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Friday, February 5, 2016

More Korean News

I recently wrote about some surprising items from the Korean news (see here) but the surprises just keep coming.  Enjoy, dear reader.   

Fake bomb.  Bombs in airports are never funny, but this report (and the details the writer chose to emphasize) made me laugh. A man left a suspicious box on the back of a toilet at Incheon airport, and police carefully retrieved and dismantled the box, revealing that it was a fake bomb.  Ok, bad situation but capably handled. End of story.  Ah, no. The writer, apparently needing to fill space,explains that a note was found as well.  It was folded in half. Inside the box. And it was printed on A4 size paper.  Um, well, maybe this matters to origami enthusiasts or something. I kept reading. “The paper box, which seemed to have originally contained traditional Japanese confectionery {ah, here’s the jab at Japan}, had taped on the outside a butane canister, a water bottle and a gas cylinder, all of which were at least partially full.” I continued reading (yes, there was more). “Authorities later said that inside the box were food scraps such as broccoli, cabbage, and a banana peel, as well as three guitar strings, four batteries and four pieces of electrical wire among other things.”  Ok, once you’ve listed folded A4 paper and broccoli crumbs in a cupcake box, what on earth is keeping the writer from listing those “other things”?  Why is this even in the news at all?  Oh, Korea. (original story here)

Korea-China Relations.  A front-page article headlined “Diplomats scramble to ask China to get tough” described how South Korea and China might jointly respond to North Korea’s recent (worrying and highly illegal) nuclear test.  The (fairly boring) article was continued on the bottom of page 2 and only caught my eye because of its change of headline to “China: Brand new hotline didn’t work.” Ooh – now this sounded interesting.  On January 2, the news had mentioned that a new hotline was established on New Year’s Day by a call between the defense ministers of South Korea and China. Ok, good progress in international relations. But at the very end of this article, written just days later, we learn that after learning of the nuclear test, “Defense Minister Han failed to get hold of his Chinese counterpart on the hotline.”  Wait – this hotline has existed for ONE WEEK and already it doesn’t work?  And this little factoid comes at the END of the article?   I just don’t get Korean journalism. (original article here)

Sometimes I learn more about the mysteries of Korean culture from the filler commentary than from the main story.  For example, a story about some political wrangling included this intriguing quote from a former president’s son:  “ ‘I hope Kim doesn’t use negative sentiment…but I don’t think he will quit doing so,’ Roh said, in a jab that played on the Korean idiom, ‘A dog will quit defecating first.’”  Um, WHAT?  I must find a Korean to explain.

Political Violence. Speaking of politics, a headline announced “Saenuri’s Kim abused at Gwangju memorial.”  Ooh - a leading politician of the majority party got abused?  I read on with interest – after all, this is a country where the police don’t normally carry guns and violent crimes are rare, so “abuse” jumps out. I learned that Kim went to an event where those of his political leaning aren’t invited, and he was surrounded… people cursed… he was asked to leave… Ah, here it is.  “One person in the crowd poured water on him from a bottle.”  Later commentary included this outraged quote from a fellow politician “Kim and other representatives were jeered and even doused with water.  They had to voluntarily leave the scene because people could get hurt.”  This sort of makes me wistful for America, a nation of daily violence where this would never be taken seriously as news.  But mostly, yeah, I laugh.  (original story here)

Corporate Events.  I was intrigued by a picture with this brief article’s headline: “Retailers roll out their duck and cucumber specials.” Wait – what?  Are ducks and cucumbers a commonly paired food choice in Korea?  Nope.  Apparently, May 2 is called “duck and cucumber day” in the retail world because in Korean, duck is pronounced “oli” and cucumbers “oyi” which supposedly rhymes with May 2, which is pronounced “owol yi il.”  Yeah, I don’t get it either.
In a similar vein, the Samsung corporation (who makes all manner of things), hosted a “2015 Washing Machine-Air Conditioner Media Day.”  Because why not?   And who served as the face of the event?  A Korean national figure skater.  Because… she likes cold, clean air?  I don’t know.  I just don’t get it.

Scam victim: 
This page 1 article outlined a series of unfortunate decisions that led to a blackmail scam. An 18-year-old male posted online a plea for help because he was being “threatened by an anonymous woman.” In his words: “I got a message from a person I didn’t know through Skype. She showed me her breasts and then she said she wants some photos of me. So I took photos of myself and sent them to her. And then she sent me a link to an app in which we can video chat while naked. After I downloaded the app, I realized it was an APK file. Through the file, she came to have a full access to the phone numbers of my family and friends. She has been asking me for money for my photos since then.”  Yeah, you kind of deserved it.

Inner Adolescent: To be sure, the paper I read has excellent English and very rarely has typos or grammatical errors.  Sometimes, however, my inner adolescent still has a good laugh.  For example, a brief article about the new fruit-flavored soju (Korea’s answer to vodka that is heavily consumed at most social/business gatherings) included this gem:  “The grapefruit flavored soju is fast rising in popularity by word of mouths.”  Apparently the writer had been enjoying just a wee bit too much.

Finally In a recent page 1, above-the-fold story, this English headline appeared which would never be printed in the US: "Mistress of SK chairman probed over property deal."  Oh. Ouch.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mom's Lists

Moving to Korea has meant only seeing my parents every 2 years or so.  The miracle of Skype allows us to talk more regularly, and we’ve taken to a weekly conversation together, which is more often than we interacted when we all lived in the same country.  These regular interactions through a screened medium has given me a new window into the characters of my mom and dad and how their relationship works.  I've have been delighted to see the banter between them, and my father’s increasing tendency to introduce random topics the minute he’s bored or can't hear the current conversation.  Or to admire my mother’s quick wit, snapping back one day at my father’s litany of aches with “You suffer easily.”  My kids often listen in, hoping for more of granny’s sass and grandpa’s naughty jokes. I sometimes take notes, imagining the stories I will tell my grandkids about their funny relatives.

But some stories can't wait that long.  

My mom has always stayed home, raising my sister and me while dad worked the 2nd shift at Oldsmobile. She has always been quite organized and kept a few lists of things to do.  And until a recent skype conversation, I didn’t know that she has gradually moved to maintaining rather more lists.  Something dad said in a recent Skype conversation referred to a list, and when I asked about it, mom fetched a three-ring binder filled with pages of lists.  I insisted upon knowing more. Mom was shy at first, wary of my teasing, but soon was proudly browsing through it, sharing the topics with me while I sat, wide-eyed. She has a list of charities they donate to which is surely helpful at tax-time; a list of magazine subscription renewals so that she is not tricked into renewing too early; lists of repairs for each of their vehicles; a list of how much firewood my dad has cut and sold; a list of photos taken on her film camera; lists of doctor appointments for each of them; a list of dates the lawn has been mowed; lists of dates for their hair cuts; lists of pizzas ordered and from where; lists of dates they’ve lost power during summer or winter storms; and so on.  

Ok, I can kind of understand the purpose of many of these handwritten lists – for record keeping, or as reminders to aging memories.  But still!  I furtively started taking notes, but drew up short when she mentioned another list: the dead people she and dad have known.  Yup.  Apparently this list grows regularly as my parents peruse daily obituary columns in the local paper.  Old classmates, neighbors, co-workers. Into my stunned silence, dad blithely commented “You know, it’s about time someone dies again – it’s been almost a month since we added to that list.”

Recovering from a fit of astonished snorting, I demanded to receive this Book of Lists upon mom’s death.  My sister can get the house and furniture and jewelry and anything else she wants, but I want this book.  It shall be a treasure to pass onto my kids and grandkids, who will surely shake their heads with wonder (if not admiration). Such a strange and interesting woman, they will say.  This is our heritage.

A few days after that conversation, chuckling again over mom’s weird list compulsion, I had a Huge Revelation. Like catching your image in a store mirror and realizing the enormous gap between Who I Think I Am and Who I Actually Am.   While retrieving something from my bedroom closet, which doors double as floor-to-ceiling white boards, BAM. I saw it.  Written in my own hand, across several doors, were…lists. At least a dozen of them: IOU’s to/from the kids; lists of potential blog topics; daily and longer-term to-do lists; a list of passwords; a list of expenses for the community garden; a list of clothing sizes; a list of the fish we’ve seen while snorkeling.   

And yet, that’s not all. On my computer are sticky-noted lists of blog topics, friends’ addresses, TV shows to check out. And on our kitchen cupboards, which doors also double as white boards, are the kids’ exam schedules, groceries we need, meals we’ve planned, important phone numbers, movies friends have recommended.   I have more lists in my phone; on my bedside table; in my purse; on my bulletin board. 

And I've recently been thinking.  You know, it’s kind of hard keeping track of all those lists.  If only I had a central place for them all.  Oh, no.  I am my mother’s daughter after all.