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Business of Love & War in Korea

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Following mondays meeting with korean bloggers Chang & Danny, I spent
the rest of the day at with Dai-Kyu Kim, a Korean entrepreneur, who
has been involved with startups for over 10 years with one claim to
fame as securing for the Asia licensing for API based personal finance
tool Quicken.

Although Dai-Kyu is involved in an interesting startup as we speak, we
didn't actually discuss business but instead the online industry and
culture in general in Korea, how businesses and politics work in Korea
and also he shared some insights into the divide between North and

Some insights Dai-Kyu and others I have met with over here, shared
with me is that Korea does not see itself inherently as a divided
country. The enforced divide between north and south is within living
memory of at least one third of the population and, like Dai-Kyu many
families, have been almost permanently divided between brothers,
sisters, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. It is really sad to be
honest. Only once a year, are some families allowed to re-unite and
even then it is only for an hour. Mothers are 'hanging on' just to see
their children for the last time. And even when they have not been in
touch for many, many years, they still always recognize their
children. From the beginning, idealism drove brothers apart to pursue
their visions and then the wall came down. Dai-Kyu told me how North
Korea stands in stark contrast to the South. People don't have mobile
phones, travel is restricted and just to make a phone call you have to
go to the post office. Financial wealth is too difficult to hide there
so North Korean families with supporters in the South, Japan and
Canada send laptops instead. And those that manage to find an escape
route are lucky only in one sense. The journey to escape can take
years. Firstly one needs to be able to get to border, which is
difficult as travel is completely restricted. Then somehow bribe the
border guard without getting caught. Make it past that and escapees
have to swim across the dividing river, naked, and in the winter most
people freeze to death before they make it to their families and
contacts through the other side. Some people travel through Thailand
without any money that is worth anything and then even when they get
to South Korea, the rural lives they knew are met with sprawling
metropolis' that after 50 years speak a modern, anglicized Korean and
an almost impenetrable techno culture. That said, some of the younger
people who make the journey have adapted and even found fame in the

South Korean businesses are under an unusual tax system that makes it
extremely difficult to stay on the right side of the law. The
'official tax' is so astronomical that there is very little incentive
to be honest. On top of that, there is a poor and sporadic system of
enforcing it, almost to the extent that the government would just
rather you avoided it. This ultimately acts as system of control, so
they will always have something over you should they ever need it.
Even the big 4 accountancy firms offer choices to businesses, which is
to pay the official tax, or the unofficial official tax, which is a
lower bracket, but shows that you are at least attempting to act in
good faith with the government.

This same indirect control exists in the law of marriage. Seoul, like
Tokyo is littered with 'love hotels', which are not as seedy as they
might sound. In a culture of extremely traditional and ancient values,
these hotels provide a place for young couples to escape the family
nest and be with their prospective partners. Young Korean couples are
on the whole forbidden by both sets of parents to see each other, so
they tend to elope on a sporadic basis to the love hotels. The thing
is that for the average westerner who is allowed to see his girlfriend
or boyfriend whenever they like, this kind of defiance for a young
Korean couple is almost unimaginable. What the parents say the younger
must do. To the book. And among threats of punishment for the young's
defiance I've heard of parents threatening to divorce each other if
their child does not obey. South Korea is also one of the few places
that it is categorically illegal to cheat. If you are caught, and the
dalliance is proven against you, you can go to jail. Broadly speaking,
the cultural impact of this law is incidental and next to zero. Some
suspected spouses get tracking devices unknowingly downloaded to their
phones and in worst cases there is a sort of low level detective
activity to catch cheating partners. However, on the whole, no one
ever actually goes to prison for it. Best case, they found someone too
and worst case, you'll go down if you are a despised government figure
with rival political ambitions.

So the truth is, you'd never notice any of this unless someone told
you. On the whole the Korean attitude is equal for love and business ?
if it doesn't directly involve you, then how others lives their lives
is none of your business. People here just get along, adapt and, as is
the case of the love hotels, even make thriving businesses out of it.

Posted by jc1000000

5th Nov 2008, 15:36  


Anonymous says:

it seems a country of contrasts - really difficult for us in the west to comprehend.

6th Nov 2008, 01:49

Emma says:

JC your keyword 'love' put a nice big KoreanCupid dating ad on here ah how sweet lol

6th Nov 2008, 15:13

jc1000000 says:

At first i thought so too, but i got some feedback and staying their longer i realised that things aren't as different as they first appear. Korean culture is extremely adaptive too - so the strict side of parenting is getting less pronounced generation upon generation and as they focus more on global business.

10th Nov 2008, 11:19

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