Tag Archives: south korea

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National Assembly Passes Three Sewol Bills


The National Assembly passed three bills aimed at addressing issues raised by April’s Sewol ferry disaster at a plenary session on Friday, reported Yonhap.

Last week, South Korea’s two opposing political parties reached an agreement on the bills after months of debate. The Sewol ferry disaster has become a major political issue as many of the victims’ families have held protests over the last several months, demanding the South Korean government to thoroughly investigate the cause of the tragedy and criticizing its poor emergency response.

According to Yonhap, more than 150 victims’ family members were present inside the main hall of the National Assembly building as the three bills were passed.

The newly passed special Sewol law will enable the appointment of an independent counsel and a fact-finding committee to further investigate the developments that led to the ferry sinking, which killed over 300 passengers, most of whom were high school students.

The National Assembly also revised the Government Organization Act, which calls for the dismantlement of the Coast Guard and the National Emergency Management Agency. Under the revised law, a new agency will be installed under the prime minister’s office to improve emergency responses and preparedness. A new deputy prime minister will also be appointed to oversee safety functions, according to the Korea Herald.

The final bill passed by parliament was the s0-called Yoo Byung-eun law, named after the ferry’s late owner. The new law will grant authorities the power to confiscate unlawfully gained assets of those deemed responsible for people’s deaths. The bill was initially proposed when current laws made it impossible for authorities to retrieve the illegally gained wealth of Yoo, who had distributed it to his family members.


Photo courtesy of Yonhap.


Irish Teacher Rejected from a Job in South Korea Due to ‘Alcoholism Nature of the Irish’


A 26-year-old teacher from the Republic of Ireland was turned down from a teaching position in South Korea due to the “alcoholism nature” of her countrymen.

Katie Mulrennan, from County Kerry, had applied for a a teaching job in Seoul after seeing an advertisement on Craigslist in September. She wrote to the recruitment agency about her qualifications, stating that she had been teaching English for over three years in Barcelona, Oxford, Abu Dhabi and South Korea.

However, instead of an offer, the agency sent a rejection email that read: “I am sorry to inform you that my client does not hire Irish people due to the alcoholism nature of your kind.”

The teacher said she was stunned and couldn’t believe the terse message was real at first.


“Usually when you apply for a job and they don’t want you, they don’t send a reply,” Mulrennan told BBC. “Or they tell you they would prefer someone from North America, because some schools prefer the accent. But this reply was a first.”

Once the shock subsided, Mulrennan reported the incident to Craigslist and replied to the agency with a polite email.  She has since found a new job in Seoul and said that she now finds humor in the situation.

“I was annoyed about it. But I can also see it was a little bit hilarious as well,” she said. “I still love the country and being in Seoul.”

Discriminatory hiring practices have been an ongoing issue for South Korea for many years. Earlier this week, Korea Nazarene University was criticized for its discriminatory requirement for English teacher applicants in its hiring ad, which read: “Drinking, smoking and homosexuality are not allowed.”


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South Korea to Send Team of Government Officials to Ebola-hit Sierra Leone


South Korea’s defense ministry announced on Thursday that it will send team of 11 officials from the defense, foreign and health ministries to the Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone.


According to Yonhap, the team will first travel to Britain, where they will meet their British counterparts and finalize details of their trip. They will then travel to Sierra Leone and provide medical support from Nov. 13 to 21. Prior to the announcement, South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo and John Astor, a parliamentary undersecretary of state at the British defense ministry, had discussed cooperation between the two nations in a phone conference Wednesday.

“Undersecretary Astor expressed his deep gratitude for our government’s decision to send officials to help eradicate Ebola,” the Korean defense ministry said in a press release. “He also pledged to provide support for our personnel in emergencies.”

The Blue House has pledged $5.6 million to help contain the deadly virus, which has already killed nearly 5,000 people. Meanwhile, Britain has funded the construction of a treatment center in Sierra Leone as well as deployed 750 military personnel and 10 healthcare workers.


Photo courtesy of Yonhap



Forbes Names Park Geun-hye 46th Most Powerful Person in the World


On Wednesday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye was named the 46th most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine, one notch behind World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

Among the women listed, Park was named the fifth most powerful after Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System; Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff; and Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Forbes also named Park as the fourth most powerful person in Asia.

“Park Geun-hye has had a tense year since being elected as South Korea’s first female president in 2013,” said Forbes, citing April’s Sewol ferry disaster and the sudden retirement of South Korea’s prime minister. “Bested only by China and Japan when it comes to regional wealth, Park helms a $1.4 trillion economy, No. 13 in the world.”

The South Korean president placed three notches ahead of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who was named the second most powerful young person, just one spot behind Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The magazine described Kim to have “absolute authority over the rusting ‘hermit kingdom’ of 25 million citizens.”

Other South Koreans on the list include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who took 40th place, and Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee and his son Jay Y. Lee, who both ranked in 35th place.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin was named the world’s most powerful person of the year, followed by President Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis. This is the second consecutive year Putin has topped the magazine’s annual list.

“No one would call Vladimir Putin a good guy,” Forbes wrote, calling out Putin for his decision to forcefully annex Crimea and wage an “ugly proxy war” with Ukraine. “But as the undisputed, unpredictable and unaccountable head of an energy-rich, nuclear-tipped state, no one would ever call him weak.”

You can view Forbes’ complete list of “The World’s 72 Most Powerful People” here.


Photo courtesy of EPA/Bagus Indahono


South Korean Children Rank Last in Happiness Survey


South Korean children and adolescents are the least happy among developed countries, according to a recent survey conducted by South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Among 27 countries listed in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) grouping — plus Romania, Latvia and Lithuania — South Korea scored the lowest in terms of children’s “life satisfaction” with a total of 60.3 out of 100 points. Meanwhile Netherlands scored the highest with 94.2 points, followed by Iceland and Finland.

“The most relevant factor to the children’s life satisfaction is academic stress, followed by school violence, Internet addiction, negligence and cyber violence,” the Korean health ministry told Reuters. The survey, which was conducted on more than 4,000 Korean households nationwide with children under 18, comes as around 600,0000 high school seniors prepare for the annual college entrance exam.


Graphic courtesy of the Korea Herald

The South Korean education system is notorious for its competitiveness, and the national college exam is considered a “make-or-break” moment for young Korean teens, as high scores can secure a path to the most prestigious schools and corporations. Parents spend thousands of dollars on private education and tutoring every year in order for their children to gain an advantage in the entry exam. Cheating is also a rampant issue as cram schools, or hagwons, have previously been accused of acquiring test questions in advance and sharing them with their students.

According to National Statistics Korea, more than half of children aged between 15 and 19 polled admitted to having suicidal thoughts due to academic performance and college entrance exams.

“Students endure a substantial psychological burden from competition and long hours of work,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Tuesday at an education forum in Seoul. Kim, who emigrated to the U.S. at age five, added that South Korea should look to cutting down private tutoring as a way to reduce academic pressure on students.

South Korea also ranked last in the survey’s child deprivation index, which includes the lack of leisure time for hobbies and club activities.

Featured photo courtesy of Samuel Orchard/Wikicommons


Kim Yuna Named Honorary Ambassador for the 2018 Winter Games


Former Olympic figure skater Kim Yuna was named an honorary ambassador for the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, the first South Korean host of the quadrennial competition.

Kim, 24, became South Korea’s first Olympic figure skating gold medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games and ended her decorated career after winning silver at Sochi earlier this year. Often called “Queen Yuna” by her fans, Kim is South Korea’s most popular sporting figure and has appeared in numerous commercials. Her current net worth is estimated to be $21 million.

According to Yonhap, Kim was one of the key figures who helped Pyeongchang win the bid for the 2018 Games by giving an impressive presentation at the International Olympic Committee session in Durban, South Africa in 2011.

“As a former winter sports athlete and a South Korean citizen, I am very pleased to be able to contribute to the organizing of the Winter Games in my country,” Kim said in a statement on Tuesday. “I worked with the bidding committee three years ago, and I still vividly remember the moment Pyeongchang won the bid. I look forward to an exciting venture with the organizing committee going forward.”

Cho Yang-ho, head of Pyeongchang’s Winter Games organizing committee, said that the committee has high expectations of Kim and believes her new position as honorary ambassador will ensure South Korea’s first Winter Olympics to be a success.

“As an athlete, Kim dominated her sport with confidence and audacity,” Cho said. “I hope her international experience can translate into her activities as our honorary ambassador, and she will be the face of Pyeongchang in international events promoting the Olympics.”

Preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics are underway, including the construction on six of the 13 competition venues.

Kim currently holds the world record for the highest ladies’ free skate score (150.06 points) and combined total score (228.56). She had set each world record three times and never finished a competition off the podium throughout her entire career.


Photo courtesy of Queen Yuna/Flickr


Caffebene Sets Its Sights on the U.S. Market


It was a Saturday night in August, and the Caffebene on Western Avenue in Los Angeles’ Koreatown was abuzz with customers as Crush’s “Hug Me” filled the space with its rhythmic beat. One young woman at a nearby table was coloring a stunningly accurate drawing of three roses a shade of red lighter than her hair. Across the room a couple appeared to be on a first date, as the woman covered her mouth while giggling at her companion’s wild gesticulating. Meanwhile, other customers around the room were deeply engaged in activities ranging from studying complex Excel-like graphs to friends joking around with each other.

This was by no means my first time at a Caffebene, which are about as ubiquitous in South Korea as Starbucks stores are in America. But this was my first time at one in the U.S., where the Korean café chain is launching an ambitious expansion, with more than a dozen stores already open and 86 additional locations slated to open here this year.

It’s part of a larger global scheme to open 500 outlets in over 20 countries by 2015, and a total of 10,000 by 2020. In other words, look out, Starbucks. Bruce Kim, Caffebene’s franchise development director, is quick to point out that Caffebene does in fact beat Starbucks in the number of stores in South Korea—965 to 642.

“Starbucks is not really a café. It’s just a coffee shop,” said Kim, who made a note to compare Caffebene to Starbucks throughout our interview.

Modeled after European-style cafés, Caffebene stores in the U.S. feature a wood-dominant interior, with multiple wooden tables, chairs and bookcases. At one Southern California location, an extra long rectangular table seemed ideal for large-party study groups, as a giant wall clock with Roman numerals kept time. The goal, say representatives of Caffebene, is for people to stay, not just buy their drink and leave. The reasoning is: the longer that customers stay, the more they eat and drink from the menu, and the more profits the store makes.

“Here we offer electricity (for laptops, electronic devices), and we want people to linger and socialize,” said Kim. “There are not enough of these, honestly, that offer people inexpensive choices and a gourmet menu. There’s a niche market for it.”

He said the cafés would like to see its demographic grow, from “hip, young Asian people” to pulling in “anybody under the age of 60.”


The extensive and unique menu may just help in this regard. The menu options are both localized based on popular regional choices and universalized to maintain consistency. There aren’t many cafés that offer banana walnut honey bread, red bean patbingsu, peach berry mojito, Belgian waffles, gelato and a teriyaki chicken sandwich. In addition to the selection of coffee and tea, there is also the unique Misugaru latte, made from multiple grains and quite popular among ajummas for its health benefits.

This past September, the coffee chain was grabbing both local and international headlines, as stores were opening in such diverse locations as California and Missouri to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. That same month Forbes published an article about Caffebene’s attempt to break into the retail coffee industry in the U.S., with Starbucks and Dunkin’ Brands currently occupying 60 percent of the market. Caffebene’s founder, 45-year-old Sun-Kwon Kim, responded by saying that the company has expanded into countries that already had big coffee chains, but that didn’t stop them from establishing a presence. Kim cited the chain’s Chinese expansion, part of a joint venture that has led to the opening of 423 stores since 2012.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 10.01.51 AM
Caffebene stores in Los Angeles (left) and New York City (right).

But Caffebene has also made other kinds of news in recent months. On Aug. 4, the Fair Trade Commission fined the company 1.9 billion won (about $1.8 million), the highest fine meted out by an antitrust organization to a franchise, for unfairly shifting the burden of promotion costs to its franchise shop owners. The Korea Times reported that the company had owners buy their own equipment for interior decorations, which translated into 55.7 percent of its total sales from 2008 to 2012.

In an official press statement, however, Caffebene officials said the company not only received permission for splitting the costs of promotion costs with franchise owners, but also shouldered the costs of other advertisements, promotions and replacement costs amounting to 100 million won. The statement said franchise owners were never forced to purchase their own interior equipment and that alternative options were offered.

FTC issue aside, the next several months could be pivotal for Caffebene as it continues its expansion efforts. It has already opened 1,860 cafés in 14 countries, up from 1,250 at the start of 2014. When asked if the company’s hyper-aggressive goals are realistic, franchise development director Bruce Kim’s easy smile did not waver.

“The rate at [which] we’re growing worldwide, it’s very possible because everything starts to snowball. In the West Coast, we have two stores open, another 10 opening by the end of the year,” said Kim (Since the interview, a third store, in the L.A. suburb of Gardena, has opened and KoreAm was informed that Kim is no longer with Caffebene.).

“We’re being very careful in the beginning because we want to set a strong foundation, but once it starts happening, there’s momentum, and it’ll carry us to 10,000.”


Photos courtesy of Caffebene

This article was published in the October/November 2014 issue of KoreAm under the title “Wakd Up and Smell the Competition”  Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the magazine issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


Shin Hae-chul’s Autopsy Results Revealed


On Nov. 3, South Korean forensic officers announced the results of their first autopsy on Shin Hae-chul and revealed that they found a 0.3 cm hole in the singer’s pericardium.

Shin Hae-chul, a veteran singer and rock icon in the South Korean music industry, died on Oct. 27 after suffering from a cardiac arrest. Five days prior to his death, Shin underwent an intestinal surgery at Seoul Ansan Hospital, which raised suspicions that his death was caused by the professional negligence of the doctors who operated on him.

On the day of his funeral, Shin’s family members announced that they will be pursuing a lawsuit against Asan Hospital for alleged medical malpractice.

The National Forensic Service (NFS) said at an official briefing that the cause of death appears to be blood poisoning caused by a combination of peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen’s inner wall, and pericarditis, an inflammation of sac-line membrane enclosing the heart.

According to the Joongang Ilbo, the medical records provided by Asan Hospital stated that doctors found a hole in Shin’s small intestine, which caused small amounts of food to leak through the hole and infect the abdomen. However, the NFS said it was unable to find the alleged centimeter-long perforation since the doctors at Ansan Hospital had removed it during surgery.

“Since the procedure took place in Ansan Hospital, we have to wait for cell slides and small intestine extracts in order to look into this matter further,” said Choi Young-shik, the head of the NFS’s Seoul office.

Choi also added that he could not confirm whether or not the hole in Shin’s pericardium was a direct result of the intestinal surgery, but said there was a “correlation” between them.

The NFS will continue to investigate in order to determine the precise cause of death, using more detailed pathological examinations and an X-ray CT scan on the body.

Featured photo courtesy of Koreaboo