North Korean Defector says Soap Opera encouraged him to break for freedom

Whilst South Korean soap operas have long drawn a wide fan base for their excellent production values and superb acting, not too mention beautiful actors, no one watching them could guess that they might one day foment the overthrow of a government.

There’s a saying that the Revolution will be televised. But in the case of Jan Se-Gul, it was watching the 2008 K-Drama “Scent of a Man” that led him to leave North Korea and defect to non-communist South Korea.a

Se-Gul led a relatively prosperous life in the country. As a university professor he could sit in a different seats in restaurants and trains. But he couldn’t resist watching the illicit TV episodes, even though to watch such material carries harsh penalties. Mr Jang and five other professors watched the show until dawn. They were careful to pull the curtains to escape the watching eyes of neighbours who are trained to catch their fellow citizens. But they were caught anyway and demoted to work in a labour camp.

It was watching the drama that made Mr Jang aware of the comforts of life in South Korea, and he decided to defect. He is now head of a defectors group that sends soap operas to the North to empower people to bring an end to the authoritarian rule of the Kim Dynasty.

Jang Se-yul risked his career to watch Korean soap operas. He now sends dvds from across the border to encourage North Koreans to bring down the regime.
Jang Se-yul risked his career to watch Korean soap operas. He now sends DVDs from across the border to encourage North Koreans to bring down the regime.

The leader has issued increasingly strong warnings and there has been a severe crackdown on smugglers. Even so, the infiltration of South Korean culture, its music, TV and films is clearly having an effect north of the border. Its harder and harder for Kim Jong-un to rail against capitalism when life as shown on soaps is so much more civilised.

For some North Koreans, the emotional power of watching the soaps has been powerful enough to change their lives, forever.

Kim Seung-hee is one. She watched her first drama “Stairway to the Heaven” after soldiers who asked to use her home for warching, and was hooked immediately. She felt that Korean men as depicted in the dramas were much kinder and considerate towards women. It made her yearn for South Korea, dreaming of meeting such a man.

It’s testament to the oft-quoted Korean wave that has been sweeping the world and another example of soft power, that allows states to influence other nations through their culture rather than using other, often aggressive, means of demonstrating their nationality.

Source: International New York Times.

The Sun Journalist trial

As the jury reach their verdict, it’s worth reflecting on the trial so far.

The six men on trial for conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office worked under the editorship of Rebekah Wade.

It was during this period that The Sun and the News of the World was hacking into the voicemail messages of celebrities and most notoriously the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowling.

The sordid business of phone hacking was dealt with in a long trial that saw Brooks being let off without charge (an astonishing result) and  Andy Coulson, who had been editor of the News of the World was sent to prison after he was found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemails.

The trial garnered lengthy press coverage as would be expected, and involved everyone in the upper echelons. To his embarrassment, many personal emails that were sent between Brooks and David Cameron were read out in court, and questions were asked about the PM’s lack of knowledge as to Coulson’s suitability for post as communications.

The trial of the Sun journalists concerns a similar time frame to the period of the phone hacking. A key story was the Soham murders. A backhander was paid to a police officer in the county where the girl’s were murdered.

When the journalists were giving evidence in court, they returned time and time again to the understanding that what they were doing was in the public interest. Much of what they printed was true, and whether they got their stories from legitimate sources or from public officials was not important.

The trial has not been widely reported, although occasional reports surfaced from time to time in the Guardian. The press Gazette have covered the trial widely.

As to the journalists, two have already been found not guilty. Photo editor John Edwards and local reporter walked free from Kingston Crown Court on Friday afternoon, the jury having spent a week deliberating. That left Chris Pharo, Jamie Pyatt, Ben O’Driscoll and Graham Dudman waiting until Monday to hear whether they were guilty or not.

You can  be sure I will be writing more when the verdict drops.

Not all Chinese women have plastic surgery…..

It appears that some people were offended by my earlier article which seemed to give a very one-sided view of Chinese women seeking plastic surgery.

The following is a list of some very beautiful and successful Chinese ladies who definitely don’t require surgical enhancements to improve their natural good looks.

Gong Li. Her IMDB bio lists 30 credits. among them are classics of fifth generation cinema such as Raise the Red Lantern and Red Sorgum.
Gong Li. Her IMDB bio lists 30 credits. Among them are classics of Fifth Generation cinema such as Raise the Red Lantern and Red Sorgum.
Maggie Cheung has featured in several Hing Kong classics such as In The Mood For Love and 2046.
Maggie Cheung has featured in several Hong Kong classics such as In The Mood For Love and 2046.
Yuja Wang is the female counterpart to Yang Yang. Her piano work is technically astonishing and contains an incredible depth of feeling.
Yuja Wang is the female counterpart to Lang Lang. Her piano work is technically astonishing and contains an incredible depth of feeling.

Wealthy Chinese tourists travel to South Korea for more than a holiday

A recent report in the International New York Times explored the increase in Chinese tourists who are taking vacations to Seoul and undergoing extensive plastic surgery. It seems that for many wealthy Chinese visitors to the Korean capital, no visit is complete without expensive designer handbags and a nip and tuck from a plastic surgery clinic.

In the article, Liu Liping wanted to have her jaw broken and restructured to get a V-shaped face. The doctor removed several millimetres of bone from her chin and cheekbones.

It seems that many Chinese women are so self-conscious about their faces that they are prepared to undergo such drastic operations to get more Western style faces. The traditional image of Chinese beauty is the wide face with large cheekbones, a much rounder face than what is considered beautiful in western countries.

Cosmetic surgery, pervasive in South Korea, is now the must-do activity for many Chinese visitors.

Seizing the opportunity to tap in to the growing demand for plastic surgery, South Korea’s government is promoting the country as a place to shop, eat, stay and perhaps undergo plastic surgery.

Some of the facial modifications undergone by Chinese women are relatively minor, such as double-eyelid surgery. The procedure is so common in South Korea that parents often give it to their children in return for getting good marks in high school exams.

The South Korean government is setting aside as much as $4 million a year to help promote the medical tourism industry, which is dominated by plastic surgeons.

Tour operators sell travel deals that include shopping, sightseeing and plastic surgery.

While prices for plastic surgery vary, a basic double eyelid surgery can cost more than $900.

Popular culture has had an influence. South Korean television shows and movies are wildly successful in China. Patients often bring magazine photos with them to their consultations.

During her trip, Ms Liu planned to see the sights featured in her favourite Korean television show, “My Love from the Star.” She bought clothes like those worn by the show’s female star, Jeon Ji-Hyun.

The popular South Korean actress Jun Ji Hyun is the inspiration for many young Chinese women seeking surgery.
The popular South Korean actress Jun Ji Hyun is the inspiration for many young Chinese women seeking surgery.

South Korea has the highest rate of cosmetic surgery per capita of any country in the world. Seoul Touchup, a government-approved medical agency, states in its marketing materials that “Korean women are arguably more objectified than their male counterparts than any other women in the world.”

Some Korean doctors are starting to voice concern. The demand has spawned unlicensed hospitals, brokers and unqualified doctors, said Dr Cha of the association .

The procedures that many Chinese tourists undergo come with the highest rate of complications. One recent patient booked a series of surgeries – double jaw, facial contour, nose job, double eyelid, liposuction and a fat graft.

One of the most popular procedures is facial contouring, which involves altering the shape of the face by shaving and removing bone from the cheeks, jaw and chin.

Personally, I think that Chinese women who pursue this surgery have gone way overboard. Such cosmetic operations remove the facial distinctiveness that separate a characteristically Chinese face from say, a Korean one. It seems that the Chinese woman in the article see things differently:

“Many of my friends have gone under the knife,” she added. “Since my friends have become more beautiful, I think I should become more beautiful.”

Agassi Hair in New Malden

I used to find that having my hair cut was a bit of a nightmare.

That was until I started going to Agassi in New Malden, and everything changed.

I used to try and get the cheapest haircut possible. I would estimate I have probably had about 200 different haircuts.

Typically they would be in the kind of barber shops where some old bloke starts hacking away at you with a pair of clippers, takes ten minutes to do so, then asks you for £15. I suppose those places are where most men would get their hair done without thinking too much. And I would agree that you can get a serviceable haircut. But you don’t get anything more.

Personally I like to have my hair washed before it’s cut. I feel like its not really clean until someone has thoroughly shampooed it. I love to have my hair washed in this way and I find it very relaxing. If I ever get the money I will install one of those sinks which you tilt your head back into so that I can get my hair washed in this way all the time.

They like to wash your hair twice at Agassi. The first time they did this I said I didn’t need my hair washed twice but the stylist was insistent. They do it towards the end of cutting your hair so that your hair is squeaky clean by the time you leave. They also give you a head massage that is very invigorating and feels as though your skin is being lifted from your scalp. You lean your head back and let the shampooist’s hand take the weight of your head in your hands.


Another very good thing about Agassi is that nearly all the stylists are Korean. So you won’t need to make any annoying small talk. The amount of banal rubbish you hear in most hair salons! Its particularly awkward when you step in to a salon for the first time becuase you feel that you should ingratiate yourself to the stylist by talking to them on their level. Often this is a case of thinking about what they might be interested and tailoring your conversation accordingly. So in most salons that would mean talking about TOWIE, Celebrity Big Brother or whatever annoying shit people watch these days.

But at Agassi tehre’s no need to do this because unless you’re Korean the stylist won’t speak any English anyway. SO you can relax, sip coffee and read the newspaper whilst she delicately snips away.

I should say that its not cheap, with a men’s cut costing £25. But most good things aren’t cheap. I would strongly urge anyone in New Malden to try Agassi for their next cut or style.

Agassi Hair, 61 High St, New Malden