We’ve digested the albums, films, sporting events and books of the year, and reviewed some of the memorable stories of 2010 in our Quiz of the Year. Here are some of the other things we noted in 2010 which didn’t quite make it into any of those articles.
2010: a year of anniversaries
- It was 100 years since the annexation of Korea by Japan. A heartfelt apology from Japan’s PM ensued, and promises to return some of the Choson dynasty records but there were nevertheless complaints from some quarters that no mention was made of the comfort women or the illegality of annexation treaty. Korean scholars, for their part, claimed the treaty of annexation was invalid. The DPRK got sore that they were not included in the Japanese apology.
- It was 60 years since the start of the Korean War. Retired General Paik Sun-yup, chief of staff of ROK forces during the war, marked the occasion with a series of articles in the JoongAng Ilbo. And 60 years on, the DPRK kept reminding us that the war is not over yet.
- 10 years of UK-DPRK diplomatic relations were marked with football-related events.
The Cultural Year and Brand Korea
- It was the year that Korea chaired the G20, with the big November summit in Seoul giving the opportunity to show of some of their top cultural assets at a reception in the National Museum, and Seoul’s royal palaces stayed open late in the evening for the visitors.
- Korea’s first Grand Prix event was held in Yeongam.
- Seoul was World Design City for the year, an honour which brings with it a design legacy for the future. In Seoul’s case the next physical manifestation of this will be the completion of Zaha Hadid’s Design Plaza in 2011.
- Seoul City has won a gold medal in the 2010 International Design Excellence Awards for design strategy and environment.
- Incheon Airport maintained its world-beating ranking, though Singapore’s Changgi Airport edged it out of #1 slot, but its Korean Air lounge received an award for being the best in Asia.
- It looked like France was going to send back the Uigwe.
- Hahoe and Yangdong achieved UNESCO World Heritage status. “Founded in the 14th-15th centuries, Hahoe and Yangdong are seen as the two most representative historic clan villages in the Republic of Korea”. The pastime of Maesanyang (falcon hunting) along with gagok (lyrical songs) and daemokjang (wooden architectural craftsmanship) were included in UNESCO’s intangible world heritage list
- Sancheong County in Gyeongsangnam-do won the competition to stage an international medicinal herb festival in 2013, honouring the county’s association with famous Joseon dynasty doctor Heo Jun.
- Overall, not a stand-out year, with Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry being one of the few to deserve much attention (as well as the best screenplay award at Cannes), though Hong Sang-soo continued his successful art-house run with HaHaHa. Jung Sung-il’s Café Noir had a respectable showing at the Rotterdam festival. The most talked about film of the year was Kim Ji-woon’s disappointing I Saw the Devil. Bring umbrellas, said Choi Min-sik, referring to the blood-spattered gorefest which served as his comeback vehicle.
- Largely unnoticed, Im Kwon-taek presented his 101st film, Scooping up the Moonlight, which celebrates traditional Korean paper. It’s a shame that only 70 of his films survive.
- Studio Meditation With Pencil produced a charming animation, Green Days, which premiered in London and hopefully points to a bright future for feature length Korean animation. But the South Korean animation industry in general was incensed when British graffiti artist Banksy rehearsed some outmoded clichés in his Simpsons title sequence.
- Global film projects failed to make much impression: the unfortunately named Jang Dong-gun vehicle Laundry Warrior (sensibly renamed Warrior’s Way) did nothing at the box office. Song Hye-kyo’s Fetish disappeared without trace. Also sunk without trace is Kim Ki-duk, who was found to be nursing his wounds in Paju. But Rain and Lee Byung-hun got noticed in Hollywood for Ninja Assassin and GI Joe, and we’re all looking forward to Shim Hyung-rae’s Last Godfather.
- BoA’s success in Japan was emulated by the current generation of girl bands such as Girls Generation and Kara, bringing stories that Korean Culture was invading Japan, a century after annexation, with pop stars replacing weepy dramas as the main export.
- The Wonder Girls continued their efforts in the US, with Nobody a top-selling single for two years running, though as a result their profile declined somewhat at home.
- Other commercial bands targeted China, with f(x) and Miss A continuing a trend of K-pop bands incorporating a Chinese member
- The industry was criticised for making the girl bands wear clothes that are too skimpy, and management companies were accused of forging contract amendments. In addition, underage stars were said to suffer mistreatment, and slave contracts were declared invalid, SM Entertainment being singled out.
- Stories of young female stars being forced to provide escort services to industry bigwigs refused to go away, with Taiwanese actress Estrella Lin spilling the beans. Sadly she later attempted suicide. One statistic claimed that 60% of actresses had been propositioned. The practice is not unique to the South – at least a few years ago North Korean actresses also had to excel on the casting couch.
- But some girl bands were determined to behave responsibly: 2NE1 were tapped to promote law and order, Girls’ Generation were analysed as a model for Korean business and said they were determined to tackle entertainment industry sleaze, while T-ara decided to give 20 million Won to the National Defence fund.
- It was Kim Yu-na’s year, and the ladies’ U-17 female football team won the world cup. In the golfing arena, Korea’s female golfers such as Seo Hee-kyung had success at the LPGA.
- Another high profile character this year was Oh Eun-sun. In a race to become the first woman climb all the world’s peaks over 8,000 metres, in which she was neck and neck with Spaniard Edurne Pasaban, there were doubts that she made it to the top of Kanchenchunga. In the end the Spaniard claimed the throne.
- It was revealed that Korean women apply more potions and cosmetics to their faces than anyone else – a total of more than 25 creams and cosmetics at any one time, compared with 20-25 in Japan and more than double the amount used by American or European women.
- Domestic potions such as Vidi Vici and Sulwhasoo are there to meet the demand, and are catching the attention of foreigners as well – style guru Tyler Brulé swears by the latter. It was revealed that Korea’s cosmetic imports were likely to have a record year. Nevertheless, Korean women’s taste for foreign brands led to a record cosmetics trade deficit.
- Song Hye-kyo was ranked #18 in the list of the world’s 100 most beautiful faces, and was the most popular plastic surgery template in Korea.
Business & Technology
- With the US-ROK FTA still not signed off, the EU sneaked in first, the only last minute concession being to Italian automakers. Maybe one day the US treaty will finally get passed.
- In a rather retrograde step, Christian activists blocked the development of Islamic finance in Korea
- There were corporate governance scandals at Shinhan group
- Lee Kun-hee was released from jail and returned to his desk at Samsung. He was meant to spearhead Pyeongchang’s Winter Olympics 2018 campaign, but he also set about reviewing Samsung’s strategy, expressing a need for new revenue streams.
- While Toyota was humbled in the US, Hyundai took full advantage. But nevertheless Kia suffered from a limited product recall.
- The KIKO affair rumbled on, with 9 banks lined up to suffer penalties.
- KNOC completed its acquisition of the UK’s Dana Petroleum
- The iPhone was finally released in the ROK after long delays and sold like hot cakes, but the delay allowed Samsung to ready itself with the Galaxy S which now outsells the Apple. Later in the year, the Samsung tablet stole a march on the iPad.
- KAIST’s road-embedded recharger was named among the Best Inventions of 2010.
- The KEB / Lone Star saga looked like it was coming to an end, with Hana Bank emerging as the 4.7 trillion Won buyer for KEB. Now comes the problem of funding the acquisition, with China and private equity funds being potential sources.
- Korea’s first undersea tunnel, together with Geoga Grand Bridge bridge, was opened, linking Busan to Geoje Island.
- The Four Rivers project gave rise to a suicide by a protesting Buddhist monk
- The potential use for Sejong City didn’t seem to get any clearer
- The Gwanghwamun was restored to its former glory and original position.
- Fashion designer Andre Kim
- Actor and singer Choi Jin-young and actor Park Yong-ha – both suicides
- Actor, singer and dancer Twist Kim, star of the 1964 film Barefoot Youth
- Marriage of the year was Jang Dong-gun and Ko So-young
- Lost star Kim Yun-jin
- East of Eden actress Han Ji-hye
- Queen of ballads Lee Soo-young
- But what would have been the celebrity relationship of the decade – Rain and Jeon Ji-hyun – was a figment of Sports Seoul’s imagination.
- To Ko So-young, a baby boy.
- Wake Up and Laugh, a gentle Buddhist blog, and the self-explanatory photoblog Kim Jong-il Looking at Things were newcomers of note. Nanoomi began to make itself felt as a blog aggregator as did the KTO’s aggregator “The Buzz”
- The Marmot started up his excellent photo blog, while over at KTLit.com Charles Montgomery really got going this year, and he is to be commended for his new Korean authors Wikipedia project. Hiexpat.com was launched early in the year.
- The unstoppable K-pop blogs reached saturation point, dishing up the celebrity chat that people seem to love: PopSeoul’s revenues now support the $2,500 a month luxury of VIP hosting at WordPress, while All K-pop had the scoop of the year: Suju’s Lee Teuk had a blister on his big toe.
- Thankfully, there’s more grown-up music-related content available, led by sites such as Indieful RoK. In 2010 Dave Candler burst onto the scene with his Korean Homesick Blues podcast. LKL interviewed him here.
Food & Drink
- The price of Kimchi cabbages reached record highs
- The campaign for Korean food continued, with plans unveiled for a new government-sponsored restaurant in New York
- Makgeolli continued to ride its wave of popularity, with one brand winning a Global Food Industry Award in South Africa. Pocheon makgeolli was registered as a trademark – in Tokyo.
- Cambodia started to ban marriages to Koreans, while Koreans seeking to marry mail order were sent to charm school.
- A mentally unstable man in Busan murdered his Vietnamese bride, while a Mongolian woman was killed by the husband of her friend. But not all foreign brides have unhappy experiences, the Korea Times interviewing a Filippina who has settled happily in Korea.
- Good news for vulnerable brides though: a court ruled that resting your chin in your hand is not grounds for divorce.
Irresponsible netizens and online gamers
- A youth hooked on e-games killed his mother, then himself, and a real-life baby died of starvation while her parents raised a virtual child in an online game. The government took steps to impose a night-time curfew for teenage gamers.
- With Korean netizens showing themselves too willing to accept what they read on the internet as gospel, there were concerns about sloppy amateur online sleuths. Controversies this year were Rude Girl in Incheon, the actress with bad attitude (unmasked as Lee Mi-yeon by netizens) and the netizen campaign to discredit Epik High’s Tablo.
- “Sunfull”, an anti cyber-bullying campaign, was launched.
- The DPRK continued with its predictably unpredictable attention-seeking acts. LMB found that 26% of South Koreans doubted that Pyongyang sunk the Cheonan. But the shelling of Yeongpyeong left less doubt in people’s minds, with the authorities being criticised for a lacklustre reponse.
- The year started with the economy reeling from the botched currency reform. The official responsible met an early end – a public execution.
Members of the party old guard dropped like flies, with one suspiciously killed in a car crash – presumably NOT a collision with another car.
- Kim Jong-un ended months of speculation among DPRK-watchers by emerging as leader in waiting, and was rumoured to have had plastic surgery to look more like his granddaddy. For those getting deep into the tea-leaves, “Computer Numerical Control” and “Party Centre” were thought to be code words for the new dauphin.
- The economy continued to be dire and Kim Jong-il suddenly got religion about it. Some of the unnecessary expenses to be cut were mosquito killing – who cares after all if malaria spreads south of the border? Sure enough, malaria rates went up in the south.
- Apart from flogging military technology abroad, the DPRK earns revenues by making designer jeans, developing video games and from running restaurants in destinations popular with South Korean tourists. Waitressing at such establishments is said to be a dream job for well-bred young North Korean girls. But after the Cheonan and Yeongpyeong incidents a lot of that revenue dried up
- But following up another revenue source, the DPRK entered into a partnership with Vietnam to develop silk manufacturing.
- Puerto Rico won the award for the legal judgement least likely to be enforced, fining the DPRK $300 million for supporting terror attacks in Israel in 1972. If they don’t pay their London parking tickets, and want to pay their debts to the Czeck republic with Ginseng, and asked Hungary to write off 90% of their debt they’re not likely to pay up for a 38-year old offense.
- Ex President Jimmy Carter arrived in Pyongyang to seek the release of yet another foolish American border-crosser, just as Kim Jong-il headed off to Peking.
- As Kim Jong-il’s reign nears its conclusion, his first statue was unveiled.
- Wikileaks disclosed that China was not averse to reunification, but just as you thought the panda was turning warm and cuddly, China’s next leader Xi Jinping came out hailing the Korean War as ‘Great and Just‘
- DPRK refugees continued to cross the border and end up in Seoul, some of them ending up in the UK and Norway. The British Council in Seoul was reported to be helping coach refugees in English. A sinister refugee hunter was arrested in Seoul, amid ongoing awareness that defectors struggle to succeed in the south.
- On a positive note, the DPRK sent some of their socialist realist art to a big show in Vienna, and we learned that North Koreans are just like the rest of us: when not reading the great thoughts of Kim Il-sung they like nothing better than to tuck into Western texts for the enlightenment of the masses: the great thoughts of Dan Brown.
- Not to be outdone by the huge barrage at Saemangeum in Jeollabuk-do, the DPRK completed its own land reclamation project further up the West Sea Coast at Taegyedo, Pyeonganbuk-do
In the tradition of those jokey items which traditionally round off the main evening news, in 2010 we heard about: