Wednesday, March 11, 2020

#137. 방구석 여포 -- Pick on someone your own size!

I spent my early childhood in Korea, when StarCraft and e-sports were on the rise. While I was more interested in K-pop idols such as H.O.T. and Fin.K.L. along with the other girls in my class, most of the boys spent their free time talking about StarCraft strategies. After school, they would go to internet cafes (PC방 in Korea, literally "computer room") and play against each other, and they worshipped pro gamers -- I have never played StarCraft myself, but I still knew that Terran was everyone's favourite mode to play StarCraft in my class, and that the best StarCraft player of the time was Ssamzang ("쌈장", the winner "장" of fights "싸움").

Ah, the good old days. Fin.K.L. was probably my favourite among all Kpop groups when I was a kid!

Needless to say, reading books was not high on the boys' list of priorities. That being said, the book "삼국지" (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) was the only exception to the rule. Every boy (and me!) had read some version of it by the time we were about 10 years old.

Making a literary reference is generally a risky social move, since the other person might not get it, and you'll probably come across as a book nerd (and "not cool" when you're a 10-year-old). But 삼국지 was different. You knew that everyone read it, and even if you hadn't, you heard daily references to the book that you knew about the three men 유비, 관우, and 장비 who swore to be brothers for life in the garden full of peach flowers (weirdly romantic). You knew about the genius strategist 제갈공명 who worked for the three sworn brothers, and the sly 조조 who fought to destroy the three brothers.

Here are some illustrations of the main characters of 삼국지, taken from an abridged version intended for children.
It was also popular among the adults. Having been the bookworm of my class, I had not only read the various versions for children (including a cartoon version!), I also read the version intended for adults, which is a series of 10 books with a serious amount of Hanja in it. It is actually one of the only books in Korean that I still own. There is a saying among the Koreans:
"삼국지를 세 번 읽은 사람과는 상대하지 말라." (Do not get into arguments with those who read 삼국지 three times.)
This is because 삼국지 details the history of three ancient Chinese kingdoms (Wei, Shu, and Wu in English; 위, 촉, and 오 in Korean) that emerged at the end of the Han dynasty (184 AD to 280 AD), and it is essentially an Asian version of the Game of Thrones... except that it actually happened.

The book deals with the intrigue, trickery, heroics, treachery, loyalty, and military strategies of those who were living in the uncertain times when the Han dynasty could collapse any day. It is said that if you read 삼국지 three times, you will be able to recognize anything that people might be scheming against you, because the characters in 삼국지 more or less use all of these against one another.

This is 여포, one of the characters in 삼국지.

여포 is an interesting character in 삼국지. It is said that his contemporaries used to proclaim,
"人中呂布 馬中赤兔 (인중여포 마중적토)" (Among the people is 여포, and among the horses is 적토)
여포, riding his horse 적토, was probably the strongest warrior of his time, so much so that it seemed that anyone who could get him to fight for them was sure to be in the running to be the first emperor of the next dynasty that would rise after Han Dynasty fell. He was such an attractive asset that many people offered to adopt him as a son and heir (adopting someone as a son was much more common in the ancient times, to carry on the family name, and it was also a way to show your complete trust). Aside from his biological father, 여포 was adopted twice, and eventually killed both of his adopted fathers. Brave but ruthless and without conscience, 여포 was feared in battles, and he is described as being able to run through a battlefield as if there was no one else in it, because he would just kill anyone in front of him without a second thought, and no one could actually fight him.

You can probably imagine that young boys would go crazy over this ridiculously strong character who seldom had a match, despite his serious personality flaw, especially if he came out as a video game character. Which he did.

This is 여포 as a video game character. On second thought, I wonder how many of my classmates had actually read 삼국지...

Unlike the Western countries where people mostly move out from their parents' homes when they attend university, Koreans usually live with their parents until they get married -- Korea is a small country, and if you're working or studying within commuting distance from your parents, it is the economical option. This also has the advantage that your parents are likely to be there to support you when you're going through the hard times of your early-to-mid 20s when you're often frustrated and unsure of your future.

The downside (aside from the obvious lack of privacy and possible lack of independence) of this living arrangement is that the easiest targets for taking out your frustration and anger are your parents. This paints a rather sad picture that is not so common in the Western world, where the yet-jobless 20-somethings, frustrated at the stream of rejections, are playing video games in their rooms to escape their reality for a while. Concerned parent looks in, and the 20-something unleashes their frustration at their mom, yelling "LEAVE ME ALONE, I CAN TAKE CARE OF MYSELF."

In Korea, where the Confucianism values still rule the society, this paints a serious ethical problem (and Koreans suspect that rather a large number of people have committed this sin at some point in their lives), and many people make an effort to point this out. In the usual Korean humour, the internauts have also made an attempt to do this. In particular, a very simple post by an internaut drew out a lot of empathy from the others:

First line: "When I'm out meeting other people"
Second line: "When I'm talking to mom at home"

The first photo is 유선, another character in 삼국지 who was known for being weak and meek in personality, and the second photo is obviously 여포. This internaut wanted to satirize the fact that many of these people would not dare to say anything negative in front of others, but that they would be ruthless and cruel like 여포 when they're talking to their mom.

This post led to the creation of the phrase "방구석 여포" (여포 in your room). "방" means "room", and "구석" usually means "corner", although in this case, it is used as a derogatory diminutive (similarly, you can talk about your "집구석" which you can use to refer to your house in a negative way). It mocks the people who are tough only with their mother, while being a complete loser in the eyes of the others. And it is used in precisely this context only (but weirdly often). If you saw a friend who seemed rude to your mom, you could advise:
"방구석 여포 되지 말고, 엄마한테 잘 해드려." (Don't be like a 여포 in your own room; be nice to your mom).
If you saw someone particularly aggressive on the internet that you wanted to insult, you could try:
"방구석 여포같은 새끼야. 엄마 우시는거 안보이냐?" (You little b*tch acting like a 여포 in your own house, can you see that your mom is crying right now?)
Okay, definitely don't use the second phrase in real life. Aside from the bluntness and rudeness of this phrase, I really like this phrase because it is not every day that you see a literary reference used to really insult someone. Furthermore, it points out a pretty unique Korean phenomenon, so it only makes sense that the expression corresponding to it should also be uniquely Korean with no equal English translations!

This phrase is relatively new; I think I heard it for the first time maybe last year, but I am told that among the male users on the internet, this phrase was common since about 2016 (which makes sense since the men are definitely more into 삼국지 than women). Prior to the invention of this phrase, the word "강약약강" was used, which is a shortened form of
"자 앞에서는 하고, 자 앞에서는 하다." (In the presence of the strong, they are weak, and in front of the weak, they are strong)
which could be used like:
"준호는 전형적인 강약약강형의 인간이야." (Junho is the typical 강약약강 type)
"야, 애들한테 강약약강짓좀 그만해. 보는 내가 다 창피하다." (Stop acting so tough in front of the small kids, and pick on your own size. You're embarrassing me)
This word is still used widely (for example, among women, who rarely seem to make 삼국지 references among themselves), and it also has variations like "강강약약" (strong in front of the strong, and weak in front of the weak).

Anyway, in the wake of COVID-19, hope that you all manage to stay safe. My school has just shut down; maybe I can use the time to read 삼국지 once more in the hopes of becoming invincible. I strongly recommend it!

Saturday, February 29, 2020

#136. 총공 -- Why the Koreans have united to wage a cyber war this week

Call me vulgar, but I love drama and juicy gossip. I don't even make an effort of trying to look uninterested when people start fighting, and I shamelessly collect all the rumours and construct the entire story (God forbid should I miss even the tiniest detail!) in my head. That's probably why I got into K-Pop in the first place, and this is definitely why I started spending way too much of my time on the Korean internet.

The Korean internet has so much character. The Koreans, who are the nicest, most polite, and amazingly helpful people in real life, transform themselves into these primitive things on the internet. They usually belong to one or more "tribes" or internet communities, who hate other communities. It is surprisingly commonplace for an internet tribe to decide that justice needs to be dealt to another internet tribe, and engage in a battle. How are these battles fought? One community decides on the date and time of the attack, and everyone belonging to this community starts flooding the other community's forums with offensive posts (in the internet slang, we call it "게시판을 도배한다", or "wallpaper the forum"), eventually causing the server to crash.

The process leading up to the decision is the most fun of all. Some instigators start attracting other people's attentions with funny but witty posts detailing the crimes committed by the other community, until more and more people become emotionally embroiled in the conflict, then the hivemind of the internet community magically comes up with the date, time, and the method of attack. Given that these communities either do not have an obvious leader, or the leaders tend to discourage these kinds of behaviour, the frequency at which these attacks happen is astounding. Of course, those who are not directly impacted by the conflict also have fun, because word gets around that a battle is raging on, and the others gather around their computer screens with a bag of popcorns, and watch the battle unfold. It's even more fun if some people decide to take the battle offline, by either challenging someone to a physical fight (the appropriate internet slang is "현피뜨다") or by bringing the other person to court for libel (you can say, "고소미 먹었다.")

In Korean, the bystanders would be gleefully telling each other, "팝콘각이다!" (The situation is setting itself for some popcorns)

Take what I'm about to tell you in whatever way you prefer -- the reason I am writing this post is because probably one of the most epic internet battle in my memory of the Korean internet is unfolding as I'm writing this post. Perhaps you'd like to get a bag of popcorns; or perhaps you will feel compelled to be more proactive and help the Korean warriors (because that's what they are in this story). This story is a long and complicated one, that starts several thousand years back. Also, a disclaimer: being of Korean heritage, I am of course biased, and I have learned that history has many sides. If you feel that something is misrepresented, please leave a (nice) comment!

Everyone knows that the three (four, if you count North Korea) countries in the far east -- Korea, China, and Japan -- absolutely hate each other. I've written several posts on the Korea-Japan conflicts, but I didn't really write about why Koreans don't like China. The short story is that China, being the big and powerful neighbour, was always interested in trying to make Korea their own. Let me give you a few examples (absolutely not exhaustive).

1. The Tang Dynasty ("당나라" in Korean) attacked Goguryeo ("고구려") in 644 AD. The obstacle standing between the powerful and numerous Tang army (approximately 200,000 men) and the capital Pyongyang was a small castle called "안시성" containing 5,000 men. Miraculously, the 5,000 men held down the fort for several months, while Tang Dynasty used their strength in number to build a castle out of sand so that they could shoot into 안시성 from the same height. Funnily enough, the Goguryeo army managed to take this sand castle during heavy rain, and they stopped the Tang Dynasty from entering Pyongyang.

Fun fact: The Tang Dynasty came into power because the preceding Sui Dynasty ("수나라") was considerably weakened after their 17-year battle with 고구려 (598 AD - 614 AD), in which they were completely defeated. They really couldn't leave 고구려 alone!
2. The Yuan Dynasty "원나라" (and the preceding Song Dynasty "송나라") essentially ruled Goryeo (고려) (1259 AD - 1356 AD), and the Yuan Dynasty even had the final say in who became Goryeo's king. They went as far as replacing the current kings in office by more co-operative people, and some kings actually spent most of their lives (including while they were ruling Goryeo) in China. Of course, Goryeo periodically sent valuable goods and beautiful women to Yuan Dynasty as well.

Thankfully, Goryeo had a wise king ("공민왕") who fought to escape the Chinese rule, and he was further aided by the fact that Yuan Dynasty was on the decline, and was eventually replaced by the Ming Dynasty "명나라". Unfortunately, Goryeo also fell and Joseon (조선) came into power not too long afterwards.

This is a portrait of 공민왕 -- notice that his clothes look Chinese! Whenever Korea was under a foreign occupation, Korea always lost a piece of itself, whether it be the clothes, or its language.
3. The Qing Dynasty ("청나라") invaded Joseon (조선) in 1636. Joseon was unable to hold the Qing soldiers at bay, and in just two months, Joseon surrendered. The king of Joseon then had to kneel before the emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and agreed to be their subject. Joseon is said to have maintained a good relation with the Qing Dynasty, so this somewhat unequal relationship continued until the Japanese invasion of 1910.

Here, the Korean King 인조 is kneeling before the Qing Emperor; he was asked to kneel three times, bowing three times each time he knelt. Legend has it that 인조 was so furious that he was smashing his head against the ground each time he bowed, eventually bleeding profusely from his forehead. The Koreans still remember this event as "삼전도의 굴욕," or the humiliation at 삼전 island.
4. And of course, the Chinese army played a huge role in the Korean War (in Korean, "6.25 (육 이오) 전쟁") 1950-1953. Kim Il-Sung (김일성), the founder of North Korea, convinced the Soviet Union and China to support his war against South Korea. While Stalin was said to be concerned about the possibility of the World War III and offered minimal help, China responded more positively, sending in nearly 3 million soldiers into the Korean peninsula. Without China, North Korea probably would not exist today; and even today, China and North Korea maintain good relationship, China going as far as sending back the escaped North Korean refugees to North Korea, should they get caught (knowing that they will probably be tortured or killed).

It is often said that there were so many Chinese soldiers, that it was almost like seeing a sea of men. Koreans call this "인해전술," the strategy using so many people, so that it looks like a sea of men.

Given all these interventions of China throughout Korea's history, it is not surprising that the Koreans often regard the Chinese government with some mistrust. As long as I can remember, there were always whispered rumours of the Korean-speaking Chinese population (called "조선족" in Korean, meaning the "Joseon (조선) tribe (족)"). Surely their ancestors were from 고구려 or 고려 or 조선, and they probably live in China simply because they never made it back into Korea before Korea actually became a country that grants citizenships. Nonetheless, the long period of separation made the Koreans wary of 조선족. Are they expats who miss Korea? Would they still be loyal to Korea? Or are they simply Korean-speaking Chinese people, which perhaps makes them more dangerous?

As long as I can remember, there were always whispered rumours about these 조선족. That they are the Chinese spies. That they would not hesitate to eat human flesh. That they kidnap healthy Koreans and sell their organs. Some of the worst serial killers in the Korean history were 조선족, and it seems that a lot of phishing scams are tied to 조선족 for whatever reason. It is a fairly common reaction of the almost-scammed Koreans to start insulting the Chinese leaders (such as Xi Jinping or Mao), to see if the almost-scammer would react to it -- and if they become angry, surely they are 조선족!

For whatever reason, the Koreans believe that insulting pictures of the communist party of China will bring out the worst reaction in the Chinese people. The Koreans believe that even looking at these pictures might be enough to get the 조선족 in trouble with the communist party; I cannot verify or refute this claim, but I imagine that this belief is based on the stories of North Korea, where such things would certainly be true.

Korea has been in a political and economic turmoil for the past several months. And with the recent emergence of COVID-19, the Koreans are more fearful than ever of their future. Taking part in the Korean internet communities, I have been hearing rumours of possible Chinese collusion, that the Chinese government employed thousands of 조선족 to flood the Korean internet with pro-government propaganda to manipulate the public opinion. That these 조선족 알바 (the part-time 조선족) are getting paid per online comment that they make, and that the Chinese have already infiltrated the Korean online communities, and that most moderators are 조선족. Of course, this woman of science doesn't really believe without proof, but nonetheless, such rumours are widespread in the Korean internet.

For most people who are not interested in politics, including myself, the story began with the outbreak of COVID-19. When the story broke that a new strain of virus was discovered in Wuhan, the Koreans voiced concerns, since Korea receives a large number of tourists from China. As the infections began to spread through Wuhan, Koreans waited for the government to ban the entry of Chinese travelers. After all, many countries, including the US, Australia, Japan, North Korea, Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have placed the ban.

List of travel bans on China; despite being marked on the map as having an entry/exit ban, Korea has restricted entry/exit for those who are coming directly from Wuhan.

Surprisingly, the ban never came. Fearful and desperate, the Koreans signed a petition for the government to impose a quick entry ban, and the total number of signatures was approximately 760,000. The doctor's association also advised the government to quickly close its borders. Every news article was flooded with pleas to the president to make a swift decision.

The government would not budge. It cited reasons that China is Korea's biggest trade partner, and that closing the border would impact our business. The government also sent large number of medical supplies, including 2 million face masks, to China. In addition, the government also announced that should the Chinese travelers get sick while being in Korea, the government would pay for their treatment, as well as their living expenses while in Korea. Finally, the government asked the Koreans not to call this disease Wuhan Pneumonia, as it encouraged hatred towards the Chinese, and to call it instead "Coronavirus."

The price of face masks skyrocketed tenfold. Even with ten times the usual price, Koreans are still having problems securing masks, even today. And various government organizations at the federal and the provincial level are still sending masks to China.

This article claims that over 100 times the usual amount of fask masks have been exported to China in January, and it doubled again in February. This is in addition to the masks that the government sent to China as aid.

Chaos seemed to reign the Korean internet. Every community could not stop talking about the "Wuhan Pneumonia (우한 폐렴)", as it became known in the Korean internet. Voices of criticism against the president Moon Jae-In and the government started getting stronger. An online petition launched in the Blue House (equivalent of the American White House) website, calling for the impeachment of the president. This petition gathered over 1.3 million signatures.

Then something strange happened. A counter-petition supporting the president also launched, and quickly gathered 1.1 million signatures. In many online forums, the top three comments in the posts criticizing the government policy would be pro-government, often calling the original poster foolish and insulting them in many ways. Weirdly enough, all comments after the top three comments would be anti-government. Soon, the Koreans noticed that the difference between the "likes (추천)" and the "dislikes (비추, short for 비추천)" was constant.

Exhibit one, the differences between likes and dislikes in the top three comments are between 661-663. The comments support the government, and blame the doctors and religious organizations for not being able to manage COVID-19.

Exhibit two, where the difference between the likes and dislikes of the top three comments are held constant at approximately 250. The fourth highest comment calls the government "the worst government ever, because the merchants are going bankrupt, citizens dying from the Wuhan Pneumonia, and the housing bubble at its highest."

The rumours of online manipulations by the Pro-China forces seemed more and more likely, although there were no definite evidences. The Koreans already knew that the internet could be manipulated; when the scandal of the former Korean minister of justice was raging on (in which the minister, Cho Kuk (조국), was caught forging his children's college and professional school applications, among other things), the top two trending search words on Naver, the largest search engine in Korea, had clear political motives. The #1 said "Courage to Cho Kuk" and #2 said "Cho Kuk must resign".

Then on February 27, two decisive things happened.

First, a post titled "어느 조선족의 고백 (Confessions of a 조선족)" appeared on the Korean internet (follow link to see the full text + translations). The writer of the post alleged that he was a 조선족 who saw himself as a Korean (and not Chinese), and that the Chinese government was involved in all aspects of the Korean society, including the presidential election. He also alleged that the 조선족 are indeed involved in manipulating the online opinions, by systematically upvoting designated pro-government comments and using their strength in numbers to make certain search terms appear to be trending.

Of course, this post was all words and no proof, and the post alone probably would not have gained much traction. After all, there are many attention-seekers ("관종") on the Korean internet who would make up a lot of fake stories.

But then, one tech-savvy Korean internaut found what many Koreans believed to be a decisive evidence of the Chinese involvement in the Korean internet communities. He thought of the idea that he would analyze the traffic to the Blue House website, which hosts the petitions to the government, including the petition to impeach the president, and the petition to support the president. If the Chinese were indeed involved in this, surely it would show from the traffic analysis! And indeed, he found that the recent Chinese traffic to the Blue House website has increased by over 70%.

One of the most popular search terms that people used to access the Blue House website was even in Chinese. Now, in the presence of a somewhat concrete evidence, the situation started to look a bit more serious.

Actually, I'm under-stating this. The Korean internet communities blew up.

And here is the one awesome thing about Koreans. They are hilarious. Especially online.

I am not sure how the other cultures would have reacted in the presence of this knowledge. But the Koreans decided that this was the right time to test out a theory that was more of an urban legend. 

The legend has it that the Chinese government often inspects the browsing history of its citizens. And the legend says that if the citizens are caught browsing websites that go against the doctrines of the Communist Party (for example, Free Tibet or, which apparently deals with information that the Communist Party would like to block from its citizens), then they can be punished by the government. There are some who believe that people who are noticed by the Communist Party end up as exhibits in Body Worlds (in Korean, "인체의 신비" or "Mysteries of the Human Body").

The Koreans decided to make phishing links that looks like a link to the pro-president petition, but actually redirects to when you click on it. Then they started planting these links everywhere on the Korean internet, because, you know, the 조선족 are supposed to be everywhere. Why instead of When you read "dongtaiwang" in Korean, it sounds like "동태왕". "동태" is frozen pollack, and "왕" is king. So it just sounds funnier.

Random fun fact: Pollack is "명태" in Korean, but frozen pollack is "동태".
The response to these phishing (no pun intended) links were almost immediate, and kind of astounding. When people mistakenly clicked on these phishing links (which are essentially harmless unless these urban legends are true), there were some violent reactions. Here are some reactions:

"이봐요 나에게 왜이러는겁니까" (Hey, why are you doing this to me?)
"난 그냥 개인이오" (I'm just an individual)
(mentioning the above person) "들어가셨습니까? 저 어떡해요" (Did you actually click? What am I going to do?)
"절대 절대 들어가지마세요... 해킹 당합니다... 난 그냥 개인이요" (Never never click the above link... You'll get hacked. I'm just an individual)
"난 개인이요 어디 변절을 합니까? 내 의지가 아니다" (I'm just an individual. I would never betray. It's not my free will) 

For a harmless prank, the responses were disproportionately strong, and also uniform in that many people wrote, "나는 개인이오" (I'm just an individual). Not only did this phrase not make sense, it is not a phrase frequently used in Korea. However, if it came from a 조선족, whose grammar and vocabulary are often slightly different from the Koreans, it started to make a little bit of sense.

A Korean internaut claiming to be a 조선족 explained: you can indeed get into trouble for accessing these forbidden websites. Nonetheless, the government also recognizes that people make mistakes, and often you just get off with a mild reprimand. However, if the government determines that you accessed this website as a part of an organized group action, then you can actually disappear without a trace one day, so people who have clicked this link are rightfully fearful. Since they must still stay true to their character and not give away their identity that they are actually Chinese people infiltrating the Korean web, they write in Korean "나는 개인이오" (I'm an individual) to signify to the government inspectors that they are not part of some organized group against the Chinese government.

The language barrier between China and Korea is too great that this information cannot be verified immediately. But this made the Korean internauts only too gleeful. Now taunting those who fall into this trap, the Koreans made more and more phishing links. When someone fell for it, the Koreans started telling them:

"이제 신비해지겠네" (Now you will become mysterious),
referencing the fact that they are likely to become an exhibit in "Body Worlds" (whose title in Korean is translated as "Mysteries of the human body"). Yes, I witnessed the birth of yet another internet slang phrase!

This Korean internaut claims that he succeeded in making an atomic bomb. When a suspect 조선족 clicks on his link, his computer will access all of the addresses listed above (all clearly anti-government), AND use his credentials to sign the impeachment petition.

Soon afterwards, the Koreans analyzed the visitors of, and the results were perhaps not surprising. The ranking of the website within China went up significantly, and most visitors were from China. Since all of the phishing links were written in Korean, which most Chinese people do not speak, it does seem to add credibility to the claim that there are many Chinese people on the Korean internet.

And soon after these fake links started going up everywhere, the comments sections of online articles cleaned up considerably. The top three comments were anti-Moon, with almost no dislikes. Many people commented that they have not seen comment sections like this one in a long time.

First comment: Please investigate the Chinagate. Please.
Second comment: We must get to the bottom of the connections between Moon Jae-In and China. No sane person would do anything like this.
Third Comment: Moon Jae-In has completely lost his mind. He must really owe the Chinese.
Fourth Comment: Another phishing link targeting the 조선족...

So, as the various situational evidence started piling up, more and more people started believing this rumour of Chinese collusion. And the communities that normally hate each other (men vs. women, democrats vs. republicans, etc.) started talking to each other. They started wondering whether it was the 조선족 that exacerbated the conflicts between them. They started talking about what they could do to bring the mainstream media to pick up on this allegation.

Thus the Korean internet warriors started talking about a large-scale attack. The best course of attack online (as determined by the experienced Korean internauts) generally tends to be something that can attract the attention of the mainstream media. And the Korean mainstream media pays attention to the trending search words on Naver.

So, on March 1st (which has a historic significance, as one of the largest manifestations against the Japanese occupation happened on this day), some tens of thousands of the Korean internet warriors will gather together to launch a full-scale attack on Naver, hoping to get the search word "차이나게이트 (China Gate)" onto the top of the trending words chart. And to boost the public awareness, they will also search the words "나는 개인이오" (I'm just an individual).

They are using yet another internet slang, saying that
"3월 1일 오후 1시에 네이버 총공이야" (There will be an all-out attack on Naver on March 1st at 1pm)
where "총공" is short for "총 (everyone) 공격 (attack)". This word is normally used for K-Pop idols, that the fans are all streaming some music to put it on top of a music chart. But of course, this word is extremely relevant in this case as well.

If the attack is successful, the mainstream media will be forced to investigate and publish news articles on what has been alleged so far. The Koreans are hoping that this will be the beginning of some positive change.

This poster, advertising the attack on Naver, is now making its way around the Korean internet, hoping to recruit more people.

Of course, it is possible that they are chasing shadows. But even then, is a 총공 really that bad? It united the Korean internet communities for now, and people who would normally hate each other have set aside their differences. And if an investigation determines that there was no Chinese involvement, at least it will put everyone's mind at ease.

In any case, I am watching this case with interest, and I may even join in their efforts to bring these two words, "China Gate" and "I am just an individual" to the top of the trending search words on March 1. Because if the allegations are true, no amount of help is too small for these brave (or foolish, only time will tell) internet warriors.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

#135. 공사치다 -- Blindsided by love (feat. Ellin of Crayon Pop)

How time flies! 2019 marks the seventh-year anniversary of the debut of the K-pop girl group Crayon Pop, well-known by its one mega-hit song "Bar Bar Bar."

This unfortunate group must have felt incredible pressure to continue to entertain with their gimmicks after the amazing success of "Bar Bar Bar," but never overcame it. All things considered, it wasn't just the creative barrier that got them; the group's promotional activities were hindered by their youngest member (aged 25 at the time) So Yul (소율) taking a leave from Crayon Pop due to anxiety disorders...

Except that it turned out that she didn't actually have an anxiety disorder. She had gotten pregnant from a relationship with Moon Heejoon (문희준) of H.O.T., one of the most popular Kpop group from the 90s (aged 38 at the time). And one day, without consulting her management company or the other members of Crayon Pop, she announced her engagement and the upcoming wedding.

The couple.
As I understand it, this threw the Crayon Pop fandom into chaos. Not only was So Yul the youngest member, their princess was pregnant, and getting married to a much older guy who had a reputation for being sleazy! Moon had just been slammed by his own fans for having scheduled way too many concerts (from which most of the revenue goes to Moon himself), and encouraging his fans (mostly in their 30s now) to not only attend his concert, but to attend ALL the concerts. The fans complained
"문희준은 우리를 ATM기계로 알아." (Moon Heejoon thinks that we're ATM machines, from which he can withdraw money whenever he pleases).
Even though he had completed his military service and had essentially earned the right to never be criticized (까방권), this was too much, and he was under much fire. The couple's fandom was further disintegrated as the couple insisted that they were not expecting a child; a lie that revealed itself in less than nine months.

Anyway, due to these unfortunate events, Crayon Pop's future looked bleak. And the other members of Crayon Pop were left to fend for themselves. The most successful out of the remaining members is currently Ellin (엘린), who found her true calling in the live streaming world. She debuted as the BJ (Broadcasting Jockey; I know it sounds weird, but this particular American slang has not hit Korea yet) of Afreeca, where the BJs live-stream whatever you please, and if that also pleases the audience, then the audience rewards the BJ by sending them "별풍선" (star balloons, approximately 10 cents per balloon) in the chat window.

Ellin shared everything about herself on Afreeca, from her meals to her makeup tips, as well as behind stories about K-entertainment industry. This is how a typical livestream looked like for Ellin.

Already having a lot of name recognition as a member of Crayon Pop, and having stories about the K-entertainment industry that an average person couldn't access previously, her channel gained popularity quickly. It also helped that her fans gifted her with many 별풍선s; she quickly got her name into the list of BJs with the most number of star balloons, and that further aided in her growth.


Afreeca actually does not have a great reputation among the Koreans; while it has its fanbase, many Koreans also believe that sending cash real-time is grotesque and vulgar. For example, many BJs would perform a certain reaction to a certain number of 별풍선s given to them by a single user -- so, in a way, you could manipulate the BJ into doing certain actions for a small amount of money, and this did not sit well with the general public.

For example, in this video, the viewers of BJ 양팡's live streaming kept gifting her with star balloons, so she had to continue to react to them for an hour straight!

So, in a sense, Afreeca is the ultimate capitalist world, where money reigns supreme. And if one of the viewers who contributed way above the other viewers, the BJ became more and more dependent on that one viewer, because if the BJ displeased the viewer, the BJ risked losing a large portion of their income, which was often in the six-figures, or even in the millions each month. And the top viewer got to feel like they "owned" the BJ; the BJ would normally start contacting the top viewers outside of their livestream, and get to know them personally. I mean, if someone is giving you millions of dollars each year, they'd want something in return, right?


This is where Ellin's trouble started. She also had a top viewer, who had gifted her approximately $1 million USD over the past year. As per the usual unspoken rule of Afreeca, she and this viewer (called 뭉크뭉, as that was his online handle; I have no idea what that means) started contacting each other regularly outside of the livestream.

Here are some samples of the Kakaotalk messages that they sent between themselves (yellow: 뭉크뭉, white: Ellin)
Here are some of their sample chats on Kakaotalk:

1. Ellin: (Sends a photo of her ripped jeans) Can you sew up my jeans please?
   뭉크뭉: Do you want me to buy you some clothes?
    Ellin: Some pants please...

2. Ellin: I want to ask you something
    뭉크뭉: Okay
    Ellin: I'm trying to dye my hair. Should I do chocolate brown, or blue black?

3. 뭉크뭉: Wow, what's up? (ed: she must have done something unexpected)
     Ellin: (Sends a photo of her legs and the belly of her dog) I just woke up

4. 뭉크뭉: Why don't you come by a Friday morning flight?
     Ellin: Just one day? Are you kidding? Let's just go to Gapyeong instead and have a really fun day.
     Ellin: We can do zipline (heart emoticon)

5. 뭉크뭉: My heart and my head are saying different things. We should both just die together.
     Ellin: Is this some mid-life crisis? Let's die together, we're like needle and thread!

6. Ellin: (Sends a year-old video)
    뭉크뭉: Wow, I must have loved you a lot a year ago.
     Ellin: It's only been a year between us, have you already changed?

Given these messages, it seems that 뭉크뭉 (perhaps reasonably so) thought that Ellin would be interested in a romantic relationship with him. So, in late October, he asked Ellin out formally (although I imagine they were spending tons of time together, and talking to each other every day by then), telling her that he wanted to talk about their future together. Ellin responded by saying that she only saw him as a close friend, and that she had no idea that 뭉크뭉 thought of her in that way.

뭉크뭉 felt that Ellin should have drawn the line somewhere if she didn't see him in a romantic light; he asserted that no man would casually spend $1M USD on a woman that he wasn't romantically attracted to, and that she should have said something earlier. And even if she hadn't, he would have felt better about her if she were more honest, saying that she liked the money. He really didn't like that she played dumb.

So he decided to go public. He asserted that all of their mutual friends saw them as a couple; that she asked him to walk her home and pick her up on multiple occasions; and that she introduced him to her family including her mother and her aunt.

While some people expressed disgust that he tried to quite literally buy a woman with money, yet many others thought that 뭉크뭉 fell into a well-crafted scam by Ellin. And they talked about the situation like this:
"엘린이 공사친거네." (Ellin did some construction work.)
It isn't completely clear to me what the etymology of the slang "공사치다" is; an extensive Google search didn't point me to anything particularly conclusive, but I think that it must come from the standard Korean word for "construction," because in order to scam someone big-time like this, you have to carefully build lies upon lies, much like building a skyscraper. If you were simply trying to hit on someone (usually with the intention of being in a non-serious relationship), then you can say:
"나 저 여자한테 작업걸어볼까?" (Should I try some construction work on her?)
where if you were working on a construction site, then you are doing a "작업." A "작업" is the day-to-day activity on a construction site, and the entire purpose of the construction site is the "공사."

So "공사치다" is like making a larger-scale move on someone with an intention that is not 100% honest; it means that someone (usually a woman, but not necessarily) gave someone else (a 호구, really) an illusion of being interested in them, in order to get things out of the person.

Another way to describe the situation in Korean slang is to call the woman a "꽃뱀 (flower snake)" (and if the scammer is a man, then you can call the man "선수", quite literally a "player".) As you can see, the flower snake is quite beautiful, but it is poisonous.

Another source claims that the word "공사" comes as an abbreviation of the phrase "들여 기치다" (Spend a lot of effort in scamming someone), which also seems to make sense! Although no one is sure of the etymology of this word that only came into being a few short years ago, I think all the Koreans can agree on the meaning of this word.

In any case, the Ellin scandal is still unfolding, and although it's just a livestream, the Korean entertainment news outlets are treating it as a front-page news; Ellin did another livestream a few hours ago from the time of this writing trying to present her side of the story, but the general consensus is that her explanations seemed either fabricated or unconvincing. 뭉크뭉 also expressed outrage at her explanations, and promised to tell "the whole story (whatever that is!)" in a few days. I suppose for a general viewer, this situation is:
"팝콘각이네" (The situation seems to be setting itself up for some popcorns.)

Friday, November 1, 2019

#134. 불티 -- You learn something new every day! (feat. Taeyeon)

I moved away from Korea at a pretty young age, but since I was a bookworm ("책벌레" in Korean!) I almost never feel that I am lacking in vocabulary in Korean unless the conversation topic is politics, law, or something equally technical.

So when I listened to Taeyeon's new release "불티 (Spark)", I was actually quite bemused, because I had never heard of the word "불티" before! Before continuing, her MV first, because the music is very different and really good! I don't think it's typical Taeyeon, but it fits her so well.

From the context (and then looking it up from the dictionary to confirm), it was clear what 불티 was supposed to be: imagine a large campfire made of firewood. Then a large gust of wind blows, and the ashes and ember scatter through the space -- some of it is just dust, but some of it are small sparks of fire that may or may not go out as they drift with the wind. That is 불티!

To me, it is different from a spark (which is usually generated from some external force; like you can hit two stones hard to get a spark of fire, or do something crazy with electricity to get an electrical spark). A 불티 was not created by the wind, and the wind merely carries it. It's also different from ember, because ember is the remainder of a dying fire. 불티 is more alive than that.

But I guess there really isn't a good word in English to describe 불티, and spark is maybe the thing that comes the closest.

You can say things like
"불티가 날린다" (Little sparks of fire are drifting in the wind)
In North Korea, apparently saying things like
"니가 경솔하게 행동하면 다른사람들에게까지 불티가 튀어" (If you act rashly, your actions will spark negative consequences to the others)
is quite common according to Google. South Koreans will instead replace "불티" by "불똥" (literally "fire poop" which I think is quite cute!)

But what I was surprised about the most was not the fact that I had never heard of the word before; it was actually that in fact, I had heard of this word several times in the past, and used it myself as well. There is exactly one common way to use the word "불티" in Korean, and it is used to describe things selling out fast. You can say
"이 치마는 정말 나오기만 하면 불티나게 팔리네" (Every time this skirt is out for sale, it sells out instantly like sparks of fire.)
 and this describes the state of the skirts; the skirts are basically disappearing into thin air (because they're selling so quickly) like the sparks of fire that you see when the wind blows!

In Taeyeon's new song, I had never heard of the word used in a noun form, and so I had not immediately made the connection! And I think this gives a really interesting vibe to her lyrics. The word "불티," being Korean and somewhat obscure, gives a "never-seen-before" kind of feel to her song.

Nowadays, the Koreans are re-discovering old Korean words that our ancestors used and became forgotten, and they see these words now as novel and refreshing. If the words based on Hanja give off the vibe that you're well-read and educated, these pure Korean words from the olden days give off the vibe that you're a bit of a dreamer, pure and innocent. Of course, Taeyeon wasn't going for that particular vibe judging from her MV, yet this disparity is what makes her lyrics so striking to me.

Anyway, I hope that I managed to convey some of my emotions that were evoked from listening to this lyric as a native Korean speaker, and I hope that it helps you appreciate Taeyeon's new song better! I'm ending this post with my own translation of her lyrics, because, let's be honest, most YouTube translations (even the ones from SM) are never satisfactory to me. Not to boast too much, but I'm providing accurate translations (not word-for-word, but based on the meaning) that also try to convey the emotions in the sentences.

불어 후후
Blow in the fire, whoo whoo (ed: "whoo whoo" is the Korean onomatopoeia for blowing air)

빨간 불티야
Red sparks of fire

내 마음도 너 같아
I feel the same way as you

타오를 듯 위험한
The dangerous sparks, ready to burst into flames

살포시 널 눌러
I try to gently stifle you (ed: the spark)

덮으려 해 봐도
I try to cover you up

꺼지지 않는 너를
Yet you do not go out

어떻게 해야 하나
What should I do with you?

여릴 줄만 알았던
I thought that you would be fragile

그 작은 온기 속
But in your little warmth

뭐를 감추고 있었니
what have you been hiding?

내 안에 내가 많아
There are many me's inside myself

온 밤이 소란한데
The night is rowdy

혹시 내 말을 들었니
but did you hear me, by chance?

이제 타이밍이야, 눈 뜰 새벽이야
Now's the time; the dawn where you awaken

불티를 깨워
wake the spark

더 타올라라 후 후후후
Kindle, ignite, and blaze, whoo whoo hoo hoo

꺼지지 않게
Do not flicker and die

붉디붉은 채
Keep your crimson red

더 크게 번져 후 후후
and spread bigger and bigger, who whoo hoo

지금 가장 뜨거운
The hottest thing this moment

내 안의 작고 작은
yet the smallest thing inside me

불티야 불티야 꺼지지 말고 피어나
Spark, spark, do not flicker and die, and blaze

불티야 불티야 새벽을 훨훨 날아가
Spark, spark, fly through the dawn

새 불티야 불티야 춤추듯 온몸을 살라
New spark, spark, burn your entire being as if you're dancing

새 불티야 불티야 꺼지지 말고 피어나
New spark, spark, do not flicker and die, and blaze

이 까만 어둠을
Light up this obsidian darkness

동그라니 밝혀
with your orb of light

내 앞을 비추는 너
You light my way

어디든 갈 수 있어
and I can go anywhere with you

세찬 바람을 타고
floating in this tempestuous wind

떠올라 내려 보면
If you look from above

우린 이 별의 여행자
We're the travelers of this star (ed: yes, I know that earth is not a star!)

어제 길 위의 넌 꿈만 꾸고 있었지
Yesterday, you were on the road, but only dreaming

작은 새처럼 작은 새처럼
Like a baby bird, like a small bird

이제 타이밍이야, 너의 시간이야
Now it's time, it's your time

숨을 불어넣어 불티를 깨워
Blow your breath into it, and wake the spark

타올라라 후 후후후
Kindle, ignite, and blaze, whoo whoo hoo hoo

꺼지지 않게
Do not flicker and die

붉디붉은 채
Keep your crimson red

더 크게 번져 후 후후
and spread bigger and bigger, who whoo hoo

지금 가장 뜨거운
The hottest thing this moment

내 안의 작고 작은
yet the smallest thing inside me

불티야 불티야 꺼지지 말고 피어나
Spark, spark, do not flicker and die, and blaze

불티야 불티야 새벽을 훨훨 날아가
Spark, spark, fly through the dawn

새 불티야 불티야 춤추듯 온몸을 살라
New spark, spark, burn your entire being as if you're dancing

새 불티야 불티야 꺼지지 말고 피어나
New spark, spark, do not flicker and die, and blaze

오랜 기다림, 너의 시간을 믿어
I believe in your time and your chance, after the long anticipation

나를 닮은 너, 불티를 깨워
You are like me, wake the spark

더 타올라라 후 후후후
Kindle, ignite, and blaze, whoo whoo hoo hoo

꺼지지 않게
Do not flicker and die

붉디붉은 채
Keep your crimson red

더 크게 번져 후 후후
and spread bigger and bigger, who whoo hoo

지금 가장 뜨거운
The hottest thing this moment

더 타올라라 후 후후후
Kindle, ignite, and blaze, whoo whoo hoo hoo

꺼지지 않게
Do not flicker and die

붉디붉은 채
Keep your crimson red

더 크게 번져 후 후후
and spread bigger and bigger, who whoo hoo

지금 가장 뜨거운
The hottest thing this moment

내 안의 작고 작은
yet the smallest thing insdie me