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


Thursday, October 17, 2019


I always thought of myself as an emotionally stable person. I don't cry much, and I rarely make emotional rash decisions. When I heard of Sulli's passing, I surprised myself by thinking about her all day, then I was even more surprised when tears came that evening.

But if I was going to cry for any celebrity ever (which I thought would never happen), it was going to be for Sulli. I was never her fan (to be fair, I don't think I could ever be anyone's fan), but I have always admired her, not only for her striking beauty (I had written about that in a previous post), but also for her courage for standing up to the Korean society. In a place where women (and in particular, girl groups) have a very rigid standards for how to look, how to behave, and how to speak, she was a true rebel who was not afraid to fight against all of Korea. She has opened the stage for discussing many things that were too taboo to speak before, and I do not doubt that she has made Korea a better place.

So many of her photos online are smiling, and I never saw this coming. I learned that she once cried on her Instagram Live; the newspapers wrote this up as "The antics of Sulli continues."

Many Koreans used to say that Sulli would have been more successful if she were a Hollywood celebrity, and I can't agree with that more. Korea was truly too small for her. I hope that she'll be happy wherever she is now.

I thought that I'd share a song that I listen to often when I'm down and feeling hurt by the others, because it seems appropriate now, too.

웃고 있는 그 표정 너머에
Beyond the smiling face

진심까지 꿰뚫어 볼 순 없어요
I can't see through you
그저 따라서 웃으면 그만
All I can do is to smile with you.

누군가 힌트를 적어 놨어도

Even if someone has written down some hints
너무 작아서 읽을 수가 없어요
They are too small to read

차근차근히 푸는 수밖에

All I can do is to solve them step by step.

그렇다 해도 안경을 쓰지는 않으려고요

Even so, I don't want to wear glasses
하루 온종일 눈을 뜨면 당장 보이는 것만
I'm busy enough keeping my eyes open
보고 살기도 바쁜데
and look at the things that my eyes see

나는 지금도 충분히 피곤해

I'm already tired enough
까만 속마음까지 보고 싶지 않아
that I don't need to look through the dark hearts
나는 안 그래도 충분히 피곤해
Because I'm already tired enough

더 작은 글씨까지 읽고 싶지 않아

I don't want to read the fineprints
공들여 감춰놓은 약점을
Or find the weaknesses that one has concealed carefully
짓궂게 찾아내고 싶진 않아요
Because that's not nice

그저 적당히 속으면 그만

I'd rather be kinda fooled

무지개 뒤편엔 뭐가 있는지

I can't see what's beyond the rainbow
너무 멀어서 보이지가 않아요
Because it's too far
대단한 걸 상상할 수밖에
I guess I'm just going to imagine something amazing

그렇다 해도 안경을 쓰지는 않으려고요

Even so, I don't want to wear glasses
속고 속이고 그러다 또 믿고
I'm too busy fooling them, and be fooled, and then trust again
상상을 하고 실망하기도 바쁜데
I'm too busy to imagine and be disappointed

나는 지금도 충분히 피곤해

I'm already tired enough
누구의 흠까지 궁금하지 않아
I don't want to wonder about others' flaws

나는 지금도 충분히 피곤해

I'm already tired enough

좀 더 멀리까지 보고 싶지 않아

I don't want to see further
나는 지금도 충분히 피곤해
Because I'm already tired enough
무거운 안경까지 쓰지 않을 거야
I don't want to wear heavy glasses
나는 안 그래도 충분히 피곤해
Because I'm already tired enough
더 각진 안경까지 쓰지 않을 거야
that I don't want to wear the pointy sharp glasses

If only we could have accepted Sulli for who she was.

Rest in peace, Sulli. You deserve it so much. But I'll miss you.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

#133. 내로남불 -- Romance for me, infidelity for you

One of the things that always impress me when I meet a foreigner trying to learn Korean is when they use a 사자성어 (four-letter proverbs) in their sentences. Korean has an abundance of four-letter proverbs in its vocabulary, and even among native Koreans, knowing a lot of 사자성어 is a mark of your intellect, as these often come with a back story, or you simply need to know a lot of hanja to decipher its meanings. Only a well-read person could casually throw in 사자성어 into their daily conversations, and it is a sign that you are proficient in hanja, history, and philosophy. You might say something like:

"지수는 사자성어를 많이 써서 정말 유식해보여" (Jisoo sounds so smart because she uses so many four-letter proverbs.)

Here's an example of a nice 사자성어: A king is like a raft, while the people are like the water (군주민수). While the people lift and worship the king much like water does a raft, it is also water that sinks the raft. Deep, right?

Of course, out of tens of thousands of 사자성어 that exist, an average Korean probably knows a hundred or less. And why not? The ignorance of the four-letter proverbs doesn't really hinder your ability to have an exciting conversation.

Nonetheless, it is still fun to try to sound smarter. And so, Koreans started coming up with fake four-letter proverbs. In this new wave of slangs in the era of the internet, the reigning philosophy became that "anything four-letter goes". Unlike the classical four-letter proverbs that always come from hanja, these new four-letter proverbs are often an abbreviation of an existing phrase.

Koreans like shortening sentences and words already (for example, "구 (boyfriend)" becomes "남친", a male friend becomes "남사친", meaning "자친구아니고 구 (not a boyfriend, just a human friend)", and "iced americano" becomes "아아", short for "이스메리카노"). So shortening particular phrases that get used a lot into four-letters became a fun game.

One of the most common "fake" four-letter proverbs that are being used nowadays is "내로남불." It is shortened from the phrase
"가 하면 맨스, 이 하면 륜." (Romance for me, infidelity for the others.)
 As you might easily guess (and these "fake" four-letter proverbs are much easier to guess the meanings!), this phrase is used to criticize someone who is overly generous with themselves, while using a much harsher standard for the others. And of course, everyone knows that someone who found the love of their lives for the fifth time, while being married. While they might romanticize their situation as a romantic escapade, these people are usually not so tolerant towards the others (or heaven forbid, should their partner cheat on them!)

Take Cho Kuk (조국), for example, who is the newfound Korean icon of 내로남불.

Meet Cho Kuk. His name is synonymous to "my country (조국)"; and his Twitter handle, @patriamea, of course, means "my country" in Latin!
He is the newly appointed minister of justice of Korea. Prior to his political life, he was a professor of law at the Seoul National University, which is the most prestigious of all universities in Korea. He was actively involved in politics since his college days, but his fame seems at least partially based on his good looks and his Twitter account, in which he did not hesitate to criticize the injustice of the Korean society.

For example, in this tweet, he criticizes the competitiveness of the Korean society. He says: "We all like the rags-to-riches stories (in Korean: a dragon rose from a small stream). However, our society now is a rich-gets-richer type society, and the chances of going from rags to riches is very low. Not everyone needs to be a dragon, and there is no need. The more important is that we can be happy in our small streams living as fish, frogs, or crayfish. Let's not compete unnecessarily, and make beautiful streams instead!"

Many people found his words comforting, direct, and inspiring. However, when he was named by the president to be the next minister of justice, stories started coming out.

One such story concerned his daughter, Cho Min (조민), who is currently a medical student at Pusan National University. The stories alleged that Cho Min was struggling, essentially failing her classes every semester. Given that her undergraduate degree was from Korea University (one of the SKY universities and very prestigious!), this was very puzzling.

This is Cho Min.

The stories then said that while Cho Min was a high school student, she interned at a professor's medical lab at Dankook University (not as prestigious as SKY, but still 인서울, in-Seoul, and a well-known university) for two weeks, and became a first author of a paper. People suspected that she was accepted to Korea University based on her extracurricular activities, and not necessarily her grades.

Given that her father was being considered for the position of minister of justice, an investigation launched both at the official level involving the prosecution, and also the netizens of Korea. It was revealed that her high school grades were indeed very bad (to be fair, her high school is quite competitive, but she also took an SAT test, and received a score of 1970 out of 2400, which is certainly not at the level suitable for elite universities.)

Furthermore, her father explained that she was made the first author of her medical paper because she translated everything to English, as her English was very good from having lived abroad for two years when she was a child. Nonetheless, the committee of ethics of the Korean Society of Pathologists found this to be unethical practice, and retracted her paper. It seems likely (from the interviews of the officials who were involved with her admission) that this paper played a large role in her admission, and that she was admitted to this lab in the first place due to her father's connections.

It also seems that her parents (both professors at the time) forged awards and certificates for prestigious internships to support her application to the medical schools; while all this is still under investigation, the prosecution alleges that some definitive and objective evidence proving forgery were uncovered.

The students of Korea University were understandably enraged; they protested on their campus calling for the cancellation of her admission and to revoke her degree from Korea University. The university officials haven't responded yet. This clever poster reads "조국 조민 국민 조롱," or "Cho Kuk and Cho Min have mocked the people."

And so people started using the phrase "내로남불" more and more often. While Cho Kuk seemed perfectly happy to advise the Koreans not to strive so hard for the top, he was doing everything he can to ensure that his daughter will have the perfect pedigree and the perfect career (it is alleged but not at all proven that Cho Kuk may have pressured the medical school to not to fail his daughter).

People started saying things like:

"조국 내로남불 진짜 너무하네." (Cho Kuk went way too far with his 내로남불 attitude.)
"조국이 저정도로 내로남불이었다니, 완전 실망이야." (I didn't realize that Cho Kuk was so hypocritical, I'm so disappointed.)
And honestly, there are many other allegations (such as the one that Cho Kuk used his governmental position of senior secretary for civil affairs to have insider knowledge of governmental investments, and that he invested inappropriately) concerning his behaviour. No single article could summarize everything that has come to light, as Cho Kuk's entire family (including his mother, his cousins and his children) are under investigation, and his wife alone is under suspicion for having committed ten different crimes (including forgery of her daughter's university application material).

Millions of people came out to protest this injustice.

This political scandal is still ongoing, and Cho Kuk is still under investigation. Unfortunately, the president still saw it fit to appoint him as the minister of justice, and Cho Kuk's first mission as the minister of justice is to reform the prosecution. His policies have clear conflicts of interest and it looks like it will cause quite a stir in the near future (his nephew and his brother are already arrested, and his wife and his mother are under investigation; rumour has it that Cho Kuk is the ultimate target for the prosecution.)

Because of all this, and the nationwide outrage, a new phrase is coming into existence: Instead of 내로남불, people started saying "조로남불" (조국이 하면 로맨스, 남이 하면 불륜: Romance for Cho Kuk, Infidelity for everyone else.)

I'm not sure exactly how this scandal will calm down; I'm guessing that Cho Kuk will have to step down (previously, when another minister came under the investigation of prosecution, he called for immediate resignation of this minister via his Twitter account, another 조로남불!) but anything seems possible in this crazy story, which most Koreans find to be more intriguing than K-Dramas.

If you're interested in the Korean politics, I'd say that this is definitely worth following, as it has been interesting, entertaining, outrageous, and just crazy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

#132. Don't write your name in red (Shamanism 11)

The most successfully marketed piece of the Korean superstition is undoubtedly the folklore of fan death. It sounds incredible, but I grew up being scolded by my parents and grandparents for falling asleep with the fan on and door closed, and hearing stories of "near-death experiences" of my classmates, where they almost suffocated to death because they forgot to set the timer on their fan.

But in fact, the Koreans are quite superstitious; there are many other taboos in the Korean culture that were passed down through many generations. I encountered one such piece of taboo that I had forgotten about for many years just a few weeks ago.

I was headed home after a three-month stay in Paris, and I was doing some last-minute shopping at the Charles de Gaulle airport for my family, just minutes before boarding started. I hurriedly went to the counter, paid by my credit card, and the store clerk gave me the receipt to sign, and pushed a red pen towards me to use.

I'm not particularly afraid of airplanes, nor am I superstitious, but I had to resist the urge to pull out my own non-red pen and sign the receipt -- somehow, the fact that I was moments away from boarding a plane for some seven odd hours made me remember my mom (and my teachers) telling me not to write anyone's names in red, because that's bad luck. Like, really bad luck, as in death-grade bad luck. Just to bring closure to the story, I did end up signing my name in the red pen that the clerk gave me. I'm a woman of science, after all!

I had forgotten about this experience almost immediately, until my friend Jess brought this up in a completely unrelated conversation a few weeks later! She was completely confused about why Koreans avoided the colour red, especially when almost every Korean has a personal seal (called "도장") that you stamp on legal documents, using red ink.

If you don't have your own 도장, sometimes you press your fingers against the red ink, and stamp with your fingers instead.
Anyway, aside from the case of 도장, the Koreans generally avoid writing their names in red, and it would be a social faux pas to write someone else's name in red. I mean, what are you trying to do? Curse them to die?

No one ever explained to me why writing names in red was bad, so I did some research. It seems that there are three plausible explanations, and all of these are so interesting -- I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

1. Sejo of Joseon Dynasty

Sejo (세조), not to be confused with King Sejong (the creator of Hangul), was not a particularly well-regarded king. He was the second son of King Sejong, and thus not eligible for the throne. However, his older brother Munjong (문종) died after only two years on the throne, and his only son, Danjong (단종), was only twelve years old when he ascended the throne, and by this time, all of his grandparents and parents were dead. 단종 really didn't have anyone in the world who would look out for him.

Long story short, 세조 killed his nephew 단종 and became the king of Joseon. In the coup d'état that he staged, he planned to kill everyone who supported 단종, so he made a death note (called 살생부 in Korean). 

Many Koreans don't like to acknowledge Sejo as a proper king. So many people call him 수양대군 instead, refusing to use the -jo or -jong suffix accorded to kings, and using -대군 suffix for princes.

He used his nephew's name to call every highly ranked government official to the Gyeongbok Palace (경복궁), and killed everyone whose names were on the so-called death note. The legend has it that the names of the people to be killed were written in red.

2. Qin Shi Huang of China

Qin Shi Huang (진시황 or 진시황제), literally meaning the first (시) emperor (황) of the Qin Dynasty (진), is probably the most well-known Chinese emperor in Korea. Although he seems to have done well politically as well, he is known in Korea for his antics relating to shamanism. He built a large mausoleum for his afterlife (and didn't finish by the time he died), built the Great Wall of China, and searched everywhere for the herb of everlasting youth (불로초). 

This is what his tomb might have looked like; SO extra!
This obviously greedy man also loved the colour red; red was always a lucky colour in China (something that carried on to the present-day China), and Qin Shi Huang supposedly decreed that no one else was allowed to write their names in red. If someone broke this decree, they would be put to death. It is said that people were afraid of writing their names in red from then on, and this Chinese fear eventually made its way into the Korean peninsula.

3. The Korean War

During the Korean War (6.25전쟁 in Korean, because the war started in the morning of June 25), many young Korean men either volunteered or were drafted into the war. The Korean casualties were large, around 140,000 soldiers and an additional 350,000 civilians from South Korea were killed during the three years of war (and around 800,000 deaths in North Korea).

It is said that when the notices for the soldiers killed in action were sent to their families, their names were written in the notices in red. I can easily imagine people dreading seeing their loved ones' names in red, and it is the last plausible explanation for why the Korean people are so afraid of writing names in red.

If I had to make a choice among the three, I'd put my money on this last one; the Korean war was recent enough that many witnesses are still alive, my grandmothers included. And interestingly enough, North Koreans seem to have less fear of writing their names in red; often writing the Kim family's names in red. So it seems that this superstition is specific to South Korea only, which makes me think that this superstition came into being after the Korean War.

A North Korean textbook, talking about the great revolution Kim Il-Sung started (to be honest, I have no idea what revolution they're talking about!)
So, there you have it. I don't really love that the Koreans are so superstitious; nonetheless, it does make me a little bit more content that there seems to be an interesting piece of our history (or maybe three!) embedded in this particular superstition. Somehow, this makes it a little bit more okay for me!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

#131. 삼행시, 사행시 -- Poems of the internet age (feat. Kang Daniel)

The past couple of days have been interesting for the K-pop fans. News first broke (from the legendary celebrity gossip outlet Dispatch) that Kang Daniel, formerly of Wanna One, is dating Jihyo of TWICE. The next day, another news outlet reported that Heechul of Super Junior is dating Momo of TWICE, although both parties denied this rumour quickly.

The newest power couple of the K-Pop world!
The Korean fans and the international fans never seem to see eye-to-eye on their idols dating. The Korean fans are almost always disappointed when their oppa gets a girlfriend; they claim that this is because being a fan of some celebrity is like being in a make-believe relationship, and that the celebrities have an obligation to uphold this fantasy, as this is where their income is generated. The international fans, of course, take a much more generous stand, and they seem happy when two of their favourite celebs become a couple.

The Koreans are especially upset when there is evidence that the star seemingly mocks their devotion, by openly acknowledging their girlfriends (for example, by devoting an Instagram post exclusively for their girlfriend, usually by using a secret code or an item), or by treating the fans as nothing but a cash machine (for example, asking for certain expensive items, or openly encouraging the fans to spend more money).

The most recent example of this is that of Kang Daniel. After Wanna One disbanded, Kang Daniel was banned from promoting in the entertainment industry due to a lawsuit between himself and his entertainment agency (in which it tried to exploit him in various ways, it seems). His fans really supported him through this difficult time, and when Kang Daniel won the lawsuit and announced the release of his solo album on July 25, his fans wanted to make his solo debut special.

The fans advocated "just eating rice with salt or soy sauce" to save money, and to buy more albums for Kang Daniel, for over six months
After having saved up money for over six months, many fans bought upwards of hundred albums (each album costs around $10 USD), and established an all-time record of 460,000 albums, the highest in for a solo singer in Korean history. On top of making a large profit, this ensured that Kang Daniel got the media attention, an established him as a very promising solo singer.

This is when things went sour for the Korean fans. A few days later, on August 5, when the scandal with Jihyo broke, the fans noticed that the original article had been entered into the website on July 20, a few days before Kang Daniel's solo debut.

The news outlet Dispatch is known for publishing surprising scandals between top celebs of K-entertainment industry. They are also said to be quite humane, in that they don't publish scandals for rookies (as most fans would just drop their stars if they are not established enough and if they dare to get into a relationship too early in their career), and that they try not to cause too much financial harm.

So the fans theorized that Kang Daniel knew that this news was breaking, and that he made a deal with Dispatch to delay the publication date to a few days after his debut, so that his album sales would not be affected. He also held six fan signs in the two-week promotion period (which is, apparently, a lot more than most other groups). Of course, in order to get into a fan sign, you need to buy hundreds of albums to even get a chance at the lottery.

The Korean fans felt betrayed; it definitely feels as if all Kang Daniel cared about was ensuring that he gets all the profit from his album sales. And so the fans are now leaving the fandom. Kang Daniel wrote a letter to the fans thanking them a couple of days after the scandal, but he did not address this particular issue.

The Koreans pride themselves on their sense of humour, and this was just another occasion for some Korean internauts to boast just how funny they could be.

A 삼행시 has a fairly long tradition in the K-entertainment industry (and for normal Koreans too, as a result). As a way to entertain the audience, the participants are given a word, usually a name of someone else (so, for most Koreans, that's three letters). Then the participants are asked to write a poem, where each line of the poem starts with each of the three letters of the given word. The word "삼행시" literally means "three (삼) row (행) poem (시)."

Here are some funny examples:

In this photo, Mina of IOI was asked to compose a three row poem with the word "이상민," one of the panel members of the show "아는형님." 이상민 is currently known for his huge debt of over 10 million USD, and the fact that he's working very hard to repay it. And Mina composed the following poem using his name:

번달까지 꼭 갚을게요! (I'll definitely repay it by the end of this month!)
황이 좋지 않아서요 (Things are not so great right now)
사 소송까지는... (Please, don't start a civil lawsuit)

You have to admit, it is pretty hilarious given the situation, if a bit crude (Korean humour is often like this!) Here is another example, using the name "서장훈," who is also on this show, and his divorce made national headlines many years ago.

Another panel member, 이수근, wrote the following 삼행시:

장훈 (Seo Janghoon's)
모님이 찾아와 (mother-in-law came and said)
서방 꼭 이랬어야만 했... (Hoon, did you really have to do this?)

Again, crude, hilarious, and befitting the situation.

Going back to the story of Kang Daniel, the Korean internaut below also decided to dedicate a poem to him and his situation. In this case, since Kang Daniel's name has four letters in Korean (강다니엘), this poem is a 사행시 (four-line poem), and not a 삼행시.

다니엘입니다 (Kang Daniel here)
름이 아니라 (I just want to say)
들이 사준 (Thanks for all your)
범비 꺼억 (money for my album, *burp*)

So, yeah. The drama in the Korean internet is always entertaining to watch!