Make politics environment-friendly: dealing with street banners
The SNU Quill Editorial Team
The general election is over, leaving winners and losers, but also loads of wasted street banners. These banners are highly effective media to get messages across to us; with their striking colors and fonts printed on large pieces of hard-wearing synthetic fabric, hardly anyone can fail to recognize them. For a couple of weeks, the streets have been inundated with these banners, promoting politicians’ campaign promises. Even after the election, politicians have more banners hung to express their gratitude for being elected or to apologize for falling short of our expectations. The voices of politicians do need to be heard by us, as it is our duty to vote for them and to contribute to the actuality of our democracy. However, it is questionable whether the rampant use of banners should be allowed to continue for this cause. The streets are flooded with excessive amounts of banners, which degenerate the city environment in the following ways. First, they compromise the street view and the city experience. High-frequency advertising through banners does help messages stick in our minds, but it is often too aggressive. The conspicuous colors and substantial sizes of banners hold us back from enjoying the harmonious view of the cityscape. Plus, they’re like repetitive online advertisements that we can’t even skip: we are likely to become fatigued by the bombardment of information we didn’t even ask for. A simple walk down the street thereby becomes more and more overwhelming. Moreover, it’s been pointed out that the banners pose a potential threat to our safety. As huge panels tied around trees or fences are meant to occupy street space, some block pedestrians’ sight and hinder drivers from properly reading what’s happening on the road. This has led to inconveniences and even injuries. Last but not least, these banners contaminate the ecosystem. They are made out of polyester, and most of them are buried or burnt after their one-time use. It takes more than a century or two for banners to disintegrate, and during the process, they leave microplastics behind. When burnt, they emit toxic fumes. Despite the critical implications on the environment, the number of wasted banners in previous general elections has escalated from 13,980 in 2016 to 30,580 in 2020 and is projected to be even higher this year. The national assembly has acknowledged the problem and has made some efforts to reduce the amount of political banners. The amendment of the Outdoor Advertisement Act went into force this January, making progress in stipulating where to allow and where to ban banners, as well as the number of banners that may be used per party. However, while this amendment caps the number of banners issued by political parties, it doesn’t restrain an individual politician from hanging banners of their own. With this loophole, there could still be a flood of banners produced by individual politicians filling in for their parties. We might have to go through another holiday with banners hung over every corner, saying nothing more than “Enjoy your Chuseok” or “Happy New Year,” so that politicians may give off a friendly impression. We should not risk environmental hazards so politicians may serve their own interests in gaining recognition. More serious change is needed in the current unsustainable use of banners in politics. Then, what can be done in the future to preserve the environment while maintaining the integrity of our democratic practices? Clearly, the usage of banners must be reduced. This could mainly be done by passing legislation that encourages politicians to use other media to promote their political messages. Replacing banners with online promotions could be a good alternative, as online promotions don’t take up physical space. They wouldn’t be an eyesore or create blind zones, and this would help us reduce plastic waste. If so, why don’t we replace all physical banners with digitized ones? Turns out, physical banners do have qualities that make them hard to substitute. They’re affordable, easily recognizable, and are accessible to nearly everyone. However, even if banners are a necessity, there should still be supplementary measures aside from just reducing the number of them produced for political use. It is possible that we make banners out of eco-friendly material. Starting this year, Gimhae, a city in Gyeongnam province, is producing banners for the local government using eco-friendly fabrics, such as biodegradable polyester and a grain-based textile. Both kinds of fabrics decompose in landfills within 3 years, making substantial progress from ordinary polyester’s centuries-long degradation and its harmful byproducts. There is also a way to upcycle banners. Upcycling refers to reusing trash to make something of higher value. Starting from 2021, Yecheon in Gyeongbuk province, has made sacks out of political banners. Not only is this an achievement for the local sustainability initiatives, but it has also helped the local government to save its budget for disposing of the banners and purchasing sacks. There’s also a project called “Vote for Earth” to turn the election banners into windbreakers, making the best out of the sturdy polyester. With our endless creativity, upcycling could certainly go a long way. Cutting back on banners is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed for the sake of our daily lives and that of future generations. Political practices, above everything, need to be environmentally sustainable; they’re supposed to protect the people and secure their well-being in the world. For a sustainable democracy, we will have to go step by step, first by publicly discussing and addressing the liability of political banners.
Korea’s forgotten community — The overseas Chinese in Korea
Wei Chen Low
South Korea’s rapid modernization and progressive transition into a globalized country has led to a greater inflow of immigrant groups in the past few decades. Among these immigrant communities residing in Korea, there is a community that is worth attention as they have been residing in this nation for more than a century and comprise an important part of Korea’s modern history. However, their existence and story are gradually receding from people’s memories under the inevitable torrent of time. Today, we unveil the story of the Overseas Chinese. When it comes to the Chinese community in South Korea, popular menu items like jjajangmyeon , tangsuyuk, and jjamppong, commonly seen in local Korean-Chinese restaurants, will first come to mind. Today, these long-time favorite dishes are undoubtedly a part of Korean culture. The early Chinese communities who brought in these dishes are known as the Old Overseas Chinese (OOC). This community differs from the new Chinese communities that emerged after the opening of the Chinese mainland under Communist rule a few decades ago. Most of us are familiar with the new wave of Chinese food such as malatang, tanghulu, and the lamb skewer. This group of new Chinese immigrants where Korean-Chinese are the majority is then called the New Overseas Chinese (NOC). Despite the intrinsic differences in their backgrounds and national identities, many remain unaware of their distinctions. According to Chang, secretary of the Seoul Chinese Residents Association, one of the largest OOC associations in Korea, many young Koreans now do not recognize the difference between the OOC and the NOC; instead, they are both treated universally as just Chinese, despite their distinct origins. The OCC community moved to the Korean peninsula during the late 19th century and around the mid-20th century due to the political turmoil and wars that engulfed China. Many of the Chinese were forced to leave their homelands, especially in response to the Chinese Civil War right after the end of the Second World War. Although the OOC had moved to the Korean peninsula from China for a more peaceful life, they found themselves suffering from several events that challenged their survival. For instance, in 1931, the Wanpaoshan Incident, a minor dispute between Korean and Chinese farmers during the Japanese colonization, was falsely reported to the public, stimulating anti-Chinese riots that injured and killed many of the OOC. Additionally, the implementation of the Foreigners’ Land Act in 1961 which significantly affected the OOC’s possession of lands in Korea, caused many to convert their realty business to Chinese cuisine restaurants. Moreover, the OOC have been facing plights concerning their national identity. This originated from the Chinese Civil War between the Nationalist Party (or officially, the Republic of China or simply the ROC) and the Chinese Communist Party. The former later managed to retain Taiwan and a few islands along the Chinese mainland while the latter established a new regime, the People’s of Republic of China in 1949. This is the major cause of the current split across the Taiwan Strait. As the OOC immigrated to South Korea in the very early days, or during the period of wartime, most of them still retain the passport and national identity of the ROC. It is not difficult to understand the awkward situation of the OOC, especially regarding which nationality of Chinese they are supposed to align themselves with, and this has only deepened after the South Korean government established official diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1992. The recent tension that has been forming between the people of South Korea and the new wave of Chinese from the mainland also intensified the already-complicated status of the OOC. This can be observed from a live YouTube broadcast of a public hearing held in May 2021, regarding the partial amendments of the Nationality Law, where one of the panelists came from the Chinese Residents Association. When the panelist was giving his speech, sinophobic comments like “just go back to China,” and “you must have received much money from China,” or simply comments that condemn the association’s name bombarded the stream. This shows that the public, especially these particular individuals, may be unaware of the difference between the two Chinese communities. This means that regardless of the political alignments of the OOC, they are viewed as a monolith and simply reduced to Chinese foreigners. The challenges do not come merely from their situation in Korea itself, but also from their motherland, the ROC or Taiwan. As the OOC community is mostly based in Korea, they do not have a typical Taiwanese household registration, which means their Taiwanese passport does not hold the same visa benefits as those residing in Taiwan. According to the law back in Taiwan, those who hold this kind of passport are required to apply for an entry permit in advance to enter Taiwan. In contrast, Korean citizens can visit Taiwan without a visa. This has caused a lot of inconvenience for the OOC community when it comes to the visa benefits of the Taiwanese passport and disadvantages for those who need to travel overseas, especially for work. Consequently, OOC job prospects in Korea are negatively affected. These collective issues eventually led to the further shrinkage of the community. Based on the information shared by Chang, there are only around 14,000 OOC currently residing in Korea with the ROC nationality. The ramifications of this change are that it has become more difficult to maintain OOC primary and secondary schools as the enrollment of students has decreased significantly. Chang said that this is an inevitable trend that the community cannot avoid. When asked about the current situation of the OOC, especially the younger generations, he also remarked that the naturalization process for OOC in Korea is becoming easier and that many of the youngsters have decided to pick up Korean citizenship rather than that of the ROC. At the same time, the social status of the younger generation OOC is improving compared to the previous generations, as those who choose to get naturalized have no issues with assimilating into the local Korean society. The hardships encountered by the OOC community can potentially be considered as a remnant of the past, as the younger generation is generally living in a much-improved environment. Nevertheless, understanding the story of the OOC is still valuable, as remembering and acknowledging past experiences and struggles is the basis for respecting the rights of smaller immigrant communities. Instead of only viewing the OOC as foreigners, it might be better to acknowledge their century-long contribution to Korean society. Perhaps, the next time you savor a bowl of jjajangmyeon, take a moment to slow down and consider that it is not merely a simple bowl of noodles. Instead, it represents the unique legacy of the OOC in Korea, highlighting how well they have integrated into the culture and community over time.
Sharenting: Are parents protecting or imperiling children?
Baek Ji-min
Last year, Korean actress Lee Si-young shared photos of her trip to Busan with her son on social media. She posted pictures of her going swimming and walking along the beach with her son. However, one particular photo that revealed the back of her son standing on the terrace without clothes attracted attention. Netizens who came across the image expressed concerns, urging her to remove the photo. Consequently, she decided to take down the post, sparking a broader discussion on the potential pitfalls of “sharenting,” where sharing positive moments with children on social media could inadvertently upset or harm them. Sharenting, a portmanteau of the words “sharing” and “parenting,” refers to the act of parents sharing photos and videos of their children on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. The rise of technology, especially social media, made recording and sharing easier for parents. As social media enabled parents to share their parenting experiences, it brought a new wave of parenting culture—the sharenting syndrome. In 2013, an article in The Guardian first coined this terminology, describing it as a common phenomenon on social media. We can easily notice that there are thousands of posts of children on Instagram with hashtags including #baby, #motherlove, and #sweetheart. Sharenting is not limited to social media creators or influencers. Like baby stars who have thousands and millions of followers, the growth of children within sharenting could be watched and tracked by anyone on social media. Newborn babies have their images uploaded to social media within an hour of their existence. The everyday life of a child, such as trips to the zoo, holidays, and school performances is displayed and shared online. According to a study by Parent Zone, conducted on behalf of Nominet, which polled 2000 people, 92 percent of infants have parents sharing nearly 1200 images of their child by their fifth birthday. Social media has effectively become the modern-day child photo album. Parents post their children’s pictures on social media because they can easily upload photos, earn information, and get emotional support. As parenting requires lots of information and advice, sharenting is a great source for parents and gives them a feeling of camaraderie as they nurture their children. Parents comment on each other, share information, and give advice about children-caring, worries, etc.. They can alleviate the feeling of social alienation due to child-rearing by communicating with fellow parents. Parents try to share the achievements of their children not only to communicate with others, but also to be supported and validated through the comments. Furthermore, parents share the moments of their children to document their growth, creating a timeline of the child to look back on. However, sharenting does not happen in that idealistic and positive way. The oversharing debate has raged on for a long time, especially when it comes to children. As parents share every moment and detail of their child’s life including toddler tantrums, bed-wetting problems, and awkward teen moments, these posts become “oversharenting.” Sharing photos on social media is far more public, which means there is no control over the images. The act of uploading a child’s photo could lead to more profound and even dangerous ramifications. The photos or videos shared online differ from those which are found in homes or casually placed in photo albums. The audience for these images extends beyond family, close relatives, or friends, rapidly expanding as they circulate online. Parents have numerous social media followers or viewers who they have never met before, unintentionally exposing children's pictures and videos to potential abusers online, including data brokers, hackers, and pedophiles. Parents have no way of knowing how far children’s pictures or videos can go and how they are used. According to the reports by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, half of the child sexual abuse photos were first posted by parents on social media. This summer in July 2023, Deutsche Telecom, one of the telecom companies in Germany, raised awareness for responsible handling of photos and data with a social experiment “A Message from Ella (fictional character)” for the campaign “ShareWithCare.” Through one photo shared online by Ella’s parents, researchers showed that it could create an adult deep fake model of 9-year-old Ella even with the voice of the adult Ella exquisitely incarnated by the videos. The researchers send out a warning that sharenting, considering the latest technologies, could leave children vulnerable to identity theft and fraud crimes. Concerns about the impact of children's privacy are being raised, as they can be exposed to serious crimes such as identity fraud through the parents’ actions. Experts from Barclays predicted that by 2030, two-thirds of identity theft cases will involve sharenting. Sharenting posts such as photos, videos, and captions lead to a high possibility of identifying a child’s home, frequent location, or any disclosure of essential information that could pose potential risks. A study conducted by Security ORG revealed that more than 80% of parents use their children’s real names when sharing pictures on social media. Cybercriminals can readily parse photos, figure out information, and steal the child’s identity. In the long term, digital content could leave permanent digital footprints of children. From the moment it is shared, anything posted online is almost impossible to completely erase, because anyone can access and disseminate the source. According to Futurism, by the age of two, more than 80 percent of children have digital footprints. Possible risks of digital footprints could involve online harassment and cyberbullying. Parents might have posted photos of children when they were little, but the photos can pop up later on, which leads to troll comments, criticism, bullying, and stalking. What parents share about their children online could leave potentially dangerous digital footprints that follow them for the rest of their lives. Every child has a right to make their own decisions for their images posted online. With sharenting, children do not have control over what their parents are posting or what descriptive words their parents are adding to the photos or videos. It would be important for the parent to ask for their children’s consent if they are old enough to understand social media and its ramifications. For instance, Gwyneth Paltrow posted a selfie of herself and her fourteen-year-old daughter Apple Martin on Instagram, one day in 2019. In the photo, Paltrow is smiling proudly and Apple is wearing a ski helmet with her face largely covered with goggles. Only Apple’s mouth could be seen in the selfie. After the post was uploaded, more than 150,000 people liked the picture. But Apple didn’t seem to like this post; she commented on this post, showing great discontent publicly. “Mom, we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.” Her mother replied, “You can’t even see your face!” Apple publicly criticized and reprimanded her mother for posting her picture. The Oscar-winning actress had upset her child by not asking for permission. Children who are younger than Apple often have no voice to speak out against the images posted by their parents. Parents should be more careful about the pervasive nature of social media and be aware of uploading anything that contains true information, like real names, birthdays, and places they frequent. Instead, they should use nicknames or other descriptive phrases. Some countries have legal systems that provide children the right to their own images. Recently, the French parliament introduced strict laws, which means parents could face fines and even jail sentences if they post photos that violate children’s privacy. According to a statement from the Personal Information Protection Commission made in April 2023, people under 24 in South Korea now have the option to delete digital information created when they were minors. With the aid of the government, concrete steps to address sharenting concerns could provide support for children, assuring their “right to erasure” or “right to be forgotten.” There is still considerable complexity surrounding children's rights to online privacy and the parental role in sharing within that context. Parents, as guardians of their children, are regarded as gatekeepers of their kids' information, including matters of cybersecurity. They are the primary figures children rely on and trust the most. Parents are best positioned to determine whether certain information can be shared or not. While children may not always agree with their parents' decisions, in many cases, they may be too young to express their own thoughts and feelings. Since children are not technically allowed to join social media services until they are 13, their lives are shared through a parent's account or through their own account created by their parents. Parents are responsible for protecting and managing the digital footprint of their children. They must be careful, as sharenting can lead to unconscious, undefined consequences for the child. Communicating and trying their best to understand the voices of children is important for parents. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, used emojis to cover his children’s faces. As such, rearranging privacy settings and using blurry faces or emojis, could also be considered as a means to protect children’s privacy. Another example of parents who chose to protect their child’s privacy in the midst of sharenting is the Korean YouTube duo Real Couple. Over the years, these parents had regularly shared videos capturing their baby's precious moments, presenting a seemingly positive side of sharenting by spreading joy to their subscribers. The father even noted that engaging in sharenting had motivated him to become a better parent, prompting him to step out of his comfort zone and partake in diverse outdoor activities with his child. However, the couple recently revealed their decision to discontinue their channel. They noticed that their baby had become aware of the camera and began altering her behavior consciously. Out of concern that sharenting would negatively affect the child, the parents made the protective decision to stop sharing frequent videos of her life. While there may not be a perfect solution, the increasing social interest in sharenting could create an online co-parenting community, displaying the sentiment of the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” This means that parents, friends, neighbors, and even local communities could work together for one child’s well-rounded growth, especially in the online realm, where their collective vigilance could safeguard the child. In the ever-evolving environment of social media, where anyone can access posted photos, parents could protect each other’s children from potential danger through mutual monitoring like the platform users did for Lee Si-young. As sharenting arises as a pressing issue, and as the first generation of children grown within the Web 2.0 social media era currently reach their pre-teen years, ongoing social discussions will be essential. Initiatives such as the “ShareWithCare” social campaigns would help raise awareness of the issue, and governmental support such as education could help parents set their own appropriate parameters. All in all, sharenting itself may not be a bad thing. Instead, it could be understood as proof that parents desire to share the joy they feel as their lives unfold with their children. With collaborative efforts, a balance could be reached, both maintaining the benefits of sharenting and protecting our beloved children.
The Korean demographic cliff: a pressing danger
Kim Ji-woo
In a world where fertility rates are declining, Korea finds itself at the forefront of this unsettling trend. The phenomenon, initially observed in Europe in the 1980s, has been extending its reach to East Asia since the 2010s. Among East Asian nations — namely Korea, Japan, and China — Korea has the distinction of having the lowest fertility rate, reaching a startling 0.7 last year. This is even lower than China, which has enforced a strict one-child policy, and Japan, renowned for being the most aged society globally. Then, how, and why is this happening in Korea? Why is its demographic cliff a problem? Let’s take a further look. To comprehend the gravity of the issue, it is essential to grasp the concept of fertility rate. Two primary statistical indices measure the number of births in a country: the crude birth rate, also known as the birth rate, and the total fertility rate. The crude birth rate is calculated by dividing the number of live births in a year by the midyear resident population. On the other hand, the total fertility rate, as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), refers to the total number of children that would be born to each woman, if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and give birth to children in alignment with the prevailing age-specific fertility. Figures such as 0.8 or 1.2, which are oftentimes cited when highlighting the severity of the demographic crisis, typically refer to the total fertility rate. In order to maintain a stable population, the birth rate should ideally be at least two children per woman. If Korea's birth rate continues to hover at 0.78, its population will diminish to two-fifths of its current size within three decades. More surprisingly, just within a century (or three generations), a group of 100 Koreans will shrink to six. The population composition will skew dramatically toward the elderly, with only 10 percent being children. The burden of supporting the elderly, who are projected to make up 60 percent of the population, will fall on the working population, who will only make up 30 percent of the entire population. This will lead the median age to rise to 59. Still, some people think a demographic cliff is a value-neutral situation, a consequence of people exercising their free will. Others even contend that the decline in human population can have a positive impact on the environment. However, at least in the short term — within the next 50 years — a low birth rate presents a crisis to most nations. In modern nations, young people contribute to most of the workforce. The welfare system of a nation allows the elderly to receive pensions from the tax that the younger generations pay. If the birth rate remains at its current level, the tax income will dwindle, which will lead to the collapse of the welfare system. The problem increases in severity as considerable losses to the state treasury will ultimately bring about state bankruptcy in countries all over the world, even in the richest countries. If a low birth rate is so detrimental to our society, what triggers it? A demographic cliff happens when people do not get married or when married couples choose to not have kids. In Korea, the overall birth rate has plummeted by 50 percent in the past five years. According to Statistics Korea, this nosedive is mirrored in the percentage of married couples as it also decreased by 50 percent, while the percentage of people having children has dropped by a mere five percent in the past 10 years. One-child families have only increased by five percent during the same period. Therefore, to figure out the causes of the demographic cliff, we should first focus on the reasons why people are not getting married, and then move on to why married couples are having fewer kids compared to the past, considering their contribution to the overall fertility rate. To start with, youth unemployment and the exorbitant cost of housing make it increasingly difficult for young people to consider marriage. A 2022 research from Duo, the biggest matchmaking company in Korea, indicated that the average Korean pays approximately 287 million won ($215,000) to get married, with more than 80% accounting for housing. This is excessively high compared to the average income of Korean youth, which stands at 2.54 million won per month for those aged between 25 and 29 and 3.06 million won per month for those aged between 30 and 34 in 2022, according to Statistics Korea. Taking these figures into account, for a couple to accumulate 287 million won, each of them would have to work for at least seven years. Difficulties in balancing work and family life can also impede many from choosing marriage — specifically for women. As explained by Professor Goldin of Harvard University, in pre-modern societies, women were simultaneously compelled to work and perform household chores. However, with modernization, women’s roles have shifted as they were labeled housewives. This new concept liberated women from double labor, rendering them only responsible for domestic chores. Unfortunately, the sexual division of labor deprived women of freedom of occupation, deriving other controversies. Nowadays, women are working again, but the social expectations for women to work still linger. The 2023 Nobel Economics Prize-winning book by Goldin emphasizes that this social atmosphere explains the gender wage gap, as it discourages women from participating in high-paying jobs, so-called “greedy jobs,” which demand more intense work. The tradeoff relationship between economic presence and housework poses a dilemma to women who want to continue their careers, inducing many to delay marriage. In East Asian countries, such as Korea and Japan, the modern division of labor still exists as the labor force participation rate shows an average 25 percent difference between men and women aged 30 to 50. Moreover, in terms of the gender wage gap, women in these countries do not only elect to participate in low-paying jobs but are also structurally forced to do so. To be more specific, women are marginalized in the job market as corporate culture and employment practices prevent them from continuing to work. Since most companies in Korea and Japan do not provide paternity leave, women who experience marriage and delivery fall behind by roughly two years in terms of salary. As their salary lags behind due to maternity leave, women are suggested to retire and concentrate on handling household chores and raising children. In a study about career breaks of women by Oi and Matsuura, almost no women in East Asian countries can return to their original positions after career interruption. Instead, half of them remain at home for the rest of their life, while the other half, considering financial constraints, re-enter the workforce in less-paying jobs as temporary employees after several years of working as housewives. Difficulties in maintaining coexistence between work and family make marriage an unappealing choice for those who hope to maintain their career. Furthermore, the incredibly competitive educational atmosphere and the resultant high child-rearing costs dissuade many from expanding their families. Korea is notorious for its competitive education system, and the youth suicide rate in Korea is the highest among OECD countries. This is why a good number of individuals express concerns about their children growing up in this stressful society, and decide not to have children so that misery would not repeat itself. Similarly, for parents who do choose to have children, surviving this competitive society has become one of the most important tasks. Therefore, parents often prioritize providing better quality education and opportunities for one child, rather than having more children. So, how can this crisis be solved? Potential countermeasures are being explored. To begin with, countries can try to create new workplaces, fight youth unemployment, increase the influx of cheaper houses, and implement policies to change corporate culture. In particular, guaranteeing economic stability of individuals by providing a solid job with a decent employee welfare system can be a key. For instance, consider Lotte, where the fertility rate of employees is 2, approximately three times higher than Korea’s fertility rate. Lotte made parental leave mandatory for all its employees, regardless of their gender. This policy reduced the incentive for women to retire semi-permanently and become homemakers since every employee in the company shares the 2-year career disadvantage. As more female employees stably return to their previous positions after a career break, the opportunity cost of marriage and childbirth fairly decreases, leading to higher fertility rates. Additionally, the implementation of new policies, such as immigration policies and life partnership acts, and revisions on existing laws including the Mother and Child Health Act can also serve as potential solutions. In Europe, despite having fertility rates not significantly different from that of Northeast Asia, the substantial influx of immigrants helps maintain a stable overall working population. Conversely, in Korea, the myth of homogeneity excludes other ethnic groups from being a part of the society. Furthermore, during the Joseon dynasty, couples were required to get married if they had children out of wedlock. As this traditional Confucian family norm still exerts its influence on Korean society, the average unmarried fertility rate for Korea is 2%, which is notably lower than the EU’s 41%. Acknowledging and recognizing diverse forms of family by establishing their legal presence and providing welfare support can be one way to raise the fertility rate, as it did in European countries. Countries around the world are striving to increase their birth rates, and numerous countermeasures are being considered. Although there are still areas for agreements regarding the resolutions, it is time for us to find and implement them to this worldwide predicament. Despite the demographic cliff being a looming crisis, the effect of falling off the cliff is revealed only after decades. We should bear in mind that we are the ones who live in this country — who undergo the adverse effects of a dramatic decline in fertility rate. Our future lies in our hands. Before it gets out of control, we, the youth, should be on the alert and must collectively work toward a breakthrough.
The downfall of teachers’ authority
Lee Seo-jin
The death of a 23-year-old Seoi Elementary School teacher in July 2023 sparked thousands of teachers across South Korea to demand proper protection of teachers’ rights. It also alerted Korean citizens to truly realize the decline of teachers’ authority. The elementary school teacher reportedly took her own life after expressing anxiety over complaints from abusive parents. After one student scratched another student’s forehead with a pencil during class, some parents had started to contact her through her private phone number to complain, reported the Financial News. The downfall of teachers’ authority in Korea is not a new problem. The fact that so many teachers could easily sympathize with the reasons behind the death shows that they all have experienced similar struggles, including malicious complaints and overuse of legal accusations from parents. The problem has been neglected for too long and the recent death of the teacher was a sign that the collapse of teachers’ authority has reached its boiling point. While several legal revisions led by the government are in process, important challenges to fully restore teachers’ authority still lie ahead, which are not restricted to legal solutions. In this article, the possible causes and solutions for the decline of teachers’ authority will be discussed. A Distorted Love The cause of the collapse of teachers’ authority is found in the parents. According to a survey done by the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association (KFTA), 99 percent of teachers agreed that “teachers are emotional workers.” When asked who gave them the most stress, 66.1 percent of respondents selected “parents.” This overwhelms the other answers -- students (25.3 percent), principals and vice-principals (2.9 percent), and educational administrative agencies/the National Assembly (2.5 percent). Thus, it is essential to analyze the prevalent motivation and sentiment of Korean parents in modern society. According to Professor Chung Jae-jun of Sungkyunkwan University, the new generation of parents in Korea thinks of their children as “princes and princesses” who should be adored, cared for, and praised. The instances of parents’ complaints are truly astonishing. For instance, some parents demand teachers to go on a field trip once again because their kid does not stand out in the picture. These kinds of parents are commonly called gapjil parents. Gapjil is a Korean neologism referring to an arrogant and authoritarian attitude or actions of people who have positions of power over others. Long Term Causes One of the common explanations for this blind love for children is the low birth rate in Korea, especially since the 2010s, leading to an increasing number of families having only one or two children in Korea. Thus, parents are more prone to live a child-centered life, and they have begun to coddle their children excessively. They cannot accept any criticism towards their children, and cannot stand any chance for them to be emotionally hurt or dispirited. The collapse of public education followed by the great development of private education is also indicated as a fundamental cause of the fall of teachers’ social status. In the past, teachers had absolute authority regarding curriculum education (handing over knowledge) or guidance of university entrance. Naturally, parents respected teachers’ authority regarding character education and guidance. However, as the private education market has greatly expanded, countless private educational institutions and internet lectures by famous teachers substituted or surpassed public education. The school has long become more of a place to complete compulsory education. As a result, parents are less dependent on school teachers, limiting teachers’ influence. However, the reasons stated above are insufficient to fully explain the distorted love of parents. Alongside these social changes, legal changes have brought about the current environment in which complaints and lawsuits are common in schools. Disempowered Educators Since when did parents think of legal methods to confront teachers? Legal issues, especially the enactment of ‘The Students Human Rights Ordinance,’ were critical in affecting parents’ decisions. The ordinance was first enacted in 2010 by a progressive superintendent of education from Gyeonggi Province and has since been enforced by seven regional education offices, including that of Seoul. While banning corporal punishment had a level of positive influence on protecting students’ rights, class discipline has been broken down since the ordinance disempowered the teachers’ right to guide students using adequate methods. Teachers could not stop the student who physically attacked teachers or bullied other students since the ordinance forbids all kinds of physical intervention and immediate discipline, even including non-physical guidance. Teachers could not take away cell phones even if the student was severely interrupting the class according to “freedom of privacy,” and could not wake students up during class due to the “right to play and rest.” Teachers could not freely compliment students in public since it was deemed as “discrimination” against the other students. The ordinance has also profoundly influenced parents’ way of thinking, leading parents as a whole group to gapjil—only they do not perceive it as gapjil. They believe that they are just demanding due rights, which are protected and justified institutionally. The ordinance, promoted by progressive superintendents, is strongly driven by a political agenda of protecting the weak. The collective group of children and students was identified as the weak and the group of teachers as the oppressor, neglecting the fact that children can also potentially be agents of violence. This has led to a biased ordinance that neglects teachers’ rights. Moreover, abstract and inadequate laws such as The Child Welfare Act have functioned as tools that enable parents to practice their distorted perceptions of protecting children’s rights. The Child Welfare Act, passed in 2014, dictates that teachers accused of child abuse must be automatically suspended. Thus, teachers frequently suffer from parents who maliciously report teachers for child abuse to see them removed from their jobs. Also, the law includes highly abstract terms such as “emotional abuse against a child that may injure his/her mental health and development”(Article 17-5), which can be interpreted arbitrarily. In fact, restraining a violent child is frequently labeled as child abuse and emotional abuse. For example, according to the BBC, one teacher was reported for emotional abuse for taking reward stickers away from a boy who cut his classmates with scissors. Another teacher was sued for child abuse for asking a disruptive pupil to take five minutes in the bathroom to reflect on his behavior. Parents’ malicious complaints are the main factor that distresses teachers. According to the survey by KFTA mentioned above, the highest-voted reason for mourning the Seoi elementary school teacher was “for system improvement regarding malicious complaints and indiscriminate reports for child abuse.” According to the survey implemented by the National Union of Teachers that surveyed 2390 elementary school teachers in Korea, 49 percent answered that they “experienced malicious complaints from parents.” They also feel “extremely disempowered,” as they are fearful of being called “child abusers,” and thus unable to safely discipline their students. Currently, the Ministry of Education is rapidly providing revisions and enactments of laws and regulations since the death of the Seoi elementary school teacher. The first main effort to protect teachers’ rights is the Teacher Rights Restoration Bill. Among four revised laws, the revised Teacher’s Status Act prohibits the removal of teachers from a position only because child abuse is reported, and requires further investigation and evidence. The revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act stipulates that teachers’ legitimate guidance is not child abuse. Also, by implementing “student guidance notification,” teachers are given more authority to guide students. For example, they can guide students who sleep during class. Unlike before, when teachers could restrain or separate students only after the process of “advice, counsel and warning,” teachers can “immediately” restrain students verbally if they violate school rules, and in urgent cases (for example, causing threat to others’ lives and bodies), teachers can immediately restrain the students “physically.” Teachers can also remove students who disturb the class to a designated place, and if in need, the principal can request parents to take the student home. While the efforts stated above are significant, more legislative tasks need to be completed. According to a KFTA survey of 5461 teachers in Korea regarding the effects of the new legislations stated above, many of them answered that they are still anxious about indiscriminate complaints by parents as well as accusations of child abuse. Thus, abstract concepts like “emotional abuse” in The Child Welfare Act must be clarified. In fact, 99.4 percent of teachers in the survey agreed that the law must be revised to exempt legitimate guidance from the threat of “child abuse” and 99.6 percent agreed on strengthening punishment for parents who abused complaints if teachers are proven innocent. Restoring Rights Thus, to fundamentally improve teachers’ authority, it is necessary to restore the authority of the school as the place for educating students to grow as a “whole person.” Teachers should be empowered to be able to genuinely educate students. The classroom should regain its essence—to provide a place for students to admit their mistakes, take responsibility for their own actions, and be polite to authority figures and peers. This is why the legal efforts stated above are so essential, to enable teachers to guide their students. Along with legal efforts, a fundamental change of perception is needed. The death of the Seoi elementary school teacher has enabled the turning point for parents, students, teachers, and citizens to look back on their previous perceptions and reflect on the true meaning of the “rights” and “responsibilities” of each school member. It makes no sense to think dichotomously, separating students’ rights from teachers’ rights, because students and teachers are not in a zero-sum game. Accepting guidance and respecting teachers’ authority is not incompatible with protecting students’ rights and freedom. The parents must realize that students cannot be happy in a classroom where teachers are distressed.
Malicious Trademark Squatting: A Growing Threat to Brands and Businesses
Oh Ju-yi
BTS, Pengsoo, Girls' Generation, and Youngtak Makgeolli. These are all brands that the public is familiar with. But these are also well-known trademarks that have been unlawfully seized by others. This kind of problem, malicious trademark squatting, in which individuals preemptively register someone else's business name or brand and demand a ransom, is a serious issue. So, what exactly is trademark squatting? A trademark serves as a distinguishing mark for products and services, setting them apart from those offered by competitors. A trademark can take the form of numbers, words, phrases, logos, or even a combination of these elements. You have the option to officially register a trademark under trademark law, and registering a trademark is a crucial method of safeguarding your brand, and offering a higher level of assurance. However, some individuals overlook the importance of trademark registration and continue to use their trademarks without officially registering them. But if such a person achieves success and their trademark becomes well-known, what happens if someone else registers that trademark? This situation is referred to as trademark squatting. To be exact, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), trademark squatting is a practice in trademark law where an individual or entity registers a trademark that is identical or similar to an established trademark, with the intention of profiting from the reputation and goodwill associated with the established trademark. In another case, trademark squatting occurs when a brand registers its trademark in its home country and possibly in a few other select countries, neglecting to seek protection in every possible jurisdiction. Trademark squatters identify that the brand does not have a registered trademark in a specific jurisdiction, and they proceed to file for the trademark in that location. This practice persists because trademarks are jurisdiction-specific rights, and brand owners must seek registration in each individual jurisdiction in which they wish to be protected. For instance, the United States Patent and Trademark Office can only protect trademarks registered within the United States. Trademark squatting can have negative consequences for both businesses and consumers. When someone who engages in trademark squatting registers a trademark that closely resembles an established one, it can cause confusion among consumers and damage the reputation and trust associated with the established trademark. Moreover, trademark squatting can obstruct legitimate businesses from using their own trademarks in specific regions or markets, potentially leading to expensive and protracted legal disputes to regain ownership of the trademark. Over the past 10 years, cases of trademark squatting have become more and more widespread in South Korea. According to a research titled, “The Limitation of Claims for Damages and Infringement Prevention by Trademark Owners,” conducted by the Korean Intellectual Property Office on 5 October 2022, the annual number of suspected malicious trademark squatting applications between 2015 and 2019 was at about 343 cases. Of these, the actual number of registrations averaged 89 per year, with around 26% of suspected malicious trademark squatting applications being registered as actual trademarks. According to statistics from the Korean Intellectual Property Office (as of 2020), there were 67 individuals suspected of malicious trademark squatting who collectively applied for 23,802 trademarks, averaging 355 trademarks per person. Such actions appear in various forms, ranging from character names, like Pengsoo, to celebrity names, television show titles, YouTube channel names, and restaurant names. For example, the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) filed a trademark registration application on Pengsoo on 20 November, 2019, but a third party applied for trademarks related to internet broadcasting, stationery, and toys under the names Pengsoo and Giant Pengsoo on 13 November, 2019, a week earlier than EBS. A dispute ensued, ultimately resulting in the third party relinquishing their trademark rights. In another case, an individual applied for a trademark on Girls’ Generation for over 2,000 products, shortly after the idol group Girls' Generation debuted in 2007. This led to public controversy and the application was ultimately invalidated due to a legal challenge by SM Entertainment, the agency representing Girls' Generation. Furthermore, some individuals have cleverly mimicked both domestically and internationally famous trademarks in their applications. They filed trademarks like Hermes Water, ShoppingMall.com, and Daum Kakao by either closely imitating existing trademarks or making slight variations. This practice exploits the current trademark law's "first-to-file" system, which allows the first applicant to secure registration rights, not the “first user.” As a result, individuals take advantage of this system to file applications first, knowing that the famous trademarks of others are not yet registered, intending to later profit from these trademarks through extortion. To prevent this, the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) has been actively monitoring and maintaining a list of suspected malicious trademark squatters, and strengthening its review of applications that are suspected of trademark infringements in order to address malicious trademark squatting.
To leave or not to leave: the dilemma of the Russian commercial exodus
Lee Ji-woo
Early morning, on 24 Feb. 2022, I woke up in my dorm room in the main building of Moscow State University to unbelievable news: Russia had invaded Ukraine, and my host-country was now at war. Unlike Kyiv, Moscow and its inhabitants were not in immediate danger, but the news of war alone was enough to deeply disturb the Russian population—especially the younger generation, the majority of whom did not support the actions of Vladimir Putin’s regime. A steady stream of outward movement soon began to form. As of May 2023, as many as 1 million Russians are estimated to have fled since the onset of war. This phenomenon is now being referred to as the “Russian Exodus,” as an unprecedented number of people continue to leave the politically tyrannical country, having lost hope for its future. Powerful foreign enterprises also decided to join the crowd flocking out of Russia, making this a commercial exodus as well as a political one. With even Russian citizens choosing to depart from the country, the answer seemed clear for non-Russians: leave. In the early stages, panic was the main factor that drove the expats out, as it was unclear how fast, and to what extent the conflict would escalate. Several governments, including those of France, Ireland and Japan, hastened to evacuate their citizens. I stayed put, as the Korean embassy did not issue a statement requiring citizens to return home. The Korean government took measures to update its citizens on how to act in case of immediate danger, and created an emergency contact list to keep track of the number and whereabouts of their citizens that remained in the country. This gave me a sense of security and helped me make the final decision to stay, in order to improve my aptitude in the Russian language by immersing myself in Russia’s unique culture. Naturally, this also meant I would be experiencing firsthand the consequences of the war reflected in everyday life. Soon after the first wave of panic had blown over, another exodus befell the Russians: this time in the commercial sector. Numerous western enterprises announced their grand exit from the Russian market as a sign of support towards Ukraine. Most foreign brands across many different sectors released statements condemning Russia’s actions, and subsequently promised to cut ties with the country. This movement was met with international praise; to the Russians, however, this was quite a blow. Western brands and services permeate every aspect of our globalized society, and prior to the war, Russia was no exception. I found myself facing problems in the most unexpected places. I wanted to buy a shoe rack, but IKEA had been shut down. I wanted to go on a trip, but SkyScanner, Airbnb, and Booking.com had halted operations in Russia. I wanted some soft drinks to go with my food, but my options were “Cool Cola” instead of Coca-Cola, “Street” instead of Sprite, or “Fancy” instead of Fanta - Russia was only left with copycat versions of original brands. The exodus prompted a rush to stock up on Western products whilst they were still available. In response to the nationwide closure of McDonald’s, some people sold Big Macs on Russian e-commerce platforms for more than ten times their original price. Many Russians frantically lined up in front of stores in hopes of buying one more item from brands exiting the country. I was one of those people, standing in line outside Japanese clothing store Uniqlo an hour before it closed down for good. I didn’t need anything in particular, but the news of the shutdown triggered a strange feeling that I had to buy something before I couldn’t anymore. The mall was packed with people; evidently, I wasn’t the only one with this idea. By the end of March, Western stores officially closed their shutters, and the central section of the mall they previously occupied was now deserted. GUM—Moscow’s symbolic department store on the Red Square – tried to keep up appearances by leaving the lights on in closed high-end stores, but there was no denying that it had lost its main purpose as a shopping center. Media outlets worldwide captured this scene to highlight the exodus’ effect on Russia. However, from what I observed throughout the rest of the year, this was certainly not the end of the story. While the world was busy tending to other more pressing issues, some stores that had closed slowly started re-opening; some under the same name, many others under a different one. It is now clear that the number of companies that have cut ties with Russia is not as large as was previously perceived. As it happens, many businesses have technically exited the country but still continue to have a presence in, and gain revenue from, the Russian market. With Russia’s military actions still raging a year after the war’s initial outbreak, and without an end in sight, businesses are being made to take a stand on how strongly they will put their foot down—whether or not they will keep the doors open in case the situation improves in the future. As such, Western businesses in Russia seem to have chosen one of three paths since the war: 1) sell the company to a Russian buyer and/or end all future business with the country; 2) stay silent and remain in Russia; or 3) sell the company but still keep one foot in the market through parallel exports. Many food retailers fall under the first category, as it is relatively easier for food chains to find alternative suppliers to keep their businesses up and running. Consequently, these Western companies were quickly replaced by Russian substitutes: McDonald’s became Vkusno i tochka—meaning “Tasty and that’s it”—sporting a new abstract logo that is supposed to depict a hamburger and two french fries, making up the letter ‘M’. The new logo, however, undoubtedly brings to mind the two golden arches of McDonald’s. The move seems intentional, as the company selected a slogan that translates to: “our name is changing, but our love stays the same.” Similarly, Starbucks became Stars Coffee; the new owners, rapper Timati and restaurateur Anton Pinskiy, decided to keep Starbuck’s iconic siren intact, except for the Russian head ornament they opted for instead of the original star-topped crown. The two companies that are widely considered to be the symbol of Western influence have now been turned into Russian-owned analogues that make no effort to hide their origins. On the contrary, they utilize both logo and name to send a blatant message that there have been no changes. However, that is not necessarily the case, according to a Russian student who wished to stay anonymous. “The situation is funny if you look at it from afar. [These companies] are trying their hardest to show that they are the same as before, when in reality, everything is different—they are copies of the original brands. There are not many convenient fast-food places that can take McDonald’s’ place, so I go to Vkusno i tochka sometimes. As for Stars Coffee, there are many excellent substitutes based in Russia, so I don’t go there at all,” she commented. Other enterprises have decided to stay, either by force or by choice; Burger King and Marks & Spencer, which had already been operating in Russia via franchising, were unable to close their shops as their franchising partners refused to do so. Moreover, prominent Russian allies like Turkey, China and the United Arab Emirates are still doing business in Russia as normal. The third category, which concerns companies remaining in Russia, but only through parallel imports, lies in a legally gray area. Shortly after a wave of sanctions were implemented by countries that condemned Russia, the Russian State Duma—the lower house of the Russian parliament—introduced a law legalizing parallel imports. This meant that Russian businesses would now be allowed to import Western products via a third-party country, bypassing restrictions. This can result in already discontinued products making their way back into the Russian market without the original manufacturer’s consent. Such was the case with Coca-Cola. Although they had already halted production in Russia, the world-renowned soft drink was still found on supermarket shelves, having been imported from countries keeping non-hostile relations with Russia including Iran, Turkey, and Kazakhstan. Other companies are hiring middlemen who essentially help them continue their business in Russia. For instance, Polish apparel company LPP S.A., which owns a number of different brands, sold its assets to a Chinese company, who has changed the names of the stores (Reserved → RE, Sinsay → SIN, Mohito → M). Unlike H&M and Uniqlo, who temporarily re-opened stores in Russia only to sell off their remaining stock, these newly re-opened stores carry the brands’ newest collections, signifying that the company is still indirectly doing business in the country. From this perspective, the “Russian Exodus” poses some challenging questions. Is the gesture to close the companies enough to show support towards Ukraine, or should companies cut ties with the country completely for their intentions to be considered valid? On the other hand, should a business’ action of staying in the country be considered a show of support for Russia? As an exchange student who could have left but decided to stay, these were thoughts that were not alien to me. I personally did not agree with Russia’s actions in any shape or form, but I did have something to gain from the country as a student majoring in Russian Language. The moral dilemma and guilt stayed with me until the end of my exchange period. My reason for choosing not to leave lay in nothing other than achieving my personal goals. It seems my guilt largely stems from the fact that I stayed, when the majority of people around me were leaving. The constant news of my peers departing made it seem like I should also have done so. Such was the case with businesses, but the choice appeared considerably more obligatory. As the exodus quickly spread, it seemingly morphed into a binding social contract. If companies were seen not to leave, they would be condemned by people keeping a close eye on the situation; a site called “#LeaveRussia” was created for this very purpose. As such, foreign enterprises were cornered into halting operations as soon as possible. Some companies managed not to look back. Others, however, were not as lucky. Many things are at stake in this complicated dynamic. On the one hand, companies risk major financial loss by exiting, losing out on potential profits they could have gained from the market. They also have to face obstacles placed by the Russian government, which is trying to prevent companies from pulling out. On the other hand, these companies subject themselves to major criticism from customers and shareholders by staying, which can also lead to monetary setbacks in the future. Balancing economic and social costs, enterprises are navigating a very delicate situation; take one wrong step and they will find themselves in hot water. Discourse around the commercial exodus seems to have been focused on condemning the fact that businesses are gaining revenue from the Russian market. In reality, however, staying does not ultimately guarantee profit; remaining in Russia can be the cause of bad PR and thus consequent potential financial setbacks in the long run. Companies have a hefty price to pay either way. What it all boils down to is this: when I made the decision to stay, I was operating on a thought process of maximizing gain. My choice was made by comparing the benefits of staying versus those of leaving. However, companies’ operation strategies were most likely centered around minimizing loss. As opposed to seeing the war as an opportunity to gain profit, they were most likely just trying to find a method to stay afloat amidst the turmoil with minimum damage. Neither one of these decisions had underlying political motives; rather, it can be seen as an attempt to carry on with life despite the unrest. The exodus is not over, and unfortunately, neither is the war. As there is no right answer when tackling the complex issues that stems from this conflict, no one solution can satisfy everyone. Nonetheless, before passing judgment, it must be understood that the situation is very nuanced. With uncertainty hanging in the air, all we can do is confront the challenges in the best way we see fit.
You have a message from— Uh, the Leftover Coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup?
Tomris Silan Kurt
I occasionally speak to my mother on the phone. Recently, I have noticed that any time I make an observation about her outlook on life, her response is similar to the following: “But, you know, I’m a Virgo and we are known for being…”. My mother, who regularly reads horoscopes and wholeheartedly believes that she can explain many things that happen in her life based on zodiac and astrology, also happens to be a sixty-year-old university professor. There is a wide variety of fortune-telling methods such as horoscopes, or tarot cards, saju, tea leaf readings or—the star of this article—coffee readings. Each method has its own appeal, and so we can only assume that the reasons why people practice fortune-telling are just as diverse as the methods themselves. Coffee readings are my favorite method of “taking a glimpse into the future” mostly because they are a fun activity to do with friends. In this article, I would like to introduce coffee reading culture based on empirical anecdotes drawn from my life. May the gods of literature render this article likable, at least—I hope. Firstly, it is essential to understand how coffee cup readings work. Above all, you need Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is prepared without filtering, and the coffee grounds that remain at the bottom of your cup will determine your future. The coffee is served in a small cup that sits on a small plate, and after you enjoy your coffee—preferably over a chat with good friends—you should cover the top of the cup with the plate, give it a shake, and quickly flip it over. Wait until the cup completely cools down and ask a friend to read your cup. Be careful, reading your own cup will bring bad luck—or so I have been told. From that point on, the reading usually depends on the reader’s intuition. However, keep in mind that the internet offers many tools which could help you interpret what you see in someone’s cup. Just googling the shapes you see will provide you with plenty of explanations as to why the particular shape appeared, as well as what it indicates about the present and future of the person who drank from the cup. Coffee readings are quite popular in Turkiye—which is where I am from—but it is also not unheard of in nearby regions. In Turkiye, it is illegal to perform a fortune-telling session in exchange for money, however, there was a time when fortune-telling cafés were in style. Not only that, but there were also free fortune-telling applications for mobile phones; users just had to submit photos of their cup and, within minutes, the application worked its magic. So, are any of the readings accurate? To answer this question, I would like to share my experiences from the side of both the reader and the receiver of the reading. Then, perhaps, you can decide for yourself what to think regarding coffee cup readings and fortune-telling practices. Let us go back to a point in my life when I found myself sitting across a fortune-teller with a good friend. My friend was ecstatic about having her coffee cup read at a café but needed my collaboration in order to overcome the language barrier between the fortuneteller and herself. Assuming the role of an interpreter, I put tremendous effort into translating everything the fortune-telling lady was rapid-firing at us. By the end of the session, I was beyond impressed and also puzzled—the fortune teller had correctly predicted so many things about my friend. “Did her mother have any surgeries recently, maybe a problem with her eyes,” said the lady. I translated, “Does your mother have any health problems?” To which my friend casually replied, “Yes, she had eye surgery last month.” To this day, I do not know how the fortuneteller could have been so precise as I am completely sure that the lady and my friend had never met before, nor did they share a common language. But I have also been on the other side of that table, rhetorically speaking. When I was moving to Korea, I made sure to bring my Turkish coffee with me. Here, I have made so many wonderful friends. Occasionally, I would invite them over for some Turkish coffee inevitably followed by a coffee cup reading session. Untraditionally, we drink our coffee in huge mugs, and use large pots or empty food containers instead of plates—a side effect of being broke students with a limited selection of tableware. Then, I would stare at my friends’ cups for approximately half an hour and let my intuition guide me. I stare at a vague silhouette and say, “There is this person. Maybe it is someone that you don’t talk to right now, but someone you want to talk to. They are not a romantic interest but maybe they could be, I don’t know. Maybe someone who was a close friend before but maybe also a close friend now…” After which my friend exclaims excitedly, “It’s Simon! I know it’s him!” Then he continues, “Oh my god, how did you know about him?” To be fair, you should not be surprised if there actually is a person in your life who may or may not be a romantic interest and may or may not be a close friend from the past or present —like Simon, apparently. I have done readings numerous times for a variety of friends, and every reading ended with me desperately begging them not to believe what I said. I am just making stuff up, but somehow, it is incredibly difficult to convince them to not take it seriously. A friend once said that it is more entertaining when you do believe it, even though subconsciously you doubt the reading. However, people’s attitudes toward coffee readings are not always positive. Some find that it conflicts with their religious beliefs, and some even find readings scary. In fact, I have heard of many chilling events that happened during or after coffee reading sessions. My cousin Autumn, for example, was terrified when she was in the middle of reading her friend’s cup, and saw that she was staring into her soul with an unnaturally creepy smile on her face. But, in reality, she had a neutral expression, and none of the others present in the room saw the bizarre, demonic face that Autumn saw. Another story belongs to a family friend, Silvia, who is now too scared to do coffee readings after a certain event. She read her friend’s cup, and everything she predicted eventually came true. Terrifyingly though, the same night that she performed the reading, an old man wearing all white appeared in her dream and warned her about the consequences that she will face if she ever does coffee readings again. The dream left her panic-stricken. Still, my friend Rose has the most intense story. When she met with her friend for a coffee, a friend of the invited friend tagged along. After finding out that her guest is known for performing accurate readings around her circle of friends, Rose requested that she look into her cup. Soon after, she noticed strange things happening around her house. She heard loud banging noises first, and then a light bulb exploded. Too scared to stay alone, she asked a friend to come over. Until dawn, together they experienced every horror movie cliché that I am too scared to write about. Of course, I was not present during any of these instances, and cannot prove any of them actually happened - how you interpret them is completely up to you. In Turkey, there is a saying which roughly translates to, “Do not believe coffee readings, but also do not deprive yourself of coffee readings.” As such, my suggestion would be that you should take both coffee readings and these stories with a grain of salt. Why did I take you through all of these stories? Why should some random people’s experiences with the local practice of coffee readings matter to you? I mentioned at the beginning of this article that a lot of similar fortune-telling practices take place around the world in different contexts. It seems that the desire to receive messages or guidance from the supernatural is not unique to my friends and I. Nonetheless, as the stories and my experiences demonstrate, the reasons we do readings are more profound than simply trying to know the unknowable. Firstly, through coffee readings, we are able to socialize with each other and build deeper connections. Often, what we “see” in the cup prompts us to engage in intense discussions and reflections not only about the recent events in our lives, but also about our hopes,desires and fears. Was it really Simon that I saw in my friend’s cup? What matters more than the truth is why my friend thought that it would be Simon. Thus, coffee readings also help us identify the buried thoughts and feelings attached to past, perhaps unfinished, stories in our lives. We use coffee readings as a supplementary method to understand the complexities of life. But the struggle to navigate through life, I believe, is a universal one. And I hope that the practices and stories that I have discussed here have broadened your outlook on culture and life. Or maybe, just maybe, I have, indeed, just wasted your precious, precious time.
Going down the Pro-Ed pipeline
Hyun Joo-young
TRIGGER WARNING: The following article discusses mental health behaviors that may be troubling to some readers. Reader discretion is advised. –Ed. I’ll wear this dress when I lose 5 kg, I told myself after hours of looking at my reflection. No matter how long my eyes stare at the mirror, my brain tells me I’m not skinny enough. In response, I go on a diet consisting of water, cigarettes, and malatang binges that I end up vomiting. As I sat in front of the toilet bowl, neck burning, eyes tearing up, I refused to believe that this was a problem. Pro-eating disorder (Pro-ED) and Pro-Anorexia (Pro-Ana), are terms referring to those who believe anorexia is a lifestyle choice instead of an illness. But, under a wider definition, it refers to a community of mostly young girls who struggle with an eating disorder, and are not yet ready to recover. Those who identify as Pro-Ana, unlike public perception, do not necessarily advocate for the promotion of anorexia. Nevertheless, I used to feel a hint of resentment towards these Pro-Ana girls, believing that I would have developed into a stronger person, both mentally and physically, had I not been exposed to this content at such a young age. I believe this is why lawmakers seek the easiest solution: to ban all Pro-Ana communities completely and criminalize the act of sharing Pro-Ana content (which is what happened in France, in 2015). It is easy to demonize the community. Nonetheless, we must recognize that they are people, suffering with one of the deadliest psychiatric disorders. Most users I’ve interacted with were underage children and even the “adults” of the community whom I used to look up to were only 18 and 19. These individuals shouldn’t be shamed, dehumanized, or even silenced, but instead treated with empathy. As a matter of fact, Pro-ED communities fulfill the need for a community that can understand the affected individuals’ struggles, and provide a source of non-judgmental support. However, despite the intention to remain hidden from non-EDs, Pro-ED communities have gained a new audience in recent years. Pro-ED content is not a new phenomenon. In fact, these communities have existed online since the early 2000s. Early Pro-ED communities were founded mainly on blogs and forum websites. These Pro-Ana websites did not wish to garner a non-anorexic audience, and heavily discouraged them to join. The majority of members were those who had already suffered from an eating disorder for years and did not wish for other young girls to follow their path. Those who were curious would be met with disclaimers before entering Pro-ED websites. There were several different ED and Pro-ED forums, and they each had their own culture and regulations based on their differing levels of how “pro” they really were. Some allowed insights into their members’ struggles to recover, but banned any descriptions of body image. Some banned sharing tips on using substances, but allowed tips on how to starve “safely.” Additionally, the forums that actively glamorized anorexia and bulimia were the ones most underground, because a rise in the website’s popularity would lead to the danger of it being removed. Expert opinions on the restriction of Pro-ED websites vary. Annie Hayashi, spokesperson for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), warned in a 2006 ABC News interview that these websites were "potentially deadly" as they reinforce behaviors associated with the disease, and advocated for their removal. However, a recent research study published in Perspective Public Health argues against censoring all Pro-Ana websites, and even highlights their therapeutic value for individuals feeling isolated due to their illness. Despite the complexity of this issue, media coverage during the 2000s ignored these nuances by sensationalizing the story. NBC described the “Pro-Ana movement” as having a “cult-like appeal,” and a New York Post headline wrote, “Sick World of Pro-Anorexia Internet Sites.” A tabloid went so far as to appropriate a girl’s picture posted on a private Pro-Ana website to shock the audience. In response to public scrutiny, hosting websites such as Yahoo took down any websites that were tagged Pro-ED. Alongside this mass removal, blogs and forums started to decline in popularity as an online platform. As a result, By the 2010s, Pro-ED communities found refuge in emerging social media websites such as Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter. Twitter in particular is known to have the most severe ED culture, under the tag Edtwt. However, this is only half true. Unlike previous Pro-ED forum websites which had their own cultures and regulations, users can find a diverse range of content under the umbrella of Edtwt, including Pro-ED and Pro-Recovery communities. Users who actively encourage recovery and those who share life-threatening starving tips all share the same space. A typical timeline can consist of a few aesthetically pleasing thinspo threads, what i eat in a day posts, tweets fantasizing what they would do when they are skinnier (with a general sentiment of hopes that people will be nicer and clothes will look better), ED related memes, and lastly tweet after tweet with vents and a desire to be understood. Most accounts are made dedicated to ED content, and recognize how to use Twitter’s algorithm: only follow ED related accounts to create an ED dedicated echo chamber. Thus, although existing on a public online platform, the unwritten rules of Edtwt are to not interact with non-ED accounts and to refrain from using Edtwt specific terms outside the community in order to minimize the spread of eating disorders to other users. They recognize that their content can be mentally damaging, yet they themselves rely on it for the shared understanding it offers. Furthermore, many Twitter users dissuade users on other platforms, especially TikTok, from participating in Edtwt. ED-TikTok users are deemed as young, impressionable posers. While longtime users call ED-TikTok users “wannarexics” and eventually cyberbully them off the site, there is a hint of endearment and concern towards the youth; a desire to prevent children from ending up in the same destiny as their older counterparts, despite them also being mere teenagers themselves. These unwritten rules, self-regulation, and “gatekeeping” give the impression that Edtwt is secluded from the general public. However, despite these efforts, the algorithm still suggests Pro-ED content to outsiders. A user under ED recovery once tweeted that a single thinspo tweet on her timeline led to a temptation to relapse. Recommendation algorithms are what differentiate the landscape of old forum websites and social media. Previously, websites were exclusively available to only those who sought out specific information, whereas social media websites introduce users to potential topics of interest through a personalized algorithm, granting an opportunity to discover new content, which one may have not found otherwise. In the case of Pro-ED communities, the switch in platforms has led them to - unintentionally - garner a new audience. Recommendation engines are used by social media companies to maximize engagement. Not only does a specific algorithm predict what we like, but it also helps us discover new content, and continues to refine itself based on our reaction to such. Recommenders help users discover new content that they are unaccustomed to, but still potentially interested in, by using an algorithm which classifies users into clusters based on data, such as demographic information, interests, behaviors, and connections. The algorithm adapts to the user to create a more personalized experience by altering certain calculations when a user interacts or doesn’t interact with the content. Therefore, it can be concerning when the Pro-ED community migrates from forums and blogs to social media. Not only is Pro-ED content more accessible to the public on these new platforms, but algorithmically, recommenders can target those most vulnerable to this content and profit from their engagement with it. According to a study conducted by FairPlay, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the influence of harmful commercial culture on children, Meta’s algorithms specifically suggested Pro-ED content to insecure young girls. The study documented the potential process whereby young users start to engage with this type of content. This process begins with young girls being exposed to diet and fitness content or trends, focused on beauty and appearances (such as the “thigh gap” or facial symmetry ). Those who engage with this content are grouped together, which tells the algorithm to continue feeding them with similar, yet more addictive content. To a young teenager struggling with insecurities, this type of content increases dissatisfaction with their body, but is still captivating. As an adult who was once a teenage girl myself, this study resonates. I remember my feed being filled with beautiful women with bodies that I did not have. Then, all the suggested content about weight loss tips from non-professionals would be in my “saved for later” folder. It did not feel like a lot of scrolls and clicks were necessary for my feed to be swarmed with thinspirations and timetables of how many calories I should eat in a day—Pro-ED content that I was not aware of. This is what FairPlay describes as the “Pro-ED bubble,” and as users continue to engage with this type of content, they become stuck. The recommendation engine algorithmically classifies them into this cluster, and recognizes that continuing to suggest this type of content will result in continued engagement. And even if one wishes to recover, being in this bubble would make it very hard to escape the algorithm. In social media spaces where anyone can fall into this bubble, eliminating Pro-ED communities may seem like the simplest solution. Yet, it is a dangerous one. Some pro-recovery accounts find themselves attached to the Pro-ED side of the community because of the mutual understanding among friendly users; some even say they started recovery because another Pro-ED user urged them to do so. I may have started my accounts for the thinspo, as well as to continuously trigger myself, but under the security of anonymity, I ended up confessing my deepest darkest childhood memories—I felt as if I had a community of girls who were truly emotionally supportive. Pro-ED communities can alienate users from the “real world” and professional help, even convincing them that eating disorders are a mere lifestyle. Still, eliminating them entirely would make ED patients feel a different kind of alienation, stemming from their need for a deeper understanding and for support in addressing the underlying issues that contribute to their problematic eating patterns. Although censoring all Pro-ED content is potentially harmful to those who rely on these communities, technological regulations can help prevent the spread of Pro-ED content among young users, even if it may result in loss of profits by tech companies. Recommendation engines lead some young users down the Pro-ED pipeline, yet what if this nudge was not directed at what would grab attention, but rather at content that could lead users to a healthier alternative? Meta proposed a solution after it was criticized for using algorithms that unintentionally promoted ED and other mentally damaging content. In response to this criticism they started recommending irrelevant content, from pictures of cats to travel vlogs, to young users who were spending concerning amounts of time viewing content on diet and body image. They would nudge them to stop thinking about their body. Technology can lead users to personalized help and be a force for good, but only with the initiative of the corporations that develop it. Meta’s proposed solution can be effective in diverting young users’ attention away from obsessing over their bodies before developing an eating disorder. Although it may result in a loss of profit for tech companies, this method can prevent users from falling down the Pro-ED pipeline. However, the solution cannot be purely technological: we too must make efforts to alter current culture. Eating disorders are a form of addiction. Yet, unlike other addictions, the supposed promises of anorexia are praised by our culture. In the early 2000s, the very media that sensationalized pro-anorexia, raising concerns about their health, were simultaneously the ones glorifying a certain type of body and shaming the other. Although Meta implemented their “nudge” solution, Instagram still provides filters to alter one’s body in pictures. Therefore, how could we expect a disordered youth to recover when our culture perpetuates the idea of an unrealistic and non-diverse body image as ideal?
R U actually woke tho
Joanne Baek
The term “woke” is tossed around quite freely both on and offline in current society. To be “woke” means you are socially and politically conscious of social injustice and wish to act upon such beliefs. Up until a couple of years ago, calling yourself woke was a somewhat proud statement; and those who were not, as people say, “woke” would have been labeled as a person who was closed off. If a person is “closed off” or “unwoke,” it would mean, as the word suggests, they remain unaware of such social injustice, and simply do not find interest in these issues, or even contribute to mitigating injustice in society. The topic of this discussion has grown to be more troubling since 2020—the year Lizzo was called out by her supposed fans when she announced that she was going to start following a detox diet and lifestyle. As her former supporters began hating her for promoting diet culture, it became evident that woke culture had taken a rather toxic twist, now attacking the groups of people it initially meant to protect. Lizzo’s situation quite closely reflects the toxic truth of woke culture since, as Lizzo claims, “people expect, [when big girls do] something for health, [they’re] doing it for a dramatic weight loss,” and not to take care of their fundamental health and mental well-being. While Lizzo has been one of the loudest voices advocating for body positivity, people seem to have forgotten what exactly body positivity constitutes of. Supporting body positivity does not require a specific physique, nor does one have to sustain a certain physique in order to be “correctly” propagating positivity; it is body positivity no matter the body. In other words, everyone, of any shape and size, can advocate for body positivity. This is just one example that demonstrates the detrimental turn that woke culture has taken against certain people, and most of the time, these “certain people” are those who are already victims of the injustice woke culture wishes to fight against. The toxic species of woke culture evolved, in a way, because those who title themselves as woke are unable to accept others who have slightly different opinions, thus labeling them as being “unwoke.” The toxicity of woke culture is closely tied to the severity of “cancel culture,” since those who, in any way, show discomfort at the notion of “woke-ness” are immediately shunned and canceled. While the roots of woke culture still lie with a rather positive cause—to be aware of social injustice and racial inequality (the term having been coined in the Black community)—it is its evolution that has led to, in biological terms, the speciation of woke culture. In this case, a species of woke culture has mutated to have the characteristic of being extremely toxic, in the sense that it is immensely condescending to others who go against its ideals. The toxicity of woke culture continues to gain more momentum in current society, especially since the use of social media is scarily prevalent in all aspects of our modern existence. Many anonymous conversations take place online—and not just conversations that consist of cheerful “Have a nice day”s but those that discuss social injustices, politics and more. This is where the toxicity of woke culture reached its heights. Another phenomenon that continues to bother me is the supposed trend of veganism. As a person who thought of going pescatarian, I am aware of how adopting a vegan diet can help the environment in various aspects; however, it is not something that should be forced upon others. Regardless, many people have taken it upon themselves to criticize those who are not following the vegan diet. For example, a vegan activist in Korea barged into a restaurant and taunted the customers for eating meat. Many people who support veganism criticize those who carry on with their omnivorous diet, labeling these people as unwoke and continually shaming them for eating meat. Diversity is ironically ignored when one is so sure that their opinion is the only one that matches up to the standard of wokeness. Now, you may be wondering: is being woke no longer an attitude that pushes for a positive and diversity-promoting change? Personally, I would say it is not a black-and-white situation. Whilst calling oneself woke may implicate a sense of superiority over another person, it is undeniable that it encompasses the vigilant attitude we should have regarding social injustice. But then again, we cannot simply be a bystander and let the culture—which stemmed from the Black Lives Matter movement—victimize those it previously claimed to protect. A branch of toxic woke culture is cancel culture. Whilst one can be canceled for not conforming to the basic ethical standards of society, there are also those who are canceled for being, supposedly, unwoke. Take Lizzo’s situation: although it is difficult to say she was canceled by the entire industry, she was still canceled by a lot of her previous followers just because she advocated for having a healthy diet. From this situation, we can see that cancel culture is twisted—it does not just cancel people for their immoral actions, but also for seeking change to become a better version of themselves. So why has wokeness become so twisted that we are now talking about its toxicity? The central root of the problem comes from the belief of self-righteousness. To be self-righteous is to believe oneself as morally superior to other people; with wokeness being focused on reaching a higher moral ground collectively—where everyone treats everyone equally—self-righteousness has inevitably become a core element of woke culture itself. Self-righteousness, thus, can be interpreted to have led to the speciation of toxic woke culture. The self-righteous aspect of woke culture became even more prominent to me when I realized how many people were tackling climate change as if it was an internet issue that could be resolved on social media. Coming across the news of how two climate activists had thrown soup on Vincent van Gogh’s infamous painting, “Sunflowers,” I began to wonder whether such actions should be applauded or frowned upon. While the intention to spread environmental awareness is one that should be commended, the actions and steps they took to call others to action was one that many deemed inappropriate and extreme. To give more personal context, the first thing I thought when I read the news was: did the soup just go to waste? However, it should be noted that some people support their actions by claiming that if people were sad about the “Sunflowers” being dirtied, they should feel even worse about destroying Earth, an artwork created by the universe and nature itself. Their argument gains more support when we think about how these young activists risked their freedom to get their point across—and how we should not hesitate to do whatever it takes to protect Earth. This situation is similar to one that happened only recently: climate activists poured vegetable charcoal in the Trevi Fountain which led to the Italian government having to use even more water to refill the fountain. Although I understand such an approach being used to spread awareness and to further support the necessity of protecting the environment, such extremity can be interpreted as having derived from a sense of self-righteousness and extreme wokeness. Ultimately, the self-righteousness aspect of woke culture has led to people to become more focused on “calling to awareness” rather than actually acting upon the problem themselves. In other words, rather than actively reducing waste or helping the environment, we tend to focus more on criticism; criticizing and shaming others for not showing effort in making the world a better place. The coining of the term woke culture and its popularity on social media did help us see an increase in environmental awareness and call for equality. But did it change everything for the better? There are so many different aspects of the culture that need attention, and further we have to be cautious about. There are multiple parts of wokeness that we turn a blind eye to because of the belief that it helped people become more open to diversity. This seems to be the main reason why some people refuse to accept that wokeness has, in fact, taken a dark turn. Perhaps the problem with woke culture is not only in its grammatical incorrectness but rather also in its extremity.