Korea is more than kimchi, K-pop and plastic surgery, says the founder of new website koreaBANG
koreaBANG knows what Korea is talking about and apparently it is drunken women on the subway, tweeting politicians and how much they hate Japan.
koreaBANG is a new website that translates the most discussed news stories in Korea and their highest rated comments into English. Stories range from a Korean politician's drunken tweets to a cafe owner who secretly filmed over 900 women in his toilets, as well as Korean reaction to international news, such as the Korean-American school shooter.
As the Korean wave sweeps over Asia and the rest of the world, there is a growing audience for all things Korean. There are already dozens of K-pop sites, allkpop has 75 million views a month, but koreaBANG has a harder news edge.
The site was founded by two British students of Korean. Cambridge University student James Pearson said koreaBANG's sister site, chinaSMACK, was his first port of call while a student in Beijing, but he was hard-pressed to find a Korean equivalent. He approached chinaSMACK with the idea of a Korean version and launched koreaBANG in January with his co-editor and Korea University student, Raphael Rashid.
The site now has four regular contributors, half Korean and half non-Korean, and attracts just under 3500 daily visitors from 154 countries. Bang (방) means room in Korean and refers to the PC bangs (internet cafes) where millions of young Koreans while away their time. Some have even died of exhaustion in them and one woman even gave birth in one.
Raphael said Western media tends to focus on North Korea, not what the Korean man in the street, or on the internet, is talking about. For example, Western media gave extensive coverage to last week's Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Seoul, but Koreans themselves were not that interested - it was not even in the top 10 stories that week. Instead, they were talking about beer woman, a drunken woman filmed drinking and smoking on the Seoul subway. Beer woman made it onto koreaBANG, the NSS did not.
"If Koreans are talking about it, so are we," said James. "If it's popular, we choose it, regardless of how off-the-wall it may seem to a non-Korean audience. Same goes for many of the comments, we tend to take the top 20 or so rated comments from each article and translate those."
Raphael said Korea is trying to brand itself "under a flawless veneer". The government has even founded a Presidential Council on Nation Branding and pays bloggers to upload thousands of photos of the country. Korean dramas give a distorted image of the country to their fans around the world, an image doctored nearly as much as their stars' faces.
"Korean dramas and celebrity culture convey a somewhat fairy tale-like image of Korea, where everyone is tall and handsome," said Raphael. "Disillusioned tourists come in their masses to live the Korean Dream, but find themselves confronted with a reality that is not too dissimilar to their own."
While well aware not all Koreans want their dirty laundry aired in public, Raphael said they were sincere in "presenting an otherwise unreported world in all its raw unedited glory".
Whether or not they have Korea's blessing, koreaBANG is making waves. Ripples compared to the Korean wave, which is now more a tsunami, but the site is blowing up. BANG!