As the Bromont plant was its first overseas plant, Hyundai had to choose the best of the best employees to work in the plant. While the plant had to be closed, the experiences gained there were essential for the successful operation of Hyundai and Kia’s overseas plants afterwards. Am I meaning to say I was the best of the best in Hyundai? Well, people thought so at that time, probably wrongly, though.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

L2W - Doctor Strike, Coffee Beats Bars, and Emigration Low

1. National
1) Big change in mind with a political reformer 
Ahn Cheol-soo announced to form a new party with opposition Democratic Party, ditching his ambitions to form his own new party. A founder of Ahn Lab, Korean version of McAfee, Ahn Cheol-soo has been known as the savior to correct all the bad things in politics ever since he announced his bid for Seoul Mayor in Sep, 2011, for which he yielded candidacy to his best friend who got elected. He ran for presidency in 2012, but yielded the candidacy again to someone from DP who lost the election. His approval rating nearly three times higher than DP, Ahn was in the process of forming his own party with the slogan of “New Politics.” With recent drop in his popularity, and difficulties to attract influential politicians who would gather under his “New Politics” umbrella, however, Ahn is joining forces with DP that he has libeled as Old Politics to fight against the ruling Saenuri Party.
Ahn has been decorating himself to appear as a mystic angel, with all the beautiful words from his mouth that would exist only in utopia. Facing realities with money and people in forming his own party prior to gubernatorial election in June, Ahn probably has realized the real world is very different from his dream. A fan of Ahn, my wife also realized after his decision to partner with DP that Ahn drinks normal water, not pure water, and goes to toilet as often as we do.

2) Doctors on Strike 
This was the same headline I used 14 years ago when medicines had to be sold at pharmacy, not hospitals. They are striking again to protest the government’s plan to allow medical examination over the internet that can save patients with chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes from travelling large distances. The Korea Medical Association claims it will put the health of patients at risk because it is too difficult for doctors to assess the patients accurately through the video on computer. The government called the strike illegal, and threatened to take actions that can put the strikers in prison for three years.

I applied, but failed to get an admission from a medical college after high school in 1980, ending up with engineering college at Hanyang University. Had I been accepted with the medical school, I might be one of the doctors on strike today. Compared to other nations, Korean doctors are not well paid under current national medical insurance system. My mother-in-law recently had a skin cancer surgery that took four hours of operation, and paid only 350,000 Won or U$333. This might be the same amount a flu patient would pay for a five minute talk with a doctor in the U.S.

2. Economy
1) Coffee shops winning over bars 
An analysis by Statistics Korea showed that the number of coffee and juice stores in Seoul has increased an average of 16.7% a years from 2008, while adult bars for men only, which include hostess bars and room salons, shrunk an average of 2.4%. Koreans couldn’t understand the idea of drinking coffee that costs as much as a meal when Starbucks opened its first store in Seoul in 1998, but quickly began to hangout more in coffee shops. It has now become a local culture to have a cup of coffee after meals somewhere else.
English speakers are to be careful when they offer someone a drink in Korean coffee shops as you might get a nice slap in the face if you say “Would you care for a sip?”  Sip sounds like derogatory ‘sexual intercourse’ in Korean, more like ‘f**k’ in English.  Not sure?  Try “Care for a sip?” with any Korean near you, and see what happens to your ear.

2) Korean emigrants drop to record low 
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of Korean emigrants last year dropped to 302 people, the lowest since 1962 when emigration numbers began to be gathered. In pursuit of American Dream, many Koreans moved out of Korea in the 60’s and 70’s, with peak in 1976 with 46,533 people. With the rise of Korean economy in the 80’s and the difficulties in living in foreign nations, however, the number of emigrants began to slow down. The U.S. is still the most favored destination as 239 of the 302 emigrants moved to the U.S.  Canada was 2nd most popular nation with 23 emigrants, followed by Australia with 18.
I was not an emigrant, but lived in Bromont near Montreal for five years while in Hyundai in the early 90’s. Would I have chosen to live in Canada forever if I was given a chance? Yes and no. Yes, because of the good social welfare system and beautiful landscape as wells as wide parking space. No, because of the damn snow that often turned me into a Yuna Kim on the road.

3. Auto Industry
1) Hyundai Steel stock price in dive  
Hyundai Steel, a sister company of Hyundai Motors, had to see its stock price drop by nearly 15%  in two weeks after the news it has agreed to give as much as 90,000 won per ton cost reduction to Hyundai and Kia. The stock analysts are forecasting Hyundai Steel can give up as much as 250 billion won in operating profit this year because of the cost reduction offer. While POSCO is also giving price reduction, Hyundai Steel is expected to get hit more as it relies on Hyundai Automotive Group for 24% of its sales (3.4 million ton) while POSCO’s steel sales to Hyundai is only 2.3% (800K ton) of its total sales. Hyundai Steel gave cost reduction to its Big Sister. What about those without blood relationship?
It can be necessary for auto suppliers to chip in some cost reduction for car makers so that they can sell more vehicles with price advantage, thus buying more from the suppliers in good cycle. Car makers would sell a lot more if they can also chip in, by reducing internal cost through productivity improvement with the union workers.