SEOUL -- Ahn-nyong-ha-seh-yo from Seoul. I'm here for the launch of HuffPost Korea, which marks the 11th country where The Huffington Post's hybrid approach to journalism -- as a hub for original reporting and a blogging platform for a range of voices, both new and established -- is expanding the worldwide conversation. And we're very excited to be partnering with a great media company, the Hankyoreh Media Group. The Hankyoreh daily newspaper emerged from a tumultuous chapter in Korea's history that culminated in widespread protests in June 1987 and ended up bringing democracy to the country. Journalists who had been fired from their jobs for telling the truth came together and raised the funds to launch what became The Hankyoreh in 1988.
Since its founding, The Hankyoreh has earned the trust of the public as a fierce defender of democracy. In its 26 years, The Hankyoreh has stayed true to its founding mission of holding politicians and business leaders accountable. In the process it has built a base of 60,000 citizen shareholders and led investigations that have exposed multiple cases of corruption and wrongdoing, from illegal military surveillance to corporate collusion with political powers. Beyond its daily print and online editions, The Hankyoreh Media Group includes the weekly news magazine Hankyoreh21, the film magazine Cine21, the economic magazine Economic Insight and several research and policy journals.
We're also excited that our new partner is ahead of the curve when it comes to recognizing the importance of integrating into modern Korea the country's ancient wisdom and practices -- including rich Buddhist traditions that go back centuries. The Hankyoreh has founded a research center, the Hue Center, that puts together meditation and Kouksundo retreats. (Kouksundo is a practice that combines breathing, meditation and martial arts and has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and boost productivity.) I just spent Wednesday and Thursday at such a retreat, which featured a beautiful monastic meal ceremony, a walk around the majestic Magoksa Temple grounds and an introduction to many medicinal and delicious Korean teas. (I'm bringing the chrysanthemum and violet ones back with me to New York, and I'll never use a tea bag again.)
With me at the retreat was an inspiring group of Korean women, including Sooan Jeon, who was a judge for many years and then a supreme court justice and recently decided to retire to spend more time hiking in the mountains and doing pro bono legal work; Jungsook Yoon, who is a leader in the third wave of feminism, which we here at HuffPost call the Third Metric, working to change the culture and workplace in which women are participating and bring deeper values to our lives; HuffPost Korea's CEO, Taesun Kwon, who is The Hankyoreh's executive editor and one of its founding members; and Mina Sohn, our own HuffPost Korea editor-at-large. And, best of all, our meditation sessions were led by HuffPost Korea co-editor-in-chief Bogkie Kwon, a 20-year meditator and practitioner of Kouksundo.
So I'm delighted that The Huffington Post and The Hankyoreh have now, after months of preparation, consummated our relationship by meditating together (a drama-free way to seal the deal -- I highly recommend it). I'm incredibly grateful to The Hankyoreh's team, including incoming CEO Youngmoo Chung and outgoing CEO Sangwoo Yang, as well as Taesun and Bogkie, who, from the very start, shared our vision of a platform that will go beyond viewing every issue through the outmoded prism of left vs. right, using all the tools at our disposal to tell the stories that matter most in Korea -- and just as important, to help Koreans tell their stories themselves, in words, in pictures and in video.
The Belgian philosopher Pascal Chabot has called burnout "civilization's disease." And South Korea is one of the burnout capitals of the world. Koreans work an average of 2,200 hours a year -- more than anyone else in the world -- according to the OECD. "Sadly, Korean people don't really know how to relax and enjoy their lives after working," says HuffPost Korea co-editor-in-chief Dohoon Kim. "The government, media and huge companies push people to work overtime. It's not very exceptional to see people working on weekends without being paid properly. When I was working for a fashion magazine company, the CEO proudly and frequently told a story about how she came back to work again just seven days after she gave birth to her child."
South Korea is also one of the most plugged-in countries in the world. About 98 percent of homes are wired for Internet access, the country has the fastest Internet in the world and more than 2 million people are addicted to their smartphones, according to the government. Here the widespread craving for connectivity isn't just about the latest smartphone's bells and whistles; it's a matter of identity. As Associated Press reporter Youkyung Lee put it, "Being wired is an icon of South Korea's pride in its state-directed transformation from economic backwater to one of Asia's most advanced and wealthy nations."
Suicide is also a major issue here. The suicide rate more than tripled between 1992 and 2011, and according to the OECD, the country now has 39 suicides a day. This national tragedy is anything but a vague statistic for Koreans. The culture has a word, "gwarosa," that specifically means suicide related to overwork, and in conversations with our HuffPost Korea team, I learned that nearly everyone has friends who have taken their own lives due to stress or a crushing sense of failure. While this is a complicated and deeply rooted issue -- made more difficult still by the fact that "talking openly about emotional problems is still taboo," as psychologist and professor Dr. Hyongsoo Kim put it -- we hope that HuffPost Korea will help open up the conversation around stress, pressure and the fear of failure and create a civil space where people can not only exchange ideas but seek and find answers.
HuffPost Korea will put a spotlight not only on all the challenges Korea is facing but on the solutions, including the ways Koreans are working to reduce stress and live more fulfilling lives. In the meantime there's a lot happening in Korea that other countries can learn from, and many Korean leaders are actually using ancient practices to reduce stress and enrich their lives. For example, sitting next to the foreign minister earlier in the week, I learned that he does two 20-minute sessions of deep breathing a day. Maybe he can institute this at international meetings. And meeting with Dr. Seok-hyun Hong, the chairman and CEO of the JoongAng Media Network, I discovered that he is a practicing Buddhist, and we ended up talking about all the traditions he has incorporated into his life. One of the things we want to do with HuffPost Korea is bring these conversations into the open, to inspire and support others. In fact, at the MBN Forum, where I spoke earlier this week, the theme was "Creativity for Growth and the Greater Good." At the very moment that Korea is facing slowed-down economic growth and the unintended consequences of the rapid growth of the past, there is a growing recognition that there has to be a new path forward that will allow Koreans to tap into their creativity and ability to innovate while reducing the cost of stress on their workforce -- stress that has taken a tremendous human toll. Already the country is beginning to address some of its problems. For example, in order to combat digital addiction, the government provides counseling for people addicted to online gaming, and more and more schools are trying to get out in front of the problem, teaching children to cultivate healthy digital habits.
Korea's investment in the education of its citizens may be unparalleled. The country's journey -- from a post-World War II society where only 5 percent of the population had high school diplomas to one where about 75 percent enroll in university -- has been called the "Korean education miracle." On the day of the SAT, police cars and emergency vehicles give rides to students who need help getting to their testing centers.
HuffPost Korea will also be a place to discuss and celebrate Korea's unique cultural contributions, from one of its chief exports, K-pop ("Gangnam Style"!), to its thriving movie industry to Korean food and cuisine, including the delicious kimchi (fermented vegetables). On Tuesday I met with Miky Lee, the granddaughter of the founder of Samsung, who now heads CJ Group and can in many ways be described as the mother of the Korean entertainment industry. "It's remarkable that [the Lees] have gone from absolutely nothing in entertainment to incredibly successful," David Geffen has said.
And now a little more about our HuffPost Korea team. When it comes to the Third Metric in Korea, few have done more to lead by example than Mina Sohn. When she was in her last year of high school, her father told her to take a break and go slowly, so she went away to the countryside for a month, exercised in the mountains and studied. She came back totally refreshed. Today she's one of Korea's renowned authors and broadcast journalists, having hosted a primetime news program on KBS -- the BBC of Korea -- for 10 years. During her time at KBS, Mina was the first one to take a year off from work, a time she used to explore Barcelona. Now many more people are taking sabbaticals. Mina is leading a collaboration with HuffPost Japan to plan an event that will bring together young people from both countries for a conversation about the future. She will also lead HuffPost Korea's initiatives focused on youth unemployment and the humane treatment of animals.
HuffPost Korea CEO Taesun Kwon has held a range of positions in more than two decades at The Hankyoreh, including Paris correspondent, foreign news editor, education editor, managing editor and executive editor. She has written biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Helen Keller.
Co-editor-in-chief Bogkie Kwon joined The Hankyoreh in 1993 as a reporter covering politics, economics and culture and has also served as managing editor for digital media. He has written about meditation and is also the author of a book about child rearing for feminist fathers. Our other editor-in-chief, Dohoon Kim, has been a reporter and editor for Cine21 and a freelance writer for publications including Vogue, GQ, Esquire and Harper's Bazaar and founded the men's style and culture magazine GEEK.
Our launch day blog posts include Moonsoo Kim, governor of Korea's largest state, on how to develop your own personal definition of what it means to be successful; progressive politician Sangjung Sim on Korea's labor union problem; actor Euisung Kim on why the Korean film industry should show a greater appreciation for the workers who have made it such a success; Kwangpil Jung, principal of a leading alternative school, on the need to have more patience with students in the country's hypercompetitive educational system; Kang Full, the country's most famous cartoonist, providing a launch day illustration along with a plea for better treatment of stray cats and dogs; and Kyung Kim, former editorial director at Harper's Bazaar Korea, on how she left her career in the media fast lane for a more relaxed life on a farm.
And here in the U.S. and in our other international editions, we're kicking off our launch with Carolyn Gregoire on what Korea can teach the rest of the world about living well, and Joe Satran on the rising global popularity of kimchi.
So please join me in welcoming Korea to the HuffPost family! And, as always, use the comments section to let us know what you think.
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