Monday, August 2, 2004

Fanning the Flames

Looking over the Naver front page yesterday I stumbled onto this article (in Korean). Basically it says that foreign websites are giving false information about Korea and giving the country a bad image by making it look like a dangerous, crime-infested hole, which of course we know is not true (sleaze-infested hole maybe, but certainly not a dangerous place).

Always happy to have a chance to fit in a picture of Jeon Ji Hyon (she's the Naver site model these days; that's my excuse for posting this picture)

Being just a tad skeptical of Korean journalism, I looked up the websites that they indicated to see the original English.

What I found out, and I hope you are sitting down lest this shock you, was that the reporter was being a little loose with his/her translation. No, check that; this reporter was simply lying with the assumption that few if any Korean netizens would bother checking out the sources (it took a long time to find them, by the way, from the website addresses given in the article). I don't know if even OhMyNews ever gets this bad.

Here's the first big "find" of them damn foreigners lying about Korea:

1일 현재 미 국무부 사이트(는 "한국은 서울과 부산 등 주요 도 시 지역의 소매치기, 핸드백 강탈, 성폭행, 강간, 범죄율이 아주 높은 수준이고, 특 히 외국인들이 범죄의 타깃이 된다"며 "유흥지에서 강간은 최근 증가하고 있다"고 소개했다.

I’m no Marmot, but here is my translation of the above:


A current government website stated: “In major cities like Seoul and Busan the crime rate of pick pocketing, purse snatching, sexual assaults, and rape is at a very high level, and especially foreigners are the targets of crime” and “in entertainment areas rape has recently been increasing.”


Oh my God!!! Seoul and Busan are rife with all manner of crimes and foreigners are being targeted!! How dare those foreign devils tell such lies about our country!!

This is from the actual website the translation was taken from (scroll down to the “crime information” section). Compare and contrast the above translation with what was actually said.

Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low, in major metropolitan areas, such as Seoul and Pusan, there is a higher incidence of pickpocketing, purse snatching, assaults, hotel room burglaries, and residential crime, and foreigners can be targeted…Incidents of rape have recently increased in popular nightlife districts in Seoul.

So, first the reporter cuts out the beginning of the sentence from his translation (“Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low”), which establishes the proper context for the information that follows. Basically, the site is just telling the truth: crime in Korea is not bad, but there are few things to be careful of.

Then he mistranslates “a higher incidence” into “아주 높은 수준이고” (“a very high level”). The original is clearly comparing the metropolitan areas of Korea to other areas in Korea, but in this retard’s translation it comes out as if the US site is saying Korea has a high level of these crimes compared to the rest of the world.

And finally from the original, “…and foreigners can be targeted,” we get, “especially foreigners are the target of crime” (특 히 외국인들이 범죄의 타깃이 된다).

What university did this moron graduate from?

The other example is from a Canadian travel site. Here’s the Korean translation from the Naver site:

캐나다 외교부는 "한국에는 캐나다인과 다른 외국인을 향하 여 성폭행, 강간이 계속 발생하고 있다. 범죄자들은 외국인 거주 아파트에 수선공이 나 배달원으로 위장침투해 강간하고 성폭행 한다"고 설명하면서 한국 근무 캐나다 선생들에게 주의를 당부했다.

And here is my translation of the translation:

A Canadian site ( cautioned Canadians of going to Korea as teachers, explaining that, “Sexual assault and rape to female Canadians and other foreigners are continually occurring. Criminals get into foreigner’s apartments in the guise of repairmen or deliverymen and rape and sexually assault [the residents].”

Sounds pretty bad don't it? Hell, I've already been raped two times this week alone by the Mexican Chicken delivery guy (they know my weakness...)

Well, this is the original from the Canadian travel site.

Korea is culturally very different from Canada. Working females and, in particular, foreign females are often in a different, and negative, cultural category. Sexual harassment is not the norm, but it does happen and Canadian female teachers should be aware of the situation in making a decision about work in Korea.

There have been cases of sexual assault against Canadians and other foreigners. In some of these cases, the assailant was disguised as a repair or delivery person in order to gain entry to the apartment. Victims have reported being robbed and sexually assaulted. Canadian teachers should remain cautious and never open the door to strangers.

So, from the clause, “there have been cases of sexual assault,” we get the translation: “sexual assault and rape…are continually occurring

The original just points out that, though “it is not the norm,” there have been some cases. In our reporter’s creative translation, however, we get the feeling that these cases are happening over and over again.

In my opinion, the advice given on both sites is quite sound and not overstated in the least. I've personally known about 30 foreign women in Korea (94 if you include Russian prostitutes) and though none have been raped, almost all have had some scary experiences. But in each case, they used some common sense and avoided any serious trouble and had a good experience in Korea (well, "tolerable" would perhaps be the better word for the majority).

By the way, you all know that I was joking about the Russian prostitutes, right?

The Netizen Response
I went onto the message board and added some comments (in simple English, my typing in Korean is painfully slow), basically saying the translation is wrong and the article is dishonest. To the credit of some of the netizens, there were several posters who backed me up and pointed out other flaws in this article (you have to remember that only about half of the Korean youth buys into the "evil foreigner" thing).

But for others, this article had effectively added fuel to the anti-foreigner fire. Interestingly enough, Japan, which was not mentioned in the article at all, got a lot of bashing as well (they think Korea is bad? Well what about those bastard Japanese…!)
The email address of the reporter is given in all of these articles, so I sent the following email to him/her (you're welcome to do the same! Don't forget to demand a sincere apology!)

Dear “ghwang”
I found your recent article on the Naver news site (“美ㆍ加 외교부사이트 "한국은 범죄율 아주 높은 수준”) to be dishonest and manipulative.

Your translations of the original English are amazingly poor and seem to be purposefully misleading. From what English sentence do you derive the translation of “한국은 범죄율 아주 높은 수준” (which you also used in the title of the whole article)?

I couldn’t find that anywhere. I did find this, however:

“Although the crime rate in the Republic of Korea is low…”

You remember the sentence that came from, right? You translated most of it, but for some reason you omitted the first clause shown above. Not only did you cut this clause out of the translation, but you then put a quote in your title that does not even exist in the original English and says the OPPOSITE of what the article realy said. Why?

Even a freshman university student in Korea should be able to understand the true meaning of these paragraphs that you mistranslated. Both of your sources say clearly that crime in Korea is low, but they just want to give some common sense advice anyway. If you had bothered to look up any other country on their sites you would see that this is what they do for ALL countries.

There are several other major problems and omissions in your translations. I documented them all on my blog (

So, why is your “translation” so deficient? There are three possible reasons I can think of:

1. Your English is really awful and you honestly misunderstood the original websites.

2. You got faulty information from some other source and you never checked to see if it was accurate.

3. You purposefully mistranslated the sites in order to increase negative feelings towards foreigners (especially North Americans).

Which one is it? If your English skills are poor, then you really shouldn’t be reporting on these kinds of stories, right? You just are not qualified.

If #2 is correct, then you are not acting professionally. A good reporter always checks his sources, even one who can only find freelance work on the Internet.

However, if #3 is the real explanation for your misleading article, then you have some serious ethical issues. What motivates you to be so dishonest and hateful? Why is it so important for you to convince others to hate and/or distrust foreigners that you have to purposefully mislead them? What kind of respect do you have for your readers if you feel you need to lie and manipulate them?

I’d be interested in hearing your response. I posted all of this (including this email) on my blog, and I also intend to give this article to a friend of mine who teaches in a Media course in a top university in Seoul as an example of manipulative media practices. If you respond to my email (replying in Korean or English is fine), I promise that I will post it on my blog in its entirety without cutting any sentences out or making a bad translation (that’s just the decent, honest thing to do, right?).

If you have any intention of becoming a real reporter, you need to go back and learn the fundamentals of journalism. What you reported was dishonest and wrong and you owe your readers an apology.

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