Latest Posts

Enter eAeon, South Korea’s Modern Rock Prodigy With a Haunting Sadness

Singer-songwriter eAeon (이이언) has been creating music since 1996. One of my favourite artists of all time since I discovered his band “Mot” in 2006, he has since come on my radar once again for defending a South Korean voice actress who was fired for wearing a feminist t-shirt.

A mysterious character whose private life is closely guarded from the public, eAeon sometimes goes months, or even years, without social media presence. Having studied electrical engineering at Yonsei University and music technology at Korea University of Arts, he originally wanted to become a computer programmer, but chose music for its creativity. He often uses words such as “architecture” and “structure” when talking about his music. His team members complain about how difficult it is to reproduce his written music in play (Huffington Post, March 2016), and were recruited by eAeon for having a solid understanding of music theory.

His signature sound mixes electronica and jazz, while always giving us that synthesised, sad, ephemeral tone. Most of his solo music is produced entirely by himself and a computer, and uses experimental sounds and beats which are difficult to reproduce with a live band. He also looks for the “non-linear”, the atypical in his music. If motifs are taken from well-known genres of music, eAeon twists it to paint it over with that typical, blue sound he is well-known for. such experimental sound has even topped the charts in South Korea, usually dominated by the sweet, bubblegum and hip-hop sounds of K-Pop. His band, Mot, has received the Best New Artist award in 2005, and the Best Modern Rock Album award in 2008.

서울은 흐림 
시간은 느림 
추억은 그림 
그대는 흐림 
서울은 흐림 
생각은 느림 
널 그린 그림 
기억은 흐림
아무 말도 아무 일도 아무 예감도 없이 아무렇지 않게 하룬 가고 
아무 말도 아무 일도 아무 예감도 없이 아무렇지 않게 나도

Seoul is cloudy
Time goes slow
Memories are painted
You are cloudy
Seoul is cloudy
Thoughts are slow
Painted is you
Memories are cloudy
No words, nothing, no predictions, nothing happens, a day passes
No words, nothing, no predictions, nothing happens, to me

Such are the lyrics from a typical eAeon song. In an interview with SisaIn (March 2018), he talks about the hidden sweetness in his melancholic music: “Being sad requires great energy […] when we’re depressed and sad, we need to listen to such music and to find our energy […]”.

eAeon also seems to enjoy covering popular songs and adding his melancholic twist by tweaking the octaves and adding, as seen here in his rendition of Harder Better Faster Stronger by Daft Punk.

Photo credits: Topclass Magazine at Chosun Media


non linear mot
Universal Music

strange weather
이상한 계절 (Strange Weather)
Sony BMG

guilt free
Elephant Music/Sony Music

재의 기술 (Ashcraft)
Sony Music

Follow eAseon on Twitter:
Follow Mot on Facebook:

2018 Oslo Freedom Forum

I was hired to work as an interpreter to the North Korean delegation at the Oslo Freedom Forum for the second time (the first time being 2016). This year also marked the 10th anniversary of the Oslo Freedom Forum.

In a nutshell, OFF is a a forum and a community of people dedicated to protecting and improving fundamental human rights around the world. It’s fun: There’s always an art performance, and since a few years an ethical fashion show (whose models are human rights activists and speakers from past years), booths by tech companies who offer services which can be used to protect civil rights activists in repressive regimes, and lots of opportunities for people to connect.

Human rights activists have a platform to voice their hopes, obstacles, and plans. Philanthropists come to learn more about projects activists are currently running, to ask in-depth questions about what they need, what they plan to do, and what their current challenges are. Entrepreneurs can pitch their technologies to activists and the general public.

This year, I was unfortunately unable to attend all but two speeches: the phenomenal speech by Fatemah Qaderyan of the Afghan Dreamers and the talk by Megha Rajagopalan of Buzzfeed China on the Chinese police state. I’m waiting for all the individual talks to be uploaded on the OFF YouTube channel, but in the meanwhile the livestream of the event is available in its entirety (Day 1 and Day 2).

I’m also amazed by how a team of about twenty can run a meeting involving nearly a thousand people so smoothly. I also appreciate how the team remains efficient and low-key: staff members are approachable, friendly, and professional at all times. On the last night people let a their hair down a little, and even the most serious senior staffer starts to smile more now that the most important parts are over. And they know how to party.

They also cut down on all unnecessary costs: staff members fly with cheaper airlines (with many leaving at odd times of the day…such as 5am), stay at cheaper hotels, and don’t splurge – like we see many “non-profits” and NGOs do these days. This is consistent with what I’ve witnessed at other interpreting trips with HRF: I’ve seen them get up and leave a restaurant because the prices were too high (this is why restaurants should have a menu outside their door). They never stay longer than necessary for work, and work hard while they’re on location.

Interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) and Kang Chol-hwan of The North Korea Strategy Center

Interview on Facebook Live with Lilia Luciano and Ji Seong-ho of Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH)

Interview with Mr. Kang Chol-hwan for AJ+

North Korean breakfast session with Mr. Ji Seong-ho, Mrs. Park Yeonmi and Mr. Kang Chol-hwan

Working lunch session hosted by Funraise with North Korean team

Interview with the North Korean team at the park

The North Korean team had three very different former speakers: Mr. Ji Seong-ho (President at NAUH), Mr. Kang Chol-hwan (author of Aquariums of Pyongyang) and Mrs. Yeonmi Park (known for her advocacy in the United States and author of In Order to Live). They’re from three different age groups and backgrounds, and have very different experiences escaping from the North and settling in the South.

All three of them have experienced carrying out activism for North Korean human rights in both South Korea and in the United States (and beyond). Two of them have written books that have become bestsellers. One of them was invited to the State of the Union address earlier this year.

I’m always happy to work at OFF, not just because of the amazing weather and Norwegian seafood (which I must admit played a big part – I was also reunited with my childhood fave bread topping, brunost), but because I learn so much on the job, and I’m treated with respect for my work (not all employers see interpreters as professionals, but “people who speak a coupla languages”).

As a South Korean, I’m ignorant about many things North Korean refugees experience. Hearing about the experiences of refugees turned human rights activists is a privilege, since it’s one thing to read about someone’s story through the lens of the media, and quite another to hear it from their heart.

Watch speeches by North Korean human rights activists here:
My Impossible Escape from North Korea
Ji Seong-ho, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2015.

A North Korean Rescue Story
Lee Hyeonseo, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2014.

North Korea's Black Market Generation
Park Yeonmi, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2014.

Ten Years in North Korea's Gulags 
Kang Chol-hwan, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2010.

Anti-Spycam Rally Shakes Up Seoul (by dotface)

On June 9th, 30,000 women gathered in the university district of Hyehwa to protest against the biased investigation practices of the South Korean police.

The rally’s roots go back to May 2018, when a male nude model’s picture was illegally circulated on a single website. Within a few days, the woman who uploaded the picture was arrested. This incident is in stark contrast to the thousands of spycam videos and upskirt pictures (“molka”) of women which are taken by men and circulated through hundreds of social media and web channels, and which are chronically dismissed by the police as “beyond our scope of investigation”.

The protesters are seen chanting slogans and carrying pickets such as “No Dick, a Criminal” and “A Dick, Not a Criminal”, “The South Korean Government Is a Co-Conspirator In Raising Sex Criminals” and “My Everyday Life Is Not Your Porn”.

[News] South Korean women rise up: An interview with Nayoung Kim

Nayoung Kim is a feminist academic and attorney whom I’ve had the privilege to meet and discuss feminist issues with. An unapologetic feminist, Nayoung has worked towards ending sexual and physical violence against women for nearly a decade.

In this interview, you can find all the key issues South Korean feminists face today, from restricted reproductive rights (abortion being illegal), digital sex crimes (including revenge porn), the backlash against feminism in South Korea, and much more.

“In every sector of South Korean society, women are assigned second-class citizenship and deprived of equal opportunity. South Korea has the highest gender pay gap among OECD countries, with women earning 63 per cent of what men earn in 2017. Only 56.2 per cent of women are employed. Women are grossly underrepresented in positions of power, holding only 17 per cent of seats in the National Assembly and 10.5 per cent of management positions in the private sector.”

“In 2016, a study of 1,050 men revealed that 50.7 per cent had paid a woman for sex. This is a conservative estimate. K-Pop is a hotbed for sexual objectification. South Korean men’s sexual objectification of women cuts across national borders. Given free rein to sexually abuse women at home, men also travel overseas to prey on women in poorer countries.”

“I was born in 1990. In my generation, millions of female fetuses were aborted because people didn’t want daughters. Females that were born, against all odds, are targeted by men. Each year, more than 100 women die at the hands of their male partners. Thousands experience rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Women are murdered just because they are women.”

“Nonetheless, South Korea did not see a mass women’s movement similar to that in the UK and North America until very recently. […] What I mean by this is that, in previous years, feminism had mostly been shared among a select group of activist and academic women. Nowadays, feminism is finally sweeping every corner of the nation and reaching ordinary women. I think this is possible largely due to the speed, anonymity, and expansiveness of the Internet. It allows women to share their rage with one another, to discover important feminist knowledge through consciousness-raising, and to organize in multitudes. Each year, hundreds of new activist projects are popping up and thousands of women are joining the women’s movement. These are mostly young women in their teens and 20s, but there are also women over 80 calling feminist organizations. The current feminist revolution gives me hope for a real change in South Korea.”

“There have been many backlashes to women’s activism, so many that I’m losing count. Men threatened to throw acid at women during the most recent protest against digital sexual violence. One man brought a knife to a memorial event for the woman stabbed to death in Gangnam. Men took pictures of women protesters and put them online for other men to make rape and death threats against. Companies fired female employees for posting about feminism on their personal social media accounts. Male fans turned against a female entertainer for reading a feminist book. Hiring committees have asked female applicants what they thought of the #MeToo movement, the message being, “We don’t want you here unless you promise to keep your mouth shut about sexual harassment.”


South Korean women rise up: An interview with Nayoung Kim
Feminist Current. 12 June 2018.

Interview with Mr. Kang Chol-hwan for Urix, Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK)

(The sun was in my eyes and that’s why I look mildly unhappy, but I was really in a good mood)

Special episode on the Kim-Trump summit from Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). Norwegian only.

Mr. Kang Chol-hwan, author of Aquariums of Pyongyang and Director of the North Korea Strategy Center (Seoul/New York), discusses what he thinks about the upcoming meeting. You can also see me tag along, and for some reason, there’s a close-up of my boots. (9:20-11:34)

Meer Korea in het Nederlands bij NPO Radio 1 / Learn more about Korea in Dutch at NPO Radio 1

Meer over Korea in het Nederlands? Bij NPO Radio 1 kan je meer weten over Seoel, Nord-Koreaanse vluchtelingen, de ouderen (die in geen wozoco’s wonen), en het klassieke stereotype over Koreanen als “gek op studeren” (Vertaald door een vriend van mij: Haegun Chung)
Want to know more about Korea in Dutch? At NPO Radio 1 you can learn more about Seoul, North Korean refugees, the elderly (who don’t live in care homes), and the classic stereotype about Koreans being “crazy into studying” (Translated by a friend of mine, Haegun Chung)

Deel 1: Met geluid en beeld – Met een Nord-Koreaanse vluchteling

Seoel ligt slecht een kilometer of 40 van de grens met Noord-Korea. Drie dagen geleden schoot dat land nog een raket af, wat weer door Zuid-Korea en Amerika werd beantwoord met militair machtsvertoon. De verhoudingen staan, kortom, op scherp. Hoe zouden bewoners van Seoel daarop reageren? En voor Noord-Koreanen is het een reden om te vluchten naar Zuid-Korea, maar dat wordt ze steeds moeilijker gemaakt.De 26-jarige Joeng-Ho is het gelukt en verslaggever Maarten Bleumers gaat in de Zuid-Koreaanse hoofdstad bij hem langs…

Deel 2: Ouderen in Seoul steeds meer aan hun lot overgelaten

De hele week reportages uit Seoul in Zuid-Korea. Waar ouderen vroeger door de jonge generatie werden verzorgd, maar dat lijkt nu te veranderen. Jongeren hebben andere prioriteiten en laten de ouderen meer en meer aan hun lot over.

Deel 3: Game hoofdstad van de wereld

Gaming-hoofdstad van de wereld. Zo wordt Seoel ook wel genoemd. De online-spelers zijn daar sterren zoals hier voetballers dat zijn. Bij een vriendje thuis spelen zijn ze wel ontgroeid… In hartje Seoel kun je naar het e-sport stadion om te kijken naar online-gamen. Verslaggever Maarten Bleumers begaf zich tussen de juichende jeugd.

Deel 4: Falen is geen optie in Zuid-Korea: Er zijn hele dorpen waar je kennis kunt testen

Het arbeidsethos in Zuid-Korea is erg hoog. Falen is geen optie. Dus als er om een baan te bemachtigen een test afgelegd moet worden dan ontstaat er een industrie om te zorgen dat je die test zo goed mogelijk gaat maken. Er is zelfs een hele wijk ontstaan rond deze industrie. Test-village, of Exam-village wordt die wijk ook wel genoemd. Samen met zijn vertaler Hegoen Chung neemt verslaggever Maarten Bleumers daar een kijkje.

[Documentary] Feminism Reboot (2018)

For this documentary on the feminist momentum, Korea Exposé has gathered several key actors in South Korean feminism, including:

  • Famerz
  • Femidangdang
  • Femimonsters
  • Feminism book cafe “Doing”
  • Flaming Feminist Action
  • Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center
  • Shootingfemi
  • Lee Min-Kyeong, author of Reclaim the Language and Reclaim the Heritage
  • Im So-Eun
  • Lee Eun-Saem
  • Park Seihoi
Director: Do Youjin
Story and narration: Kang Haeryun 
Cinematography: Choi Jieun & Do Youjin
Motion Graphics: Lee Subin


The Racism in Government-Funded Korean Language Course Material

Looking to Learn Korean for Free? Well, Be Prepared for Some Racism

I was going through Sejong Institute’s YouTube playlist to find useful material for my Korean tutoring classes. Then I found this. Let me take you down Racist Hill. Commentary at the bottom.

First, the man meets two white US soldiers. They’re friendly towards each other and use informal language (banmal).

It ends with the Korean man saying “Keep our neighborhood safe”. Context: Due to continued public displays of drunkenness and fighting, the US soldiers patrol the area to keep their own soldiers out of trouble.

Then the Korean man jogs past “Abdul”, the owner of a Turkish restaurant (it’s a real restaurant, and he is usually dressed this way). This takes a turn down Racist Hill.

While “Abdul” addresses the Korean man in honorific/formal language (존댓말), the Korean man keeps addressing “Abdul” in informal language (반말). This is what you do if you have a big age or power difference, such as an adult talking to a child. The highlight of his condescending and patronising attitude is when he tells “Abdul” his Korean “needs work”, when the man has been clearly speaking in Korean. He even says “좀 더 해야겠네”, which is specifically an informal tone reserved to a superior addressing an inferior person (as in a boss addressing their employee). This is condescension at its finest. “Abdul” responds by saying “Yes, sir (네)”.

Right after he’s done patronising “Abdul”, the Korean man runs past two black men. What comes next? More condescension.

The man stops himself, sighs loudly, as if to say “I can’t but not help those poor fellas”. And walks back to the two men.

The Korean man says “Hey, my brothers”. The two men turn around.

AND HERE IS THE OLDEST RUNNING RACIST TROPE IN SOUTH KOREAN TELEVISION. The two men are each wearing a BLACK SHIRT with the words “YOUNGER BROTHER” and “OLDER BROTHER” on them. Which is an embodiment of the racist Korean trope on “Black Older Brother”. (“흑형”). It has been common practice for black men to be called “Black Older Brother” in South Korean television and popular culture. It is defended as making “black people seem friendlier”. But why, the, fuck, do, people, need, black, people, to, feel, less, threatening? (Oh yeah, racism.)

The racist intent of this skit is made even clearer when the Korean man approaches the two men and says “동네 분위기 이렇게 어둡게 할거야”, literally translated as “Why are you making the atmosphere of our neighbourhood so DARK”. (In the video, translated as “look bad”). First, finding humour in “black people making things look dark” is racist. Because there isn’t a running trope on how white people make things shiny. Second, by choosing to translate the captions as “Will you make our neighbourhood look bad”, Sejong & KBS are saying “black people make a neighbourhood look bad”.

And then he says… “Smile a little”. Because black people have to smile all the time, otherwise they’re “making the neighbourhood look dark”.

And like “Abdul”. they thank him by saying “Yes, Sir Big Brother (형님)”, using the highly honorific form of 님. (although it’s translated as “Yes, Jeongnam”)

The trope of Jeongnam, the Korean master of condescension, ends with him looking at the two black men’s shirts and pointing out “So, you’re the older brother? You look like it”. Here, the narrative is that the black men chose to play the Black Big Brother Trope.

Although Jeongnam treats the three group of foreigners in the same condescending way, it is striking how explicitly racist the script is. Let’s look at the three groups of foreigners he interacts with.

First, he meets the white American soldiers. With whom he has a brief exchange. This is done in informal/non-honorific language (반말).

Second, he meets the Turkish man, “Abdul”. Although Abdul has a considerably more complex script compared to the other three groups, Jeongnam condescends him by (a) Telling him to fix his pronunciation (I’ve been to that same Turkish restaurant several times since it opened, and the owner spoke fluent Korean each time); and further denigrates him by (b) continuing to talk to him in informal/non-honorific language (반말), while Abdul continues to address him in full formal/honorific language. The exchange with the American soldiers was conducted in a power balance (both used non-honorific language) – here, he continued to act as the “superior” man by talking down to Abdul. This is the kind of behaviour displayed by a shitty boss, or an adult talking to a very young child (and even many choose to address children in honorific forms these days). In many Seoul universities, it has become customary to hold “hierarchy sensibility” sessions at the beginning of the term when new students join the cohort: All students must address each other in honorific form regardless of age, unless otherwise suggested and agreed upon voluntarily by the younger student.

Third, he meets the two black men. Which spirals into outright racism when (1) he tells them they’re “turning the neighbourhood dark” (which the show even chose to translate as making the neighbourhood look bad), and when the show’s writers chose to run The Oldest Anti-Black Trope,  the “Big Black Brotha” joke by literally making them wear black shirts with the insignia big brother and little brother. He takes it further by telling the men to “smile more” – adding insult to, well, insult. Who usually hears the “You should smile more” comment? Three guesses. The men are humiliated further when they obediently say “Yes, sir” – displaying the same linguistic power imbalance between the two groups.

The protagonists of Please Find Her. The main character, “Jan” (top left), comes to South Korea to look for a long lost love. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s portrayed by a Korean actor. (Image Source: Yonhap)

This program, Please Find Her, is a web drama funded by Sejong Institute and KBS. Here is a rare display of whiteface, with the protagonist, set to be a Dutchchman called Jan, being played by a Korean actor. It took me three close looks to go “Wait…this actor looks familiar. He looks like a Korean actor “. And I wondered, “Maybe they meant to portray Jan as a Korean adoptee?”. Nope. “Maybe Jan is an ethnic Korean who is Dutch?”. Nope.

Here is a Korean actor with no ties to the Netherlands whatsoever who is playing a Dutchman. There are enough actors who are either Dutch or of Dutch ancestry or with ties to the Netherlands in the world.

I am deeply disappointed at this poor narrative on foreigners in South Korea, funded by Korean taxpayers. Talking down to other people of colour while saluting white people, casting a Korean actor to play a Dutchman. This is not a web drama suitable for a global audience looking for a taste of Hallyu in their endeavours to learn the Korean language.

Edited for clarity on 18 May.

그녀를 찾아줘 1화 / Please Find Her Ep.1 (ENG)
17 Oct 2017

Free Health Check-Ups for Refugees in South Korea

Refugee Health: Check

Migration to Asia Peace and Samsung Medical Centre are going to provide free health check-ups for asylum seekers, those with asylum status, and those with “humanitarian stay” status.

Interpreting services and a shuttle bus to and from the testing centre will be provided. The check-up’s results and referrals will be issued. Snacks and drinks will be provided following the check-up.

The event is organised by Samsung Medical Centre & Migration to Asia Peace (MAP), and sponsored by Shinhan Bank.


But Who Is a Refugee?

“Humanitarian stay” visas (G-1) were created to grant stay to those who do not fall under the refugee status as defined by the United Nations (being able to prove that you personally are persecuted by the state, regardless of the the state of your country). In 2015, South Korea had twice as many G-1 visa holders than F-2 visas (residency) granted to refugees.

Humanitarian stay visas differ from residency visa in the following ways:

  1. Issued for 1 year; can be renewed
  2. Cannot apply for employment unless they have received government approval
  3. Cannot apply for family reunion vias
  4. Cannot benefit from any social welfare schemes including National Health Insurance, Basic Social Welfare, or government-sponsored job training

Not Only Refugees Need Health Care…

Similar problems persists to immigrant workers, as labour laws remain lax and seasonal migrant workers are often under-reported and unregistered by their employers to the National Health Insurance policy. Migrant workers have limited access to public health care and administrative assistance due to the language barrier as well as unfair and even abusive employers – as few as half of all immigrant workers are estimated to register in the NHI scheme (in Korean only), and often have no government agency to turn to if their employer will not cover their health care costs (including accidents at the workplace). Despite laws stipulating that migrant workers must be registered in the NHI system, the problems remains that the employer must agree to paying monthly insurance fees (in Korean only).

Organisations such as Jubilee Medical have been providing free medical check-ups to immigrant workers for this exact reason. Jubilee Medical, a Christian foundation, was founded in 1995 as a cooperative medical insurance scheme, and currently runs free medical check-ups as well as offers an affordable cooperative insurance (monthly fees at 8,000 KRW/6.3 EUR/7.5 USD, at a 50% coverage rate; accepted at a limited number of hospitals). Being a private insurance, Jubilee Medical requires the members to pay up front, and to have the fees refunded to their bank account once the receipts have been submitted.

Coming back to the story…

Here are some pictures from the last session by MAP, in September 2017:

2017.09.28 map 12017.09.28 map 22017.09.28 map 32017.09.28 map 4

Announcements on Free Health Check-ups for Refugees
11 May 2018. Migration to Asia Peace
Review on Free Health Check-ups for Refugees 28 Sep 2017. Migration to Asia Peace '인도적 체류자'도 권리보장 인색…난민과 '천양지차'(Few rights granted to 'Humanitarian stays'...a large discrepancy with refugees) 13 Sept 2015. Yonhap News. ‘의료 사각지대’ 이주노동자는 서럽다 09 Dec 2015. Kyunghyang Daily Employment Permit system. Ministry of Employment and Labor.