April 15, 2005

The difference between Manhattan and Soho

I'm pretty sure that South Korea is not generally considered an "emerging market" any more. But after flying one of its two flag-carriers from Seoul to New York, I realised that it's still a little way off full integration into the developed world. I take as my main exhibit an "Information & Map" pamphlet on New York City which was handed out to all passengers, bearing the date "April 2005". Would a developed nation's airline hand out something like this? The Manhattan map and a subway map are at least five years out of date, and still have the World Trade Center on them. But my favourite stuff came from the prose:

You can find plenty of restaurants where cost you a pretty penny while there are other restaurants that you will pay Manhattan's highest prices.

During weekends when main stores close, free market open throughout Manhattan.

You will find a lot of stores calling themselves 'Delicatessen' or 'Grocery' in the streets. Deli was originally sandwich store run by the Jews. After Korean own Deli, it has turned into total grocery stores dealing with all kinds of food such as can food, beverages, cheese, breads, cockies...

'Soho' is an abbreviation for South of Houston meaning the Houston St. in Huston St as it says. You can see the difference between Manhattan and Soho as people in Soho seem to be much more individual and have open mind.

East Village prepares a wide range of items from luxury boutiques to cheap imitation goods... it turned into a metropolis for funky generation in the middle of 1980.

Posted by Felix at 10:46 AM GMT

you might want to scan that and send it to these folks, unless you're one of those conformist, close-minded Manhattanites.

what did you think of Okinawa? 'pretty underwhelmed' is the verdict on this end.

Posted by: mike on April 15, 2005 01:29 PM

"Deli was originally sandwich store run by the Jews. After Korean own Deli, it has turned into total grocery stores."

Not politically correct, but heck, it's accurate....

Posted by: anonymous on April 15, 2005 02:12 PM

Just sounds like a case of Korean Engrish to me. Japan would probably do the same.

Posted by: ladida on April 15, 2005 02:37 PM

Personally, I consider Korea a developed nation. It may be a newly developed nation but are you really so out of it that you would think Korea is so under-developed?

I'm actually a little suspicious of your post because it's written in broken English and intended for Korean nationals visiting NYC. Why would it be written in English at all? It should have been written in Korean. And if you translated this from Korean, why are you translating it in broken English? To be funny or to come off as a racist?

Posted by: Linda on April 15, 2005 04:19 PM

One does wonder why they don't get an English as a first langauge person to look it over -- it would only take a second to change. But then I wonder really whether British Airways or United Airlines' Korean language stuff is any better?

Posted by: Matthew on April 15, 2005 05:05 PM

Linda, I consider Koera a developed nation too. Which is precisely why I was surprised by the pamphlet. Why they translated it into English I have no idea, but I can assure you they did: I'll pop it in the mail to you, if you want, so you can see for yourself.

Posted by: Felix on April 15, 2005 05:53 PM

It's always about that age-old Zionist conspiracy. We all know the Jews sold their dericatessen to move to Israel and set up new dericatessen in the West Bank.

But why would they be selling cockies in SoHo? Shouldn't they sell those in Chelsea to all the hive-mind queers?

Posted by: L'Emmerdeur on April 15, 2005 09:49 PM

As to the "free market" comment, in Asia, large markets (such as we would call outdoor markets) are known as free markets.

Sometimes you go to make fun of someone else and you end up displaying your own shortcomings, eh?

Posted by: Carcharias on April 15, 2005 11:17 PM

Linda is Right!

Yeah Felix you arrogant racist bastard, let's see you write a guide to downtown Seoul in Korean for British Airlines or Cunni Lingus. Then I hope some cockfaced twat writing on Meme-kim First-chee starts on about how funny it is that you write Korean like a spastic and how with your big round eyes and huge great chisel-like teeth you probably look like a horse.

No apologies to Emerald Bile, I hate them, they are derivative wankers too.

Posted by: eurof on April 15, 2005 11:34 PM

I think I was more puzzled by the concept that "main stores" in New York close at weekends.

Seriously, though, this was kinda exactly my point: That if British Airways for whatever reason thought it might be a good idea to write a guide to Seoul in Korean, they'd (a) probably get a Korean to write it; but (b) even if they just wanted a translation of something written in English, they'd outsource the translation to a Korean company in order to make sure it didn't look stupid. I mean, it's SOP where I come from for translators to translate into their native language, not out of it as clearly happened in this case.

Posted by: Felix on April 15, 2005 11:57 PM

Making fun of the poor English is just silly and so 90s. As a fluent Japanese speaker, I can actually read what airlines such as Northwest and Delta write on their Japanese instructions. Trust me, it's this bad, and sometimes quite a bit worse. Delta had a map of Tokyo so old it didn't have Odaiba on it.

I give them credit just for showing effort. Not much, though since they missed it so badly. Trust me though, it has nothing to do with being developed or not.

Posted by: Andrew on April 16, 2005 01:08 AM

It surprises me that Delta has atrocious Japanese translations. I mean, how would you ever get such a thing? Who would ever go to a Japanese translator who wasn't Japanese? Did they really just find someone in the office who'd taken a few Japanese classes and had an English-Japanese dictionary lying around, and tell them to go to work? Seems improbable to me, but I'll take your word for it. But it's not as though Japanese people are exactly hard to find: they could have done a better job by asking their local sushi chef to do the translation, no?

Posted by: Felix on April 16, 2005 02:54 AM

Do you really not understand this? It's a function of the universal human formula: "Who's gonna know?"

Posted by: Sterling on April 16, 2005 03:40 AM

To say that Korea is "still a little way off full integration into the developed world" is insane.

It is the most wired country on the planet (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/03/13/BROADBAND.TMP and http://ask.yahoo.com/ask/20031105.html).

According to the TIMSS 2003, Korean 8th grade students are second in the world in math ability (http://nces.ed.gov/timss/TIMSS03Tables.asp?Quest=3&Figure=5). They are third in science (http://nces.ed.gov/timss/TIMSS03Tables.asp?figure=6&Quest=3).

According to the PISA 2003, Korean students are first in problem solving, second in reading, third in math, and third in science (http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/PISA2003HighlightsFigures.asp). I think you will really enjoy seeing where the US ranks in the above studies.

The literacy rate in the US is 97% (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/us.html) while it is 97.9% in Korea (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ks.html).

"Korea is the tenth largest economy in the world and the eleventh largest trading nation" (http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/KOREAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:20020468~menuPK:324667~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:324645,00.html). Not bad for a country the size of Indiana.

Posted by: Nina on April 16, 2005 04:06 AM

It's wired 'cos that's the law. Its education system is undoubtedly first-rate -- but then again, Cuba has an even higher literacy rate, so I'm not sure what that proves. There's no one indicator which really nails it, but GDP per capita is probably the best, and Korea ranks 50th there, below the likes of Cyprus and Slovenia. In fact, Korea's GDP per capita is closer to that of Botswana than it is to that of Italy or Japan, and it's closer to zero than it is to the per-capita GDP of the USA. We can all throw statistics around; my point was maybe just that there's more to development than universal broadband.

Posted by: Felix on April 16, 2005 02:17 PM

The translations were the instructions and menus, etc. I don't know who they got to do them, but I'd guess it was probably a second generation japanese. they were bad, lots of spelling mistakes, etc.

That CIA world factbook stuff is in PPP, that's why cyprus and slovenia are so high. It costs like $1000 for a house in cyprus. PPP is not very accurate, since the cost of living is not uniform across a nation, especially a large one. What is the cost of living in Manhattan compared to rural Alabama?

Posted by: Andrew on April 16, 2005 06:20 PM

What's that law again? I'm honestly curious, I've never heard of it specifically. At any rate, I don't see how it would undercut the significance of the fact that it's the most wired nation, since it seems to say something that a nation's government and its ppl think enough about technology development to encourage it greatly through law. (I was already aware that the gov't had an active hand in the wiring, since I did read the sfgate.com thing as well as a Wired article about it anyway).

True that PPP-based per capita GDP for Korea is only in the top 22% in the world, but considering that Korea's recent financial crisis and that Seoul is the 7th most expensive city in the world to live in (after Tokyo, London, Moscow, Osaka, Hong Kong, and Geneva) AND over 21% of the Korean population lives in Seoul (and over 46% lives in the metro area of Seoul), I'm not surprised that the ranking is what it is.

At any rate, you're free to think what you wish.

Posted by: Nina on April 17, 2005 04:40 AM

Exactly Nina! most Koreans make a fantastic amount more than cyprians. Here's a question for the doubters... How many Cyprians and Slovenians have you seen in the British Museum? In the louvre?
PPP is nice but it doesn't explain why Samsung and LG are two of the world's top corporations. The same thing couldn't be said of Cyprus and Slovenia. Like I said, houses in Slovenia cost about $1000 or give or take a bit.

How many B747s or A340s can you buy with PPP?

Posted by: Andrew on April 17, 2005 09:10 AM

"How many B747s or A340s can you buy with PPP?"

Well, all I know is that if Asiana had bought one less plane they would have had a _lot_ more money for paying proper copywriters, instead of PPP-based ones.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on April 17, 2005 12:13 PM

Felix, were you just transferring through Seoul, or actually on terra firma for a while? I just got back from there - another business trip.

I visit Korea a few times each year and keep in touch with what's going on there pretty regularly. My take is this: Korea's got the hardware side of society down pretty well, but its software is screwey.

It's got a handful of amazing world-beaters like Samsung Electronics, but the corporate governance within the Samsung empire is pretty bad. The country is wealthy - one need only stroll around Seoul's swankier neighborhoods to see this - but hostessing remains the only credible way for most women to earn any money. The government has ambitions to become a financial hub, and businesses have become incredibly receptive to new ideas and global standards - and yet policy is often guided by knee-jerk xenophobia. Businesses are trying to adopt global standards but deals continue to be based on what high school you went to, what class you graduated, etc; and on endless drinking binges that suggest a deeper tension in society.

There's still a rawness to Korean society, a black-and-whiteness that is sometimes attractive but often just bloody-minded. Look at the flag: there's a yin and a yang, but you don't see grey. Although the country is progressing by nearly any measure at leaps and bounds, it can still be subject to a startling groupthink that is more emotion than reason. A positive side of this was the way the country rallied behind its World Cup team in 2002; but it has dark sides too. Even the food brooks no compromise.

All countries have their pathologies, perhaps none more so than my own, but when you argue whether Korea is "developed" or "emerging" the answer has to be that it's getting there, but it ain't there yet.

Posted by: Jame on April 17, 2005 01:51 PM

Jame, I don't agree with all your observations ("hostessing remains the only credible way for most women to earn any money"?--but I'm guessing that's juat what a businessman would see), but I think you've made good points. But what you've said about Korea I think you can also say about Japan, too (drinking, role of women, cronyism, xenophobia, corruption), though my information is only secondhand from my Japanese friends in Japan and from my professors. Anyway, I'm just glad you didn't base your conclusion on the fact that the English on a map was bad. Especially when Engrish examples abound in Japan on things like signs meant for English-speakers, but ppl don't seem to cry "not developed!" about Japan (www.engrish.com). And Western countries apparently don't invest all the research and translators (whose use is apparently the sign of a developed nation) that they can (http://www.hanzismatter.com/--mostly moronic tattoos, but there are also examples from Nike, Fox, McDonald's, University of Maryland).

Ok, I've gotten way too into this. And just from being curious about a link from Curbed.

Posted by: Nina on April 17, 2005 03:34 PM

How did I miss this--"my point was maybe just that there's more to development than universal broadband."

And my point was maybe just that there's just more to development than a map/guide distributed on your flight from Seoul to NYC on Asiana Airlines.

Posted by: Nina on April 17, 2005 03:59 PM

Nina, while I sympathize with your points about judging a book by its cover, you are wrong about the economic prospects for women in Korea. I do know exceptional Korean women that have gone far in business - but all but one of them are working outside of the country. I'm confident that the top earning profession for women is hostessing (and by this I do not mean prostitution, although I recently read that prostitution accounts for something like 4% of Korea's GDP). It remains a highly chauvinist society.

Korea v. Japan...yes there are similarities but these are often superficial. I believe that Japanese culture is more highly evolved than Korea's - that its literature, its other fine arts, its contributions to philosophy, political structure, economic development, technological prowess, etc - in fact in any conceivable way has surpassed Korean accomplishments, for good and for evil. Of course the Koreans like to point out that the Japanese imported the basis of their culture from Korea, which is true...Korean society reached an apex around the time of Charlemagne, and that culture did spread to Japan. But of course they got all of that from the Chinese anyhow, and while Japan leapt ahead, Korea's advancement was slower.

I'm sure if any Koreans are reading this they will give me an earful, but I am a regular visitor to both countries, I read a lot about them, I experience their societies, I speak with natives from these countries, and this is my opinion. Sorry. I do find Koreans more friendly and enjoy traveling there, so this is nothing personal.

Posted by: Jame on April 18, 2005 01:37 AM

Oh boy, I don't know how many many non-Asian cultural experts on Asia flashing their credentials I can handle in a lifetime. Not anyone's favorite way of spending time: getting told what your culture is. Anyway, I know not to get embroiled in a debate about Korea vs. Japan, which always comes to low-blows about rape & torture hentai (Japan) or eating dogs (Korea) or schoolgirl panty fetishes (Japan) or the smell of kimchi (Korea). Anyway, Jame, your opinion is fine, I'm sure you do know a lot about Korea and Japan, and I hope you continue to enjoy your travels.

Back to the original topic, when I clicked over from Curbed, I was laughing b/c I thought the map/guide text was hilariously bad, but then I was bowled over to see a preceding discussion about development. There are pretty bad examples of English produced from Korea or any other non-English-speaking country, and there are pretty good examples (see www.subwayworld.co.kr/english). To implicate a country's development based on either is ridiculous.

Anyway, must get back to the real life now and attend to my paper that's been keeping me chained to my computer, thus letting me procrastinate by commenting here. Thanks for letting me take up so much space.

Posted by: Nina on April 18, 2005 05:44 AM


You just have to learn to accept that here on Memefirst, the white boyz know more about non-white countries, religions and cultures than its own people. They be wicked smart, ya know. Just keep them from trying to rap and we won't have to pee in our pants from laughter.

Kim Chi stinks to high heaven but I love it anyway and I'm not even Korean, still better than kissing Stefan after he's just smoked. BTW, I'd never let my dog outta sight lest he become Shitzu BBQ!

Posted by: michelle on April 18, 2005 06:25 AM

Hey, I took a copy of Lufthansa's in-flight magazine which had a German version of each article on the left and an English one on the right. It was awful.

I took it to class (I taught Business English) and asked my (advanced) students who are doctors, engineers, etc. what was wrong with the translation. They though it was perfect! And this IS a developed nation with lots of English speakers. I have no idea why they didn't run the text by an American or a Brit before embarrassing themselves.

Posted by: michelle on April 18, 2005 03:22 PM

What are we supposed to do, say "Hey, everybody's the same?" That all societies are equally special? That achievements are to be shared all around? How equitable of you. Gee, it's time for a group hug because we're all winners!

And yeah, I think 8+ years of living and breathing East Asia means I know what I'm talking about.

Posted by: Jame on April 18, 2005 05:23 PM

Jame, you are definitely of the Asian Persuasion. But being in Asia and sleeping with Asian women doesn't make you an expert; certainly you're more informed than someone like Sterling who has done neither. Just like a Filipino blogger who accused me of trying to "become white" once told me, "you can't change your skin color by marrying an upper middle class white man".

I'm not saying we're all happy cuz we're equal. We for sure are not but some of you guys (not necessarily you) like to act like you know more (in general, not just about other countries/cultures/religions) than you really do.

Posted by: michelle on April 18, 2005 05:29 PM

You're right, Michelle - merely being here and sleeping with the natives doesn't make me an expert. I know some Westerners who have been out here for years, and frankly don't know dingo. I am sometimes surprised by how ignorant some of my friends are. But perhaps no more ignorant than, say, many Americans of their own history, culture and political environment (which is no excuse). But there are a lot of Westerners in this region who really know their stuff. Asians are quite scrutible!

Posted by: Jame on April 19, 2005 01:46 AM

Jame, have you lived anywhere other than HK? I've never been there but my impression is that it's pretty much just a bunch of expats running awry with a bunch of Indonesion or Filipino domestic helpers. That hardly sounds like a cultural experience to me. I've heard a few men remark on the difference between HK women and mainland Chinese ones, culturally and physically, no?

Posted by: michelle on April 19, 2005 04:48 AM

Just lived in Hong Kong, but travel extensively around the region, deal with people of many backgrounds, read a lot about various countries' history and culture, and basically pay attention. An expert on all things Asian? No way, not even close. Able to make a reasoned opinion about some of these cultures? Sure.

Yeah, there are differences between people in Hong Kong and mainland China. Whadjya expect?

I don't confine my intellectual interests or extra-curricular activities solely to Asian women, by the way. Went through the mandatory phase of "yellow fever" but recovered.

Posted by: Jame on April 19, 2005 11:07 AM

I guess what I don't understand is why people, particularly the women, feel the need to distinguish themselves as HONG KONG Chinese. I hate to sound Stefan about it but they're all the same to me. Do they really find themselves so superior? I'm told HK women are taller and more beautiful but is this because these women (models) are being brought in from other parts of China to appeal to the expats' desire for a more western-looking Asian woman?

Now, let's compare a Korean woman, whatever Chinese woman and Filipina - those physical differences are very obvious (skin color, cheekbones, noses) except to probably Stefan & Sterling. It gets more difficult when you have a Filipina, Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese girl but then once you know her name and hear her accent, it becomes more clear but HK Chinese vs. mailand Chinese? Get over it, you're all Chinese and no better (IMO) than anyone else.

Jame, I'm not dissin' your experience and expertise on Asia but I do feel a businessman's view will be much different than let's say a person who's done some peace corp work in those areas. They're not reading about it or stumbling across the nuts and bolts of a people's culture at the airport, restaurant, hotel or brothel; they're interacting on a very human level.

For example, you really have to get out of Makati (Manila) to feel like you're really getting know Filipinos. Most Filipinos don't consume the big mega malls; in fact, most of them are living in Nipa huts at severe levels of poverty where rice and low quality fish is their staple. Those who do consume the mega mall experience are wealthy Filipinos with ties to government and tend to be heavily influenced by all things American, a result of our long occupation there.

It's the same with Bangkok; tourists and business people have no idea how different life is just a few miles out of the main areas. Most tourists would have no idea what's going on in the backdrop beyond their hotels in Phucket or Ko PiPi, children being sold into prositution under the age of 10 for western sex tourists to pay for their families' ailing farms. Western and Japanese men spend big money to get over there and have their fill of young women and too often girls, ignoring the suffering that has brought them into that profession in the first place.

Okay, I'm rambling. I'll quit here.

Posted by: michelle on April 19, 2005 02:46 PM

Forget about the poor engrish. The content of the card is hilarious. I wonder what it was edited down from, and who the dude/ette had in mind when they were editing. I can totally imagine some poor greenie whipping out this 5x10 card and asking some douchebag mustachio where to find "the metroporis of the funkhee gen-er-ation." Pretty saweeheet when you think about. Poor bastards.

Posted by: thomas on April 19, 2005 04:10 PM


I suspect the problem is that the Koreans get native Korean speakers who are 'fluent' in English to translate, and Delta get native English speakers who are 'fluent' in Japanese to do theirs. It's probably seen as easier at the office level to give your English copy to an English-speaking native to do.

Professional translation should always be the other way around, into your maternal language. Roy Jenkins in his Churchill book notes this was a major problem for Churchill and Stalin, who had it the wrong way around. Stalin's Russian became rather coarse English, whilst Churchill's brilliant prose became rather leaden Russian!

Posted by: Matthew on April 20, 2005 06:06 PM

That's not me, btw.

Posted by: Matthew on April 20, 2005 06:31 PM

You're not Matthew?

Posted by: Stefan Geens on April 20, 2005 09:17 PM

Only on alternate Thursdays. At any other time I am Queen of the Pig People.

Posted by: Matthew on April 20, 2005 09:29 PM

Jame, the notion that one society could be more "evolved" than another is itself ridiculously unsophisticated.

At the very least, it shows that you haven't read any Darwin and have a pretty bastardized conception of what evolution might entail.

Also, it tends to make you sound a lot like the racist that you probably are.

Posted by: Gill on April 30, 2005 03:26 PM