Princeton Asia Review

Blog of the semi-annual magazine run by Princeton University students about all things Asia (Humor? Check. Culture? Yes. Politics? Of course!). Supported by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the East Asian Studies and Economics departments, and the Davis International Center.

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From the Korean corporation that brought you the blackface video I previously wrote about comes another video that is even more shocking in terms of the blatant xenophobia. The video is basically about the threat foreign men pose to Korean women. As Zachary Downey, an English teacher in Korea, posts on his blog:

It’s a nasty stereotype that just won’t die away, and it’s part of the reason why E-2 Visa holders in Korea require HIV tests before teaching.

This type of BS is exceedingly hurtful. It creates an air of distrust between foreigners and Koreans. It attempts to shame Korean women into staying away from foreign men. It damages Korea’s international image.

The country is expected to host the 2018 winter Olympics, and yet programing such as this continues to be produced.

He then provides another example of such stereotyping via a video he took in 2010 “with an immigration official talking about rising foreign crime rates and the need for HIV testing”.

What really gets me is that this is the stuff shown on mainstream media. MBC is one of the four major national tv networks in South Korea, and its content is becoming more globalized day-by-day. Just recently MBC hosted a Korean pop concert at Google headquarters in California to celebrate its new partnership with Youtube, and during the concert the stars talked about how popular Korean media is becoming thanks to the Internet. But I don’t think MBC realizes that this globalization also leads to the dispersion of the less glamorous parts of the Korean media. This surprises me because though this video was purely meant for the domestic Korean audiences, surely someone had to have known it would be seen by non-Koreans—at the very least the foreigners who live in Korea. I know that racism is a problem everywhere, but could MBC at least try to hide it better? Because for an extremely educated society, this type of overt propaganda is not only ridiculously ignorant but also horribly done—the type of stuff you’d expect to see in the 1950s, not in 2012. And as Zachary Downey points out, broadcasting this stuff in your mainstream media isn’t the best way to advertise your country to the rest of the modern world.

- Cynthia


Sashimi at the Pod, Philadelphia

Last summer I had a chance to try out some of Philadelphia’s best eateries (courtesy of my dad), and was pleasantly surprised to find that the city is quite the foodie’s paradise. Much of this is thanks to Stephen Starr, the chef behind many of Philly’s classiest restaurants (e.g., Butcher & Singer). Pod is his attempt at Asian fusion; positioned in the University City neighbourhood (home to UPenn & Drexel) it is decidedly modern and hip. For someone who grew up blocks from Toronto Chinatown, an Asian restaurant with this kind of decor was certainly something novel:

But eating here felt strange for other reasons. Mostly, I felt a disconnect between the familiar food items and the unfamiliar dining experience. Like seeing five dumplings artfully placed on a small plate and billed at ten dollars. Or a bowl of pho, a bit more picturesque than what you’ll get at your typical Vietnamese place, but half the size at triple the price.

I don’t mean imply that Asian cuisine can’t be classy. Every time I visit China, it’s a cycle of banquets and feasts, and I realise that our stereotypes of Chinatown eateries—the less polished service, the average decor—aren’t indicative of national restaurant cultures. But I’m not sure how I feel about seeing the dollar items on my dim sum cart or Vietnamese fast food on pricier small plates. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend a lunch at Pod (if nothing else, order the sashimi pictured above—unlike other Asian cuisines, Japanese food lends itself to small plates quite well). Still, there’s a certain feeling of comfort that comes with eating these familiar foods in the hole-in-the-wall establishments I’ve grown so used to. It’s similar to how I feel about H-Mart: it’s clean and organised, yes, but does an Asian supermarket really feel right without that omnipresent fish smell?

Does anyone else feel this way? Or am I just strangely sentimental, or bitter about the price of pho?

- Kathy


My friends and I always joke around about my traveling experiences…or lack thereof. Since I don’t currently hold an American passport, international traveling without an appointment with immigration officials can be difficult—quite unfortunate for my adventurous personality. I wish there were more days in the year, so that I could squeeze in the school year, some summer relaxation, and still have enough time to hop on a plane and explore what the world has to offer. With that said, the beautiful pictures of Japan in my Tumblr dashboard are not helping my curtailed wanderlust…

I came across this graph comparing the “freedom” of travelers from different countries. It’s quite intriguing how aside from Japan and South Korea, there is a disparity in the number of “visa-free countries” between the West and the Asian/Middle Eastern nations. Perhaps there is a correlation between the government, culture, and the tendency for people to travel?

Though I can’t trek around the world just yet, I can still share with you some places my traveling self would want to go. Plus, some of my fellow bloggers basically live out of a suitcase, so I’m sure they’d be happy to offer stories of their adventures. Be on the lookout for beautiful pictures of Asia on the PAR soon! :)

- Jenny

SMTown LA 2012 – Hit or Miss?

by Cynthia

Girls’ Generation at SMTOWN LA 2012

Earlier I wrote a post about SMTown Los Angeles 2012 at the Anaheim Center, and how skeptical I was of the whole affair, with its obscenely high prices and the last-minute notification of the concert. Well, despite my friends’ raving reviews of the concerts, it looks like I had a right to be skeptical. As much as I don’t want to taint anyone’s memory of the event, when comparing this concert to previous SMTowns, it seems to me that SMTown LA-goers got shafted, and here’s why:

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Illegal access to foreign media on the rise in N. Korea [link] ›

North Korea has always been portrayed to me as an uncanny real-life version of Orwell’s 1984. According to this BCC documentary, each family has a state radio in the kitchen, and while the volume can be lowered, they can never be turned off. Portraits of the Kim family, the leaders glorified as deities that brought peace and freedom to the people, are also found everywhere. Regardless of how “Western” these views are, or how oppressive the country may be, it is true that people around the world are curious about the secret lives of North Koreans: their daily lives, beliefs, and most importantly, are they truly—as what the government claims—the happiest people on earth? Are they aware of the different lifestyles that exist outside their borders?

Perhaps they are. Recent studies show that foreign sources—such as music, news, and entertainment—have become more accessible to North Koreans; they are no longer only reserved for the top officials. The study written by Nat Kretchun and Jane Kim highlights some of the changes to the country: ”As the information environment opens, the North Korean government no longer maintains a total monopoly over the information available to the population and, as a result, North Koreans’ understanding of the world is changing.”

I think it is comforting and encouraging that more and more people are finding ways out of the government-controlled information vacuum. Testimonies like this lead me to believe that while it may take time for North Korea to overcome totalitarianism, there is always hope, because lives are improving as we speak: 

At first I watched outside media purely out of curiosity. However, as time went by, I began to believe in the contents. It was an addictive experience. Once you start watching, you simply cannot stop. 

– 27, Female, Yanggangdo, Left NK January 2010

Thanks for reading!

- Jenny

Blackface in Korea

by Cynthia

I don’t often bring up my racial identity, but let it be known that I am a black k-pop fan. And as a Korean pop fan, I’ve been exposed to some Korean media—I’ve watched a bunch of variety shows, talk shows, interviews, and even a drama or two. A few weeks ago, one of these variety shows got into a bit of a scandal due to one of its skits, which featured two Koreans performing in blackface and a laughing live audience.

And let me tell you, as a black k-pop fan, I was not amused.

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Watch Your Back, Bieber: The Boy Band Is Making a Comeback [link] ›

South Korean boyband Big Bang

"The boys are back!" the Internet cried, reinstating the relevance of all-male pop groups. Women have had a strong run dominating the Top 40 pop charts, no doubt, but thanks to some international imports, we may be about to hear a lot more harmonizing than we have in the last few years.

Korean pop and One Direction meet again! This time, in a Time magazine article that talks about the rise of the boyband. The boyband addict in me may or may not be fangirling right now at the thought of Big Bang and One Direction being mentioned in the same news article. Talk about fandom clash.

- Cynthia

SMTown L.A. 2012

by Cynthia

One of the biggest Korean pop labels called SM Entertainment (often referred to as “SM”) recently released news that it was going on another “SMTown World Tour” in 2012, the first stop being Los Angeles. Excitement ensued, until the prices were released.

For those who don’t know, SMTown concerts are concerts featuring all the major artists under SM Entertainment. The past line-up has included the groups Super Junior, Girls Generation, DBSK, SHINee, F(x) and the soloists Kangta and BoA. Considering that Kpop concerts in the U.S., especially of this scale, are extremely new and rare occurrences (there have only ever been two SMTown concerts in the U.S., the first occurring in 2010), having an SMTown here is kind of a big deal.

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Eat Drink Man Woman

by Kathy Sun

Chef Chu (Sihung Lung) and his daughter Jia-chien (Jacqueline Chien-lien Wu) share an intimate moment.

[Film Review]

Last summer, whilst in the middle of a foreign film binge, I promised Jenny that we would watch Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman together. 

We never did. I decided to ‘preview’ of the film before our scheduled screening, only to unintentionally watch the entire film in one gulp.

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'Hallyu' back: Obama catches the 'Korean Wave' ›

REPORTING FROM SEOUL — On his third visit to South Korea, President Obama seems to have caught the “Korean Wave.”

The term for the surge and spread of Korean pop culture — “hallyu” in Korean — popped up in the president’s speech on Monday, along with a sprinkle of other in-the-know references intended to show he could hang with the kids of Hankuk University, the audience for his otherwise policy-heavy speech. Before launching into a review of his nuclear weapons policy, Obama name-checked South Korea’s hugely popular social networking sites — Me2Day and Kakao Talk, the latter claiming to transmit 1 billion messages daily. He praised the young Koreans’ optimism and promise — and tech savvy.

“It’s no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean Wave — hallyu,” Obama said, in one of his biggest applause lines.

My president mentioned Hallyu. I’m only slightly freaking out (in a good way).

- Cynthia