Which word represents 2017?

Japanese calligraphy

pic and article: the Guardian

Happy New Year!

In Japan, as each year comes to an end, people can vote to decide on the Chinese character that best describes that year. For 2017 the word ‘NORTH‘  was chosen. (pronounced ‘ki-ta’ in Japanese and ‘bok’ in Korean)

The character expresses the stress felt over relations with North Korea after the missile testing and dodgy relations with the president of the USA.

But which word would represent KOREA in 2017?

A lot happened last year. The first female president of Korea Park Gun Hye was impeached and imprisoned along with her partner in crime Choi Sun Sil who is looking at 25 years in prison. The heir to the Samsung empire Lee Jae Yong got sentenced to five years for corruption. A presidential election hurriedly took place but ex UN secretary Ban Ki Moon pulled out of the running after the newspapers had a field day reporting all his blunders.

Then there were the threats from North Korea. Sales of gas masks increased as the threat of a nuclear attack began to seem possible. Tourism took a hit with the Chinese government banning tour groups coming to Korea because of THAAD.

Here are a few suggestions for the word of 2017…

The first word has to be IMPEACHMENT


Absolut’s controversial advert depicting the candlelight protests 

The peaceful candlelight protests against the president revealed how different Korea is today compared to 30 years ago. 14 January 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the death of a Seoul University Student who died in police custody after being tortured by waterboarding in 1987.

I was in Gwanghwamun the weekend after the government voted to impeach the president. Lots of people were out and about. Street stalls were still selling food and candles. A couple of old men were enjoying singing in the street – with microphones and a karaoke box. A huge screen with comedians making jokes about Park Geun Hye was played late into the night. It was a time for people to safely get together and vent their frustration.  See the lead up to the Park impeachment in pictures

The next word is PRESIDENTIAL

Moon Jae In

Presidential was certainly a well-used word in the USA last year but also works here since one president was impeached, a host of candidates appeared in a hurried election, and finally a popular liberal president was inaugurated.

In January preparations for the next presidential election began. And this year there was some interesting insight in what qualifications are necessary to stand for president. Ban Ki Moon raced back to Seoul in the hopes of standing for President after 10+ years in New York as UN secretary and before that as a diplomat.

But having been away for so long his ‘Korean-ness‘ was questioned. First he went to a convenience store to buy some water and picked up a “French brand’. His aide quickly guided him towards the Korean water brands. But the damage was already done.

Then he was criticised for not following customs at his father’s grave. His opponents implied that he was not patriotic and did not know traditional customs because he had lived abroad too long. In the end he decided to step out of the race. Clearly he was not considered to be ‘presidential‘.


Park Gun Hye as Choi Sun Sil’s puppet

On March 12 all the main TV channels suspended regular shows to show Park Gun Hye’s car being driven from the president’s residence, the Blue House, to her private home after her impeachment was upheld by the court. It seems that she had expected the decision to be overturned and so her house in Samsong-Dong had not been prepared for her return.

All the traffic lights were changed to green so that she could get there smoothly and quickly. Her car was led by a motorcade of police. It was a historic moment. People were standing on the streets watching the cars go by. Supporters waving flags still refused to accept the decision.

But the solemn event was overshadowed by the viral video of the BBC interview with the American professor when his children came bursting into the room followed by his wife!

In May Moon Jae In was elected the new President and he appeared in Time Magazine. In June he visited the US President who had just met with Xi Jing ping and told the world that Korea used to be part of China

That didn’t go down well.

Thirdly I suggest the word PREPPER


Last year we visited the North Korean border where you really get a sense of how close we are! Prepper describes the people who are ‘prepared’ for survival in the event of war! This word has become well-known here.

15 August was the day that Kim Jung Un was supposed to bomb Guam.

The morning sky was cloudy and thundery. It sounded like bombs going off in the distance. I hadn’t taken the threats of war seriously but it’s amazing what stormy weather can do to the mind. It was heavy rain and we couldn’t see anything across the river.

There was a show on TV were a panel of north Korean defectors talked about their experiences of life in the north. They talked about life in the army and how people join up because they are so hungry. They have to march with their legs so straight their knees hurt. And hundreds of people die in ‘accidents’ which are never reported.

One lady explained how in the event of war Kim Jung Un will go to one of his many hideouts in the mountains. The hideouts have entrances that are so well camouflaged you can’t see them. Inside the hideouts there is everything you need to survive including lots of good food.

As the thunder cracked I wondered what we should do if the sirens really did go off. Apparently we should go to the basement of the building. But we haven’t had any drills or anything.

Some say there is no point having a drill because it will only cause panic, or if there’s a nuclear attack there’s nothing we can do anyway. I began to think again about how helpless we are. On the surface life goes on as usual. The coffee shops are full. Nobody even mentions the situation to me. But behind the scenes preppers are quietly preparing emergency provisions just in case. One website suggested to buy the following:

  1. 30 litres of water per person
  2. Tins of fish and veg; ready cooked rice. 36 packs.
  3. Medicine – pain killers, antiseptic creams, creams for burns, bandages, iodine,
  4. A radio
  5. A torch
  6. Gas masks

One prepper told me that she tried to buy the most expensive gas masks which cost around 200,000 won. But they were SOLD OUT at several companies. So she had to buy the next best ones which cost 100,000 won.

Finally we can’t forget ANTI-CORRUPTION

kim young ran law 

going Dutch – the new way to pay 

President Moon announced that his main priority was tackling  corruption. And in November the Kim Young Ran Law Anti-corruption Law reached  its 1st anniversary.

Basically this law puts a limit on how much money public servants can receive. The law has caused several changes in society. For example more office workers go Dutch when they eat out together – a custom that was not popular at all before.

The new law has been accepted with positively. But the low monetary limit allowed for wining and dining and gifts has had a big effect on small businesses. You only have to take a look around the flower market in the Gangnam Bus Terminal to see how the florists are coping. Not all can survive. In the past large bouquets of flowers would be given at weddings. Not any more!


Which word describes 2017 to you? 

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