Podcast Review: Korean Kontext Podcast by the Korean Economic Institute

Like all great discoveries, I came across this podcast by chance whilst browsing my favourite podcasting app Podcast Republic for East Asia related podcasts.

Korean Kontext is a weekly series of podcasts which provides news and analysis on issues affecting the Korean peninsula. These are put together by the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI for short), but it is not only economic issues covered. There are a wide range of topics, ensuring that the peninsula is explored from a political, social and cultural perspectives, with the help of guest speakers each week who add their specialist expertise. Whilst there is inevitably a focus on the US-Korea relationship, the discussions are largely impartial, so listeners should not be put off by this.

I think that this is a wonderful podcast for those like me who are wanting to learn more about the Korean peninsula, as well as those who already follow developments in US-Korea relations and are interested in hearing issues discussed from a different perspective. Korean Kontext is great for the daily commute as each episode is between 20 and 30 minutes long.

Just to give you an idea of topics covered, I have picked out a couple of my favourite episodes so far:

A look into Korean Literature (14/10/2016). With Han Kang recently winning the Man Booker International Prize for her novel ‘The Vegetarian’, Korean literature found itself in the international spotlight. The podcast does a great job of covering issues regarding Korean literature in translation, including how it can be further promoted on the back of The Vegetarian’s success. I felt like this was a good introduction to the state of Korean literature and provided some recommendations that I will definitely be looking in to. If the podcast sparks your interest in Korean literature, it is definitely worth looking into the following links as well.

A Primer on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 Crisis (21/10/2016). The podcast charts sequence of events from the ill fated mobile phone up until its eventual discontinuation, and discusses both the short and long term implications that the crisis may have for Samsung, chaebols and the Korean economy at large. There has been a lot of negativity in the press, and the KEI experts offer a more pragmatic approach the analysing the actual impacts of the crisis, citing a change in senior management in particular as a positive sign of change. Since this podcast was released Samsung finds itself potentially embroiled in the political scandal regarding Park Geun Hye, but more recently there has also been the promising news that Samsung is increasing its efforts in the auto tech sector, so the KEI experts may not have been proven wrong just yet!

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Manga Recommendation: Cooking Papa

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Unfortunately this is not my bookshelf! Picture Source

Today I would like to introduce Cooking Papa (クッキングパパ) , a manga series created by Tochi Ueyama. The main character is Kazumi Araiwa, a senior member of staff at a food business.

At work he manages to strike a balance between getting work done and caring about the well-being of his colleagues, but what really catches his boss Higashiyama’s eye is his delicious homemade bentos! It turns out Kazumi’s wife is busy working as a journalist and is a terrible cook, so Kazumi is responsible for making his own bentos. The story therefore focuses on him going to great lengths to conceal the fact that he makes his own bentos.

Each volume contains a number of real life recipes with hints and tips on how to bring out the best flavours. Onigirazu, which has become a recent bento favourite, was first popularised in Japan after being published in Cooking Papa.

The fun and lighthearted feel of this manga, as well as the relatively straightforward nature of the language (food vocabulary aside) makes for a relatively easy read. Although there are over 130 volumes and counting, each volume is episodic so you do not need to start from volume one.

I think it’s a good manga to read when you may not be in the mood for reading something too difficult, or when you do not have time for a longer reading session. I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N3 or intermediate level, especially if they wanted to brush up on their food-related vocabulary. It may also inspire you to up your game when it comes to making lunches for work!

Book review: Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse, Shelley Rigger (2013)

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Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know much about Taiwan except a) lots of electronic items are made there b) it was previously a colony of Japan.  My interest in Taiwan was heightened recently upon the recent election of Tsai Ing Wen, partly due to her status as the first woman to do so – I didn’t really understand why this event was seen as controversial.

Fortunately this book provides a very comprehensive introduction to Taiwan’s social, political and economic history, as well as putting together interesting theories as to how Taiwan might be able to move forward vis-a-vis the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Whilst the author explains everything from an impartial perspective, her passion for the country and belief in its future is evident throughout.

I felt that the book did a particularly good job on fleshing out how the different ethnic groups have come to coexist and how this has informed the people’s perceptions on what it is to be Taiwanese.  It also highlighted the importance of democracy to the country, as well as how this is a key issue of contention with the PRC.  The section that I found the most interesting was the section on the Taiwanese economy; it is impressive how Taiwan was able to leverage its economic power to build cross-strait relations, despite the volatile nature of political relations. This use of economic power to build relations does draw some parallels with Japan, the key difference between the two nations being that Taiwan was the source of wartime aggression whereas Japan was the perpetrator. As a previous scholar of Japan, I feel the book has helped to inform my knowledge of Taiwan, China and wider regional relations. Similarly, it has reinforced the strategic relevance of states such as Taiwan and Japan to the US in terms of East Asia relations.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in Taiwan’s development and its relationship with the PRC in particular.

P.S You can hear the author Shelly Rigger discuss her book here, worth a watch!