Thursday, May 20, 2004

Korea's philosophy on white collar crime

I used to be a pretty laissez-faire guy in the US. However the more I am in Korea, I realize that some controls on the market are a good thing. For example, I thought OSHA was a bad thing in the states until I saw a Korean construction site. Further experiences shown me that not only should have rules, you should also enforce them consistently. Going back to my example, one can complain about OSHA's regulations, however their consistency in applying them is predictable.

This all brings me to this analogy in on opinion piece by Moon Chang-keuk, the editor of the Op-ed page of the Joongang Ilbo:

A market is a place where all sorts of people gather. There are merchants and speculators, food sellers and pickpockets. Money goes around and an order is formed naturally. If police officers with clubs are sent to clean the market because the authorities decide it is dirty, the market would lose its vigor.

What genius thinks it's a good idea to have "pickpockets"? Why can't the police clean up these people? What if the merchants have formed a cartel? What if somebody sells products that are, as Korean law always so eloquently puts it, immoral and dangerous to society?

(Speaking of "immoral" products in Korea, did you know that you can not patent a dildo in Korea, while the US patent office has issued at least 15 for such devices?)

This is trouble some to me, since it is indication of how Korea sees its business market, and perhaps business in general. While one could quibble about the details anti-competitive practices, I am troubled that of the fact that "pickpockets" are not only considered part of the market, but a desirable part of the market.

You could say that I over reacting, however seeing how corporate, and even government, malfeasance is treated here, coupled with this makes me wonder if crime does pay.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Fantasyland on overseas births to prevent military service

Yesterdays Joongang Ilbo had another snippet that had me rolling in the aisles of the subway erupting with laughter. A piece on the phenomenon of mothers traveling overseas to get their children non-Korean citizenship had this snippet:

One particularly sensitive issue deals with compulsory military service, which every man must carry out...critics of birth tours to predict that if rich people continue to buy an exemption for their children, the Korean Army will be made up of only people from the lower classes.

WHAT COUNTRY DO THESE "CRITICS" LIVE IN!?!? You mean to tell me that without a foreign passport a rich kid could not avoid military service by his dad putting 5-10 million won in the right pocket? Come on stop fooling yourselves "critics", it has always been relatively easy for the upper classes of Korean society to shirk from their duties as a citizen.

A few years ago when I was working with IT companies I ran across something related. As part of the governments targeted development program, a young man can be exempted from military service if he works for companies sanctioned by the government.

I visited such companies as a part of my job function once. As is the case with Korean companies I always got a thick packet of information about practically everyone working in the company. Most of them had very impressive well-decorated people on their rolls all with appropriate engineering degrees. However you almost always had one or two undistinguished people, usually young, with degrees in say "Sociology" or "Korean Art". When I would ask about these people I would be told they have "good contacts". Yeah, daddy always has "good contacts".

Thursday, May 06, 2004

The Famous Mexican Salad

Last week I went to an anju (appetizer) cooking class offered by OB. My wife went a similar class a few weeks ago in Ichon, where she learned about draft beer storage and serving. All of these classes are offered for free by the OB people out of their self-interest (more better ran "hofs" mean more beer sold, that simple).

Anyway the food section was interesting. One of the more interesting tid-bits I picked up was it takes about 10 years for a new anju dish to get receive broad acceptance. This sounds about right, when I cam almost five years ago it was rare to see a sausage anju, now it is common in the high and medium end places, and soon it will be standard everywhere.

However I worry about the fate of food in Korea based on this one episode. We were learning how to cut fruit stylishly for the popular fruit anju. He suddenly diced about three cups of fruit (melon, apple, pear, etc), covered it with about a quarter cup of cream, and then two table spoons of sugar. OK I thought, we are making some kind of salad. I was right in a way.

To the fruit mixture he then added TWO CUPS of mayonnaise, a bit of pepper, and a handful of Frosted Flakes cereal. With me about the wretch with all that mayo on the fruit, he scooped it in a bowl and proudly announced the name of the dish, "MEXICAN SALAD!"