Breen's column that outraged Samsung

“What People Got for Christmas”
Michael Breen
The Korea Times
December 25, 2009

At this time of year when Seoul’s bare winter trees are wrapped in beckoning lights ― blue and white are the in colors ― and Merry Xmas signs at hotels and department stores are really saying come-hither-gentle-reveler-and-empty-your-purse, and when expensive restaurants belch noisy year-end office party groups onto every street and the karaoke rooms are full, it is tempting to declare that Christmas has lost its soul.

But that would be a mistake. Christmas is a time for giving, and, before they can be given, gifts have to be bought. Commerce is good. Here, as proof, is a round up of some of the gifts given and received today by people in the news.

Samsung, the world’s largest conglomerate and the rock upon which the Korean economy rests, sent traditional year-end cards offering best wishes for 2010 to the country’s politicians, prosecutors and journalists, along with 50 million won in gift certificates.

Employees received two framed photographs of Lee Jae-yong, the new Chief Operating Officer at Samsung Electronics Co., with instructions to place one in their children’s bedroom and the other in their living rooms beside but slightly below the one of his father, Lee Kun-hee.

At Hyundai Motor, where the mood is buoyant thanks to booming sales in America, management gave each labor union leader a bobble head doll of Chairman Chung Mong-koo to put in the rear window of their cars. Union officials are scanning the toys for explosives.

Huh Kyung-young, the zany presidential candidate who claimed an IQ of 430 and was jailed last year for spreading false rumors that he had an intimate relationship with the politician Park Geun-hye, hasn’t given up. He sent her an inflatable doll of himself. Park, who is single and has a sense of humor, sent him a coupon for a consultation at the Joy-Full Hospital, the Gangnam facility that specializes in coloproctology.

Among the thousands of gifts and cards from international fans, the singer Rain received a wedding proposal from the British sensation Susan Boyle, which said, “Hey, Pee. If yooz cum tae ma wee hoos in Scotland, ah’ll show yooz a guid time.” (I only know this because Rain asked me to translate.) In a nice note, the Barbadian singer Rihanna said she thought of him every time she sang “Under My Umbrella.” “Come see me when Chris is not here, ‘ere ‘ere eh eh,” she wrote, in reference to her off-on boyfriend Chris Brown.

The ever-popular skater Kim Yuna said her Christmas present to fans this year was a promise to focus on skating and not appear in any ads in 2010.
President Lee Myung-bak sent world leaders a package of Korean food prepared by the First Lady, Kim Yoon-ok, with handwritten instructions on how to eat each item. The card to U.S. President Barack Obama read: “Hi, Obama and Mitchel. Korean food will soon be number one in the world. Put the safe beef, called hanwoo, in the lettuce holding by hand and place some small rice in there with the chopstick and wrap and eat. Take care the kimchi because you’re foreigners! It’s so hot it might blow you off! Do not beat the secret service!”

The president gave each Blue House staff member a pair of Wellington boots, to prepare them for next year’s focus on the Four Rivers Restoration Project. Staff members were not amused. “If he really cared, he would have peeled the made-in-China label off,” one female aide said.

There was also gloom in South Chungcheong Province where residents, whose dream for the proposed new capital at Sejong City was dashed by the Prime Minister in 2009, couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to send presents.

But Christmas gifts were business as usual at the National Tax Service, where junior officials hoping for promotion looked for the best ways to get the attention of their bosses. Among gifts received by the senior taxmen this year were the Mona Lisa by the Italian painter L. da Vinci, and the Statue of David, a sculpture by another Italian artist, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni.

From overseas, the new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, sent President Lee a surprise invitation to visit Japan along with two complimentary ferry tickets to the Dokdo Islets. “Takeshima is halfway between our two countries,” he wrote in the card. “I think it can be a symbol of the new relationship that we can forge for our people.”

The prime minister’s wife, Miyuki, enclosed tickets for Korea’s first couple to join her next visit to Venus.

Chinese President Hu Jintao sent Lee a framed 100-yuan note with a reminder not to give a visitor visa to the Dalai Lama this year.

The leaders of the two Koreas also exchanged gifts in a tradition that began with the first summit in 2000. Lee sent Kim Jong-il a ship full of fertilizer and the dark blue Hyundai windsheeter he wore when he was the CEO of Hyundai Construction & Engineering in the 1970s. Sources say Lee also paid for a prayer pledge from his church, the Somang Presbyterian Church. Elders will undertake a 40-day chain prayer asking Jesus to speak to Kim on both the nuclear and gulag issues.

Kim, meanwhile, thanked the Lees for this year’s food aid and sent them a crate of 1943 Domaine de La Romanee Conti La Tache, a rare vintage wine, and a large packet of Kupi Luwak coffee beans. This rare bean ― fewer than 450 lbs. are harvested each year ― is extracted from the feces of the palm civet, a cat-like mammal that lives in Indonesia.

So, you see, there’s a lot of love out there. That’s what the city lights mean.

LA Times, May 10, 2010